Chicago on a Budget: Free & Cheap Things to do in Chicago

Chicago is not cheapest city to visit but it is easy to visit in a budget.  Many of the top attractions in Chicago are cheap or free.  Below is a list of the best cheap and free things to do in Chicago plus tips to save money on everything else.

Free Things to do in Chicago

These things to do in Chicago are totally free:

  1.  Visit Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (known as The Bean) one of the best instagram spots in Chicago.

The Bean at Millenium Park is a must on any one day in Chicago itinerary

  1. Sign up for a free tour with a Chicago Greeter, local volunteers that can personalize tours to your interests.
  2. Visiting Navy Pier is free although you have to pay for the attractions and restaurants.
  3. Take walk along the Chicago Riverwalk or sit and enjoy the view.

The Chicago Riverwalk 24 hours in chicago travel blog

  1. Visit Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in North America and one of the only zoos in the US with free admission.
  2. Take your kids to Maggie Daley Park, a large public park located between Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.  Features include a climbing wall, an ice-skating ribbon, mini-golf and several different play areas for kids.
  3. Although some of the stores on Michigan Avenue are pricey, it is free to window shop.
  4. Enjoy street art. There are several neighborhoods that have a large variety of street art. The Wabash Corridor is one of them and is close to downtown.

Moose Bubblegum Bubble by Jacob Watts one of the most famous street art murals in Chicago

  1. Walk along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, a paved path on a 18-mile-long stretch along Lake Michigan.  In the summer, the lakefront is packed with locals and visitors walking, running and riding bikes or just hanging at the beach.
  2. Head to Buckingham Foundation for a free water display that happens when fountain is open (typically May to mid-October).
  3. There are several free places to go ice skating in Chicago during winter. One of the best and picture perfect spots to go ice skating is at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Parkright in front of the famous Bean sculpture during late fall and winter.

Skating in Chicago is a fun thing to do in Chicago during Christmas

  1. Walk The 606, Chicago’s version of The Highline in NYC, an elevated trail goes through 2.7 miles of the city’s northwest side neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square.

Looking for more free things to do in Chicago? Here are 60+ free things to do in Chicago including free attractions, free museums as well as free festivals and events.

Cheap Things to do in Chicago

While not completely free, these things to do in Chicago are cheap.

Chicago style hot dog

  • Have a Chicago style hot dog (remember, no ketchup allowed), a Chicago classic. There are tons of cheap hot dog joints in Chicago. Portillos is a great choice but it gets pretty busy.
  • Have deep dish pizza. The best restaurants for deep dish pizza in downtown Chicago include Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s which are both fairly affordable.
  • Take a water taxi. An architecture river cruise is a must when visiting Chicago but you can see similar views for less by hopping on a Chicago water taxi during the summer.

Tips for Saving Money

  • Take advantage of free museum days to visit museums that normally charge an admission fee.
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Adler Planetarium, Chicago History Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art also offer free admission the first weekend of every month for Bank of America credit or debit cardholders under the Bank of America Museums on Us program.
  • To save money on entrance fees at Chicago’s top attractions, consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or Go Chicago Card.
  • Look at Groupon to find discounted attractions, tours and tickets.
  • Accommodation will likely be the most expensive thing about visiting Chicago.  You will likely find lower prices on hotels if you visit during low or shoulder season.

Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries: