Chicago on a Budget: Cheap & Free Things to Do + Tips to Save Money

Visiting Chicago on a budget? Here is a list of the best cheap and free things to do in Chicago in 2024 plus how to save money on everything else.

Chicago on a Budget – Tips for Saving Money (2024)

Chicago is not the cheapest city in the US, but it is surprisingly easy to visit in a budget.  In addition to focusing on free and cheap attractions and activities, here are my top tips to save money in Chicago.

  • 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.
  • Hot Tix offers half-price tickets to a variety of Chicago theatre productions.
  • If driving in Chicago, use SpotHero to book and find the best prices for parking spots.
  • If you need rent a car, compare rates between different rental car companies on www.discovercars.com.
  • Save money getting around in Chicago by using public transportation (train and bus).
  • The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) sells 1-Day, 3-Day or 7-Day passes which give unlimited rides during their time period.
  • If taking a train from Chicago O’Hare into the city, it might be worth it to purchase a 1-Day unlimited CTA pass. The fare at the O’Hare Blue Line is $5 while the 1 day unlimited pass is also $5, so you might as well buy the one day pass since it’s the same price.
  • Active travelers can also save money getting around by using a Divvy bike (Chicago’s bike share program). You can also rent a bike with a helmet for a day or half day here.
  • If using ridesharing to get around, compare both Lyft and Uber to find the cheapest price. You can avoid rideshare surge pricing by hailing a taxi using the Curb app.
  • Look at Groupon and Living Social 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. For longer stays, you can save money with cheap weekly rentals in Chicago.

Free Things to do in Chicago

These are the top things to do in Chicago that are totally free:

  1.  Visit Millennium Park, which is home to Cloud Gate (known as The Bean), one of the best instagram spots in Chicago. Millennium Park offers free concerts, movies and fitness classes in the summer and free ice skating during late fall and winter.

The Bean is a free attraction and a must for visitors to Chicago on a budget 2024

  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 to visit although you have to pay for the ferris wheel and the rides. There are also free events year round from cultural programming to seasonal celebrations, fireworks and more.
  3. Take a 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, which is one of the only zoos in the US with free admission.
  2. Take your kids to Maggie Daley Park, a large public park located next to Millennium Park.
  3. 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 one of the many free beaches. Here is a map of the trail as well as its access points.

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago

  1. Head to Buckingham Foundation for the free water displays from mid May to mid-October.
  2. Stop by the Chicago Cultural Center located in a stunning and historic landmark building with two magnificent stained-glass domes. The free municipal center offers hundreds of free cultural exhibits and performances annually as well as free guided building tours.
  3. 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 more 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 are the best cheap things to do in Chicago.

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 money by hopping on a Chicago water taxi during the summer.
  • Enjoy cheap improv at the iO Theater on Wednesday nights and Sunday nights.

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


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