Chicago on a Budget: Cheap & Free 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 fieldhouse, 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 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.

Here are more free things to do in Chicago including free attractions, free museums and 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.

Tips for Saving Money

  • Take advantage of free museum days to visit museums that charge an admission fee.
  • To save money on entrance fees and skip long lines at Chicago’s top attractions, consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS.
  • Look at Groupon to find discounted attractions, tours and tickets.
  • Accommodation will likely be the most expensive thing about visiting Chicago.  You might be able to find cheap hotels at the last minute on hotwire.com or if you visit during low or shoulder season.

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


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