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:
- Visit Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (known as The Bean) one of the best instagram spots in Chicago.
- Sign up for a free tour with a Chicago Greeter, local volunteers that can personalize tours to your interests.
- Visiting Navy Pier is free although you have to pay for the attractions and restaurants.
- Take walk along the Chicago Riverwalk. or sit and enjoy the view.
- Visit Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in North America and one of the only zoos in the US with free admission.
- 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.
- Although some of the stores on Michigan Avenue are pricey, it is free to window shop.
- 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.
- 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.
- Head to Buckingham Foundation for a free water display that happens when fountain is open, (typically May to mid-October).
- 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.
- Walk The 606 which is 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.
Cheap Things to do in Chicago
While not completely free these things to do in Chicago are cheap.
- 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 both fairly affordable.
Tips for Saving Money
- 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 and tickets.
- Take advantage of free museum days.
- Accommodation will likely be the most expensive thing about visiting Chicago. To save money consider staying at an AirBnb. 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:
- Best Things to Do in Chicago in the Spring
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Chicago (According to a Local)
- The Perfect 3 Day Chicago Itinerary By a Local