Don’t let the Magnificent Mile, Oak Street, and 4-star restaurants fool you. You CAN enjoy Chicago on a budget without feeling like you’re missing out.
The entrance fees at Chicago’s world-class museums can add up, but there are several options to reduce the cost of seeing the amazing breadth of attractions. For around $50, a CityPass gets you tickets to six of the city’s biggest attractions (Adler Planetarium, Art Institute, Field Museum, Hancock Observatory, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium) for use within nine days. A GoChicagoCard provides free admission to 25+ tours and attractions for one price and also offers discounts at top retailers and restaurants.
If you’re a Chicago resident, museums offer discounts. And if you have a Chicago Public Library Card you can check out a Kraft Kids Museum Passport. This gets you and 4 to 8 family members into 11 attractions for free, but you can only check out one per library card. Each passport is for the individual museum.
The Art Institute is free on Wednesdays from 5 to 8pm. It’s home to the largest Impressionist collection outside of the Louvre, collections dating to 3000BC, and a great armor and weapons collection.
Contemporary art fans can enjoy the Museum of Contemporary Art on Tuesdays for free, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography is always free.
Explore the history of surgery at the International Museum of Surgical Science. It’s free on Tuesdays. Also on Tuesday you can gain free knowledge of Jewish history and culture at the Spertus Museum from 10am to noon, and again on Thursday from 3 to 7pm.
Take a free tour with Chicago Greeters. Locals volunteer to lead you around the wonders of their hoods.
You can kill two birds with one stone (figuratively, please) by having a meal or a drink at the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building.
Navy Pier is always free, but there’s an entrance fee to the Chicago Children’s Museum. However, it’s free on Thursdays from 5 to 8pm. Grab a funnel cake, shop at the kiosks, watch a free show in the atrium, then head up to the museum.
Getting to all these fabulous places can also be free. The city offers a free trolley service. During the summer it runs daily, and on the weekends from September through December.