8 Money Saving Ways to Experience Chicago
Chicago is definitely worth a visit - it is the third largest city in the United States, it sports a beautiful skyline, diverse neighborhoods with unique culinary makeup, and a ton of tourist attractions. Chicago is not as expensive as New York or San Francisco, but it will still make your wallet a lot lighter. We created a list of some activities that will help you save some money in the Windy City.
1. Reaching Chicago
Great beginning is half job, some people say. Before you even get there, think about the most economical way to reach the city. Check out Megabus travel with $1 fares and consider Spirit Airlines, because round trip flights from certain locations are only $100. A lot of those deals have to be booked in advance and taken on the weekdays. Be flexible if you want to save. Another way to travel on budget is travel off-season. If you don't mind a bit of wind and cold, you should consider coming for a visit during winter (outside the holidays) and at the beginning of fall, when kids go back to school.
Hotels in downtown and close to tourist attractions are pretty expensive. If you absolutely have to be in the center of everything, try hostels, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing. Airbnb deals are downright amazing on weekdays and during off-season times. You can even get a private room for $25. Look for discounted hotels on Priceline or Hotwire. One great budget option is to stay at a nice hotel close to O'Hare airport and commute to the city on the Blue Line or Metra.
3. Walk on the Riverwalk
Taking a stroll on the Chicago River Walk is probably the best way to see the city and learn about its architecture. The walk is free and picture opportunities are abundant. River architecture cruises are very popular and also very expensive, so walk on the beautiful promenade and experience the same thing at our own speed. You will get some good exercise and will save some serious money.
The Chicago Riverwalk is open to bikers, dogs on the leash, and walking people. Often times you will get to enjoy a festival or a concert along the way. There are a ton of restaurants along the river or you can pack a lunch and eat right by the water for the ultimate romance.
4. Look for street markets, food trucks, and happy hours
Maxwell Street Market is a very popular Sunday tradition. You can find great deals on apparel, house goods, and produce. In addition to great shopping, this market is known for authentic Mexican food at very affordable prices. All the South of the Border goodies make this market one of the best places for Mexican food in the Midwest.
If you are not in town on Sunday, there are plenty of other inexpensive food options. Check out the very popular food truck scene during lunch time. You will have food that is as amazing as many sit down restaurants, but at a fraction of the price. Many downtown eateries have happy hours, so definitely take an advantage of hem and have a nice early dinner.
5. Take free trolleys
When you get tired of walking, take the free Navy Pier Trolley. It goes from the Art Institute of Chicago to the Navy Pier. It makes many stops along the way and provides a great opportunity to explore Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, Cloud Gate Sculpture, and Michigan Avenue. The trolley is working every day during summer months and on the weekends year round. CTA Day Pass and Water Taxis are two other ways to get around for cheap.
6. Do not spend money at Navy Pier
Please, don't do that. Some people just plain skip it, but pay it a visit because it's beautiful. Just don't buy anything while there. You will get some breathtaking views of the famous skyline and of Lake Michigan. There are plenty of things to do for free here, starting with free entrance. You can visit Crystal Gardens and enjoy an indoor glass atrium with water fountains and palm trees. The outside part has water fountains, art sculptures, and magnificent free fireworks in summer (read Art Life in Chicago).
Take a walk all the way to the end of the pier for those downtown views, Lake Michigan and all kinds of boats and sails.
7. Visit the Zoo
Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo is always free. You can visit all kinds of animals, including bears, apes, and tigers. Lincoln Park Conservatory is also free. Go in and admire orchids and many other kinds of flowers. Something is always in bloom there. In addition to those two, Chicago has many other free attractions. Families should definitely check out the Art Institute Ryan Education Center for many activities for kids. Art Studio here devoted to the entire family - you will work on your personal masterpiece and then take it home with you.
8. Don't miss Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture
You don't have to be an architecture buff to enjoy the works of F.L. Wright. Take a walk through Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District in Oak Park. You can get into his home and studio, but that won't be free. If you are on a budget, simply take a walk through the neighborhood and take a self-guided tour of homes designed by the famous architect. You will experience many different styles and periods - from Tudor Revival style to the Prairie School design. This walk will educate you about the architect and his ever evolving style.