Enjoy an unforgettable city break in Chicago without breaking the bank
Looking to explore Chicago on a budget? Packed with exciting free and affordable activities for travellers visiting the city, Choose Chicago has rounded up some of the most affordable stays in the city, as well as free and low-cost adventures for visitors to add to their travel wish lists when planning a trip to Chicago on a budget.
Wander the Riverwalk to immerse yourself in the architecture of the city, head out to the Lakefront Trail to check out the lakeside beaches, or explore one of Chicago’s many diverse neighbourhoods.
WHAT TO DO
Chicago is a city made up of 77 diverse and interesting neighbourhoods that are waiting to be explored. The Chicago Greeter programme allows visitors to get in contact with friendly, local guides who will show them around a chosen neighbourhood whilst sharing their expert insider knowledge – free of charge! Visitors to the city can decide where they would like to visit based on their interests, from public art, to food, to history.
Chicago’s outstanding and unique neighbourhoods offer something for everyone. Architecture lovers might choose to take a tour round the Kenwood neighbourhood to see the 19th century mansions and 20th century art deco buildings, or head over to West Ridge where you will find global cuisines, a vibrant mix of nationalities, and a strong sense of community. The two-hour tours can accommodate up to six guests, meeting their guide within their chosen neighbourhood before setting off on a walking tour. These free tours are a great way to learn all about the city and its hidden gems.
Combining high-tech interactive experiences with unique sports memorabilia, the Chicago Sports Museum celebrates all the major sports teams in Chicago – of which there are plenty.
Guests can try scoring goals against Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and shoot free throws at Bulls veteran Scottie Pippen amongst many other one of a kind experiences. Learn all about sporting superstitions, compare your wingspan to some sporting greats, and try on the largest Super Bowl ring ever created. For fans of baseball, the museum is also home to the largest collection of Chicago Cubs World Series memorabilia in Chicago.
General admission for Chicago Sports Museum is priced at $10 (£8) for adults and $6 for children.
This 35 acre zoo in Lincoln Park is the fourth-oldest Zoo in the USA and one of the few free zoos in the country. Free admission makes Lincoln Park Zoo a fantastic option for families looking for affordable activities in the city. Visitors can get nose to nose with gorillas and chimpanzees, hear lions roar, and spot black bears from their den on a trip around the zoo. Located just minutes from Downtown Chicago, the city skyscrapers loom in the background as visitors explore all that the zoo has to offer.
Once an abandoned railway line, The 606 has been transformed into a beautifully landscaped walkway that cuts through four of Chicago’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Visitors can walk the trail or rent a bike to stop off and visit Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, or Humboldt Park to explore the rich heritage and culture each differing neighbourhood offers. The unique urban space serves as a trail, a park, and a visual art space within the city.
Visiting Portillo’s for classic Chicago style hot-dog is a must while in the city. Head over to this institution to try a hot dog ‘dragged through the garden’ – here you’ll find the hot dog piled high with mustard, relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, and chopped onions. Native Chicagoans will promise this hot dog combination tastes the best – and never put ketchup on it! Portillo’s is also famous for its cake shake, which is another must try for those with a sweet tooth.
Al’s Beef has served up Italian style beef sandwiches in Chicago for over 80 years. One of Chicago’s most famous food creations, the Italian beef sandwich comes one of five ways – hot, sweet, dry, wet, or dipped, and isn’t to be missed during a visit!
WHERE TO STAY
Just two blocks from Michigan Avenue, Freehand Chicago is perfectly located for those looking to enjoy a city break. The hotel offers a variety of bedrooms that are appropriate for every occasion, including Queen and King rooms, rooms with two sets of bunk beds, and even two Penthouse Suites. The modern rooms provide a comfortable haven for visitors to relax in after a day out exploring the city. Guests staying at Freehand should also be sure to stop by the award-winning Broken Shaker bar for a range of delicious food and drink options.
With space to suit everyone, from private rooms to dorms, the Selina is a great place to stay for those looking for a comfortable and affordable night’s sleep. Just steps from the Magnificent Mile, Selina Chicago is situated in an ideal location for guests to explore the city like a local, with plenty of buzzing restaurants, historical landmarks, and Chicago classics nearby. With a gym, communal spaces, and co-working desks, Selina also has a small communal kitchen for any guests looking to make themselves a meal.
Pioneers of affordable luxury, the CitizenM Chicago Downtown is the brand’s first location in the city. Conveniently located between Riverwalk and Millennium Park, guests at citizenM can expect a luxury experience including iPad controlled rooms, XL king-sized beds, and rain showers. The facade of the hotel ‘wows’ on Michigan Avenue, with native artist Nina Chanel Abney having been commissioned to transform the building’s exterior walls into a vibrant Chi-town tribute.
For more ideas on free activities in Chicago, please visit 31 Free Things to Do in Chicago | Free Museums, Attractions, Tours, and More.