5 Favorite Free (or cheap) Activities in Chicago
I love weekend trips to Chicago but that city can get expensive really quickly. If you follow me on Instagram then you know I do not skimp on food and booze when I travel. It is for this reason that the rest of my trip needs to be somewhat budget friendly. My sister lives in Chicago so I visit often and we try and find cheaper things to do when we're not eating our way around the city. Give your wallet a break and try these these free/inexpensive things to do on your next weekend trip to Chicago.
This post contains some affiliate links. If you purchase something from one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Chicago on the Cheap
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E Washington St
I discovered this architectural masterpiece on my friend Raina's Instagram feed a while ago and knew I wanted to see it in person. The draw for a lot of people is the Tiffany glass domes but every inch of the building is incredible. The walls, floors, lighting, everything is exquisite. The Chicago Cultural Center was completed in 1897 as the first central public library. It was designed to impress and prove Chicago's growth into one of the country's most sophisticated cities. The architects and craftsmen used rare imported marbles, polished brass, fine hardwoods, and mosaics of Favrile glass, mother-of-pearl and colored stone, to create an architectural showstopper. The building's queen jewel is the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome, measuring 38 feet in diameter with 30,000 pieces of glass. The center opens at 10 a.m. daily and closes at 7 p.m. during the week. On Saturday and Sunday it closes at 5 p.m.
Rooftop View at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
12 S Michigan Ave
Each year 1.5 million tourists visit the Skydeck and I assume wait for hours to get to the top and snap their one photo above the city. Admittedly, it is a sweet view but for $23 (General Admission) or $49 for a fast pass to break in line, I don't know. Personally, I'd rather spend that kind of money on food. Cue Cindy's Rooftop. Last spring, my friend Sarah Deshaw and I met for brunch at Cindy's on the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel because of the food and the view. You can visit the rooftop at the hotel without dining but there is usually a long wait to do so. If you're dining or drinking at Cindy's, you can bypass the line. We didn't know beforehand but all of Cindy's plates are designed to be shared so it was more affordable than we expected because we split the bill. We shared a skillet of chilaquiles (YUM) and sipped on some house-made kombucha. Brunch and a killer view for the same price of the Skydeck? I'd consider that a win.
201 E Randolph St
Smack dab in the middle of the city, Millennium Park is a beautiful place to explore especially in the summer. I would guess most people have heard or visited Millennium Park because of Cloud Gate (the Bean), but there is so much more to see and do in the park. There are free outdoor concerts there throughout the summer, sculptures galore, gorgeous gardens with free tours, and a wading pool where you can cool off in the hot summer months. Make a day of it and pack a picnic for some dining alfresco. If you don't want to explore on foot, you can rent bikes by the hour or day at the McDonald's Cycle Center.
Tour a Brewery
There are over 60 breweries in Chicago and about 100 in the surrounding burbs. Needless to say, there's plenty of beer to try here. If you're trying to keep your costs low, I'd recommend checking out Revolution Brewing Co. They're one of my favs in Chicago and they offer free tours Wednesdays–Fridays at 6 and 7pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3, 4, 5 and 6pm. Bonus: you will get a free pint to take with you on the tour, tour guide's choice. My current fav is Rosa, their summer hibiscus ale. After your tour head over to their brewpub in Logan Square for some delicious food.
Self Guided Architecture Tour
Chicago is a great city for architecture nerds. There is a wide variety of architecture styles throughout the city giving architecture lovers endless possibilities to explore. I tend to just wander around different neighborhoods swooning over townhouses and historic skyscrapers to get my fill. Walking Magnificent Mile is a great intro because it is an amalgamation of history and different styles not to mention some excellent shopping if you need to take a break. The Wrigley building is my favorite by far. If old houses are your thing, I'd recommend strolling around the Gold Coast neighborhood for some major old house love. If you don't want to feel like a creeper, the Chicago Architecture Foundation leads a tour of the Gold Coast neighborhood for $15. You can also tour the theater district on your own to see the ornate movie palaces of the early 20th century. Check out this free walking guide of the area. If you have no idea what buildings you want to check out just peruse the Chicago Architecture Foundation website for some inspiration.
If street art is more your speed, check out fellow blogger Wayfaring View's Self Guided Mural tour through Chicago's neighborhoods.
BONUS: Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N Central Park Ave
This is one I haven't checked off my list but it is too beautiful not to include. I'll get there one day! Outdoor gardens, a desert room, fern room, and more the Garfield Park Conservatory is a tropical respite in the heart of the city. Garfield Park Conservatory is open daily from 9 am-5 pm and on Wednesdays til 8pm.
I discovered this photo from Bisa Myles in #theusiscooltoo feed. Join the conversation on Instagram and tag your favorite USA travels. Thanks for sharing Bisa!