On your way to Chicago but only have a little money and a few days? Want to explore this historic city and soak up the culture, nightlife, and tourism all on a limited time and budget? Have no fear! Chicago is a unique and cool city, definitely one to see. Here’s what to see if you only have a few days and the cheapest ways to enjoy yourself.
If you’ve only got a few days, make sure you get to Millennium Park! I rode into Union Station and while it is a bit of a walk, it’s possible to get to Millennium Park by walking. Chicago is pretty walking-friendly, and if you get tired there are tons of Ubers driving around and the attractions are so close that rides are very cheap.
Millenium Park is home to Crown Fountain (pictured above), The Bean, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus classical music performances and more. You can listen to music and see these attractions for free. Millennium Park is home to Chicago’s iconic trademarks, it’s beautiful, nice to walk through, and free.
Located in the center of Grant Park and open since 1927, the Buckingham Fountain is a beautiful piece of architecture that’s completely free to view and easy to walk to.
Go to the Top of a Tall Building
Part of the Chicago experience, right? The go-to here is the famous Willis Tower. But, the Willis Tower does cost money to experience. Although, if you feel like paying, you can go out on the skydeck which is a small glass room protruding from the Willis Tower that you can step out onto and look at the city hundreds of feet below. If you’d like the tall tower experience but would prefer a free option, try the John Hancock Building! On my first Chicago trip I went up to the top of the Willis Tower and it was a great experience. However, on this trip we opted for the free John Hancock Center, which was also memorable. It’s a 100-story 1,128 ft. skyscraper completely free to enter. At the top is a restaurant and bar, surrounded by glass walls that allow you to overlook the city while you dine. However, if you’re super cheap (like me!) you can ride to the top for the view and sneak back down without buying a thing!
The riverwalk is quickly becoming a hot tourism spot in Chicago. Lined with restaurants and shops, the Chicago River goes straight through the city and hosts walking tours, boat rides, and beautiful scenery. I went on a “Chicago’s Finest Tours” walking tour which was exquisite. 90 minutes walking, lots of great history and facts, and a fun boat ride, plus the tour guide was enthusiastic and funny. While this tour wasn’t free, you can still walk through the riverwalk free of charge.
Deep Dish Pizza
This is an essential part of the Chicago experience. There is authentic deep dish pizza everywhere, and each time I’ve visited Chicago I’ve eaten at a different spot. That being said, you really can’t go wrong anywhere. Go ahead and splurge on your pizza–trust me.
This concludes the cheap selection! Although they are pricey, Chicago offers some of the best art museums, natural history museum, aquarium, and space and industry museum. Certain venues hold cheaper days/nights and if you’d like to go to the big three (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Art Institute of Chicago) you can buy passes that bundle the three and are cheaper than buying individual passes. While these passes aren’t exactly thrifty, if you have the means to go to at least one attraction you will not regret it.
Have fun in Chicago!