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Frugal Travel Guide for Chicago, IL

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Travel Destination:

Chicago, IL


United States

Free Things to Do:

When we travel to Chicago, we are always on a small budget. We look for low cost and free things to do that even the kids enjoy. Here are a few of the free things we found.


  • One of my kids favorite attractions in the Chicago Children's Museum. Every Thursday night from 5-8pm there is free admission. This is a great hands on museum where kids get to interact with the exhibits.

  • Another fun place my children enjoyed was The Notebaert Nature Museum. It is free on Thursdays. A favorite exhibit of ours is the butterfly exhibit.

  • If you enjoy art then The Art Institute of Chicago is a must! Admission is free on Thursday & Friday evenings from 5pm-9pm.

  • Another great free thing to do is to visit the zoo! The Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission everyday!

  • Millenium Park is a great place to have a sack lunch and enjoy the environment. The park features many different things to look at. The Crowne Fountain is a favorite of ours. The fountain features 2 towers at the end of a reflecting pool. The towers project video images that change every few minutes.

  • Visit all these places with a free trolley ride! Wait at one of the designated stops around the city and hop the trolley to all the attractions.

Low Cost Things to Do:

There are many low cost things to do around Chicago as well. Here are our favorites.

  • See Chicago how it is meant to be seen. . . from the lake. Take a Shoreline sightseeing cruise! They have 30 minute skyline tours and 60 minute architecture tours. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for kids for the skyline tour. When we visited they were having free admission for kids!

  • Take a birds eye look of Chicago by visiting the Hancock Observatory. Feel the wind in the open window observatory. Admission is $9.95 for adults & $6 for kids. Kids 4 and under are free.

  • While admission to the Navy Pier is free, some of the attractions are not. You can find a lot of fun activities that are low cost. Ride the ferris wheel, play mini golf, visit an iMax theater and more! There is something for everyone at the Navy Pier.

  • If you don't want to wait for a crowded trolley, then take a train or a bus to your destination. The CTA sells visitor passes for $5 for a day. It includes unlimited train & bus rides. They sell the passes in 1, 2, 3 & 5 day increments.

Expensive But Worth It:

There are some things in Chicago that you just have to see, no matter the cost.

  • The Field Museum of Chicago is a huge museum featuring many interesting exhibits. My kids loved seeing Sue the dinosaur while I really enjoyed the egyptian exhibit and the gem exhibit. Admission to the museum itself is $12 for adults and $7 for kids. There are some special exhibits that require an additional fee.

  • Shedd Aquarium is a great place to visit if you enjoy marine life. Admission is $23 for adults and $16 for kids. This is the price of the VIP pass that lets you see everything.

  • If you plan on being up north, why not pay a visit the historic Wrigley Field. Tickets vary in price according to where you sit. Sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" while you're there for me, please.

Just for Kids:

All of the places I already listed are great for kids. They were kid tested by my 2 kids.

Inexpensive Lodging:

If you can be flexible in your travel plans I recommend using Priceline or Hotwire to get a great rate on your hotel room. We've managed to save at least 50% off the hotel's normal price by doing this.

Another tip for saving money is to stay in the O'Hare area instead of paying for expensive lodging and parking in the city. Pretty much all of the hotels offer a free shuttle to the airport. From there, you can take the train into the city. This is where those visitor passes from the CTA come in real handy.


Interesting Facts or History:

The old Water Tower and pumping station are the only 2 buildings to survive in the area during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. You can take a free tour of the Water Tower today.

Additional Comments:

If you plan on visiting some of the main attractions in Chicago (such as the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, etc) then I suggest you buy a City Pass. City Passes are $49 for adults and $39 for kids. They get you into 5 attractions for free and you get to bypass the ticket line. Visit www.citypass.com for more details.

Robyn from Bloomfield, IA

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By guest (Guest Post)
July 26, 20060 found this helpful

You can also buy passes for 1, 2 or 3 days to ride the subways and busses. These passes allow unlimited rides. Great for tourists who may get off at the wrong stop and have to get right back on!


Another thing that helped us was going to the visitor's center in the old water works building. They had coupons for the navy pier ferris wheel, buy one get one, and coupons for the skyline tour.

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