Budget-Friendly Chicago

By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
September 20, 2018
Chicago is a destination that is filled with fun things to do, but can you have a great vacation that’s also budget-friendly? You bet! This walkable city is packed with parks and fun attractions that are free or inexpensive to visit. Here are a few you won’t want to miss.
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
(312) 744-3316
Home to the world’s largest Tiffany stained glass dome, this architectural jewel is worth a stop just to admire the elegant marble staircases and intricate glass, mother-of-pearl and stone mosaics, but since this municipal venue also showcases hundreds of artists, musicians and performers each year, chances are good that you can enjoy a free dance or theater event, musical performance or art exhibition during your vacation.
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Cloud Gate (aka The Bean)
201 E. Randolph St.
(312) 742-1168
Snapping a selfie at Cloud Gate is a must on any visitor’s list of things to do in Chicago. You’re likely to encounter dozens of tourists smiling for photos around the massive stainless steel sculpture in Millennium Park. There’s plenty of room around and beneath “The Bean” to allow you to get close and see the funhouse mirror-like effects of Sir Anish Kapoor’s creation, or step back and take a picture of the city skyline reflected on its seamless silver surface.
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Buckingham Memorial Fountain
Columbus Dr. & Congress Pkwy.
(312) 742-7529
If your travel to Chicago is during the warmer months, (mid-April to mid-October), be sure to catch a water show or evening light show at Buckingham Memorial Fountain. This Chicago landmark is said to be one of the largest fountains in the world. Dedicated in 1927, it’s meant to represent Lake Michigan, and the four sets of sea horse sculptures surrounding it represent the four states surrounding the lake: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. During the shows, the center jet shoots up to 150 feet.
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Lincoln Park Conservatory
2391 N. Stockton Dr.
(312) 742-7736
Take a break from the bustling city and enter the peace and tranquility of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Inside the Victorian-era glass structure is an oasis of lush, exotic plants from around the world tucked amid water features in four areas: the Fern Room, the Orchid House, the Palm House and the Show House. Afterward, stroll through the surrounding gardens, where you’ll find monuments, a fountain, a formal garden and an Old English-style garden.
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Lincoln Park Zoo
2200 N. Cannon Dr.
(312) 742-2000
If you’re looking for fun things to do with kids in Chicago, you can’t beat the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the few free zoos in the country. The beautifully landscaped park is home to about 200 species of animals including polar bears, seals, penguins, lions and gorillas, as well as birds and reptiles. A children’s zoo features bears, otters and wolves, and kids will love visiting the cows, goats, ponies and rabbits at the Farm-in-the-Zoo.
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Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave.
(312) 595-5282
No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting Navy Pier, a Chicago landmark that’s a destination for millions of visitors annually. More than just a pier, it’s surrounded by parks and gardens and includes shops, restaurants and family attractions such as a Ferris wheel, carousel and the Funhouse Maze, as well as the Chicago Children’s Museum. Although some attractions require tickets, admission to the pier is free, so you can stroll around, check out the sights, and grab a bite to eat while having a great view of the lake. In summer months, you can enjoy a free fireworks show on Wednesday or Saturday night.
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