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Visiting Chicago on a Budget: 5 Tips
November 15, 2023 By CityPASS
Chicago is an amazing city that offers something for every tourist. From world-class museums and stunning architecture to vibrant nightlife and diverse culture, the Windy City has it all. While Chicago certainly has luxurious experiences for those who want to splurge, you can also enjoy this iconic metropolis on a budget. With some savvy planning, you can discover the best of what Chicago has to offer without breaking the bank. Follow these tips to experience Chicago on a budget.
Where To Stay in Chicago on a Budget
When visiting this amazing city on a budget, accommodations are often one of the biggest expenses. However, Chicago offers a range of budget-friendly lodging options. Consider staying in a hostel, budget hotel, or even looking into Airbnb options in neighborhoods like Logan Square or Wicker Park. These areas are affordable and provide an authentic glimpse into Chicago's unique local culture.
Other affordable lodging options include budget-oriented hotels like Motel 6, Super 8, and Days Inn, which offer basic but comfortable rooms at value rates. Check prices a bit outside downtown in neighborhoods like Lakeview or Lincoln Park for additional savings on accommodation costs. Avoid hotels directly on the Magnificent Mile, which command premium prices. Opting for lodging a short train or bus ride away from central downtown can translate to significant savings that leave you more money for experiences.
5 Tips for Enjoying Chicago Without Breaking Your Wallet
1. Eat at Budget-Friendly Restaurants
Chicago has a vibrant food scene with options to satisfy every craving and budget. For cheap eats, head to neighborhood spots in Pilsen, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, and Andersonville. Look for hole-in-the-wall Italian delis, mom-and-pop taquerias, Chinese noodle shops, and other local gems. Check menus for daily lunch specials that often include a hearty sandwich, side, and drink for a huge discount. Happy hour is another great time to score half-price appetizers and discounted drinks to complement your meal.
If you're seeking Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza, aim for lunchtime when pies are more affordable. Try Lou Malnati's or Gino's East for quality deep dish at lower prices earlier in the day. Food trucks and takeout counters inside many attractions also offer good value on classic Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and more. And don't forget to scope out ethnic grocery stores for budget-friendly prepared foods to-go.
2. Use Public Transit
Chicago's extensive train and bus network makes getting around easy and affordable. Purchase a Ventra card and load it to pay reduced CTA fares. The Ventra app lets you conveniently manage your account via your smartphone. Plan your route using the CTA's trip planner to identify which lines to utilize.
Focus your activities around L stops and key bus routes. For instance, stay near the Red or Brown lines for easy airport access and transit to downtown destinations. The Loop is very walkable, so you can save money by taking the L to central areas and then getting around on foot. Night owl service has you covered at night, so you can be car-free and skip rideshares after late dinners or evenings out.
3. Visit During the Off-Season
Avoid the height of summer when hotels hike up rates and attractions get crowded. For cheaper hotel deals, aim for Chicago's shoulder seasons in May/June and September/October when the weather is milder and there are fewer tourists. You'll pay less for top sites like the Museum Campus — including Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium — if you can schedule around Spring Break and summer vacation crowds.
The Taste of Chicago food festival draws big hordes in September, so avoid that time if you don't like packed events. Anytime schools are in session is a better bet, especially on weekdays when many businesses catering to conventions are slower. Bundle up in winter when hotel prices plummet. You'll practically have the Riverwalk and other outdoor spots to yourself on a snowy day.
4. Enjoy Parks and Free Activities
World-class attractions like Millennium Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Garfield Park Conservatory are all free and open every day. Take Instagram pics in front of "The Bean" sculpture at Millennium Park with the Chicago skyline behind you. Lincoln Park Zoo features lions, giraffes, penguins, and more, and you don't have to pay an admission fee. Visit the park's hidden Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool garden from late spring through early fall for especially breathtaking views.
Chicago's location on Lake Michigan provides miles of scenic lakefront trails, beaches, and parks to enjoy at no cost. Walk, bike, or picnic along the water and take in beautiful views of sailboats and the cityscape. Visit North Avenue Beach, 12th Street Beach, 31st Street Beach, or Ohio Street Beach when the weather is fine and you'll get free access to the shore.
5. Purchase Tickets for Popular Attractions in Advance
Skip the lines and save money on things like the Blue Man Group and Broadway shows by purchasing discounted tickets ahead of time.
If you're serious about discovering everything Chicago has to offer, Chicago CityPASS® tickets give you admission to major attractions at a reduced price. Choose from Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry, 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck, Adler Planetarium, and a Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour. When you order tickets ahead of time, you can knock out Chicago's highlights while locking in big savings.
Save Money on Your Next Visit to Chicago With CityPASS® Tickets
Chicago CityPASS® tickets package Chicago’s top things to do at a significantly reduced rate. By opting for a CityPASS® ticket, you can save up to off combined regular ticket prices for included attractions.
With a CityPASS® ticket, you'll enjoy access to Chicago's premier museums and observatories while maximizing your budget. Avoiding long ticket booth lines is another perk of pre-purchasing this discounted pass. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a repeat traveler, CityPASS® tickets make exploring Chicago more affordable and convenient.
To get the most out of your stay in Chicago, we recommend finding lodging near Chicago's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you: