If you’re a graduate student like me, you might be a little, well… broke. I mean, student loans are an option, but I’d rather not think about having to pay extra back. This is why I try my best to budget and limit my spending.
Here’s the thing, though- now that I live in downtown Chicago, everyone wants to visit. And I mean everyone. I personally am more than happy to open my place up, but showing people around the town can get a little pricey. That’s why I’ve developed this list of my key five free things to do while you are in Chicago.
Millennium Park is one of the most- if not the most- popular attractions in Chicago. Ever heard of the famous Bean? Well, it’s actually called Cloud Gate, but that’s beside the point. This park houses well-known Chicago art pieces such as that Bean, Crown Fountain, and more. I highly recommend checking it out and taking a few selfies. You can get some amazing pictures of the Chicago skyline for no price at all. Warm weather is definitely a plus, but it is still beautiful in the snow!
Lincoln Park Zoo
This is one of my favorite things to do in Chicago! Not only is there a zoo, but also a conservatory (lots and lots of plants!) The amazing thing is, there is absolutely zero charge to do both.
When I heard this originally, I was like, “Wow, free zoo? There is probably, like, one lion and that’s it.” I was very wrong. When I went, I was blown away by the detail of the habitats and the wide range of plants and animals to visit. It was great! The best part is that, if you don’t have the entire day to dedicate to the zoo, you don’t have to pay a million dollars to enter and then feel guilty when you only see half of the exhibits. It’s also in a great location, not far from lots of places to eat.
A lot of people come to Chicago and want to do the whole Willis (Sears?) Tower thing. That means paying $20ish dollars a person to ride an elevator for a view of the city. Sure, you can step on the ledge and essentially hover over 100 floors up, but in my experience, it was “step on, take a picture, and get scooted off for the next group.” I personally recommend the Signature Lounge, instead.
This lounge is located in the Hancock Center. Now, you’re not exactly 100+ floors up, but in my opinion, floor 96 looks pretty much the same. There is no fee for entry, and you can briefly walk around and check out the view for free. The only catch is that if you do want to stay for a little while and grab a table, you do have to buy 1 thing. I personally get a dessert because, in my opinion, that’s a much better deal.
There are many tour options in Chicago. You can do bus tours, segway tours, boat tours, lots of tours. Most of those cost money, though, and it adds up quickly. I recommend doing a self-guided tour. There are many you can find on the internet, or you could always ask a local where the best spots are and use GPS (what a wonderful thing.) This allows you to really explore and get to know the city in your own way. I have always found that that’s the most fun. You may just stumble upon something awesome!
Free Days at the Museums
Chicago has quite a few museums. Some are free, and those that are not have certain “free days.” You may be required to show an I.D. for this. You can usually find a list of the free days online or at the library. I have yet to try one of these, but many of my classmates recommend it for when they have visitors. Why not have fun and learn something new at the same time?
I love having visitors! Thus far, they all seem to really enjoy these options. Chicago is a big city full of so much to do. You just have to take some time to find what works for you… and your budget!