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12 cheap date ideas in Chicago

These cheap date ideas are awesomely fun and incredibly cheap

By Marty Johnson |
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Photograph: John Khuu

Planning an extravagant date night can be a great way to experience the best restaurants in Chicago and check out some of the city's top attractions. The only downfall? It can get expensive fast. If you're short on cash but still want to plan an epic night out, steal one of our cheap date ideas. Skip the Netflix marathon and check out iconic city landmarks, gratis concerts, awesome arcade bars and free things to do in Chicago—all without breaking the bank. These 12 cheap date ideas don't sacrifice fun, but they will give your wallet a rest.

RECOMMENDED: Check out more date ideas in Chicago

Cheap date ideas

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Things to do

Hang out with animals in Lincoln Park

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

Not only is the Lincoln Park Zoo open every day of the year, it's also 100 percent free to visit. Get cozy while you check out the lions, tigers and bears, and be sure to head back in December, when the grounds are illuminated with colorful holiday lights for ZooLights.

Make it a date: Once you’re done looking at the animals, grab a bite to eat at nearby Butcher & the Burger in Lincoln Park. The house patty is less than $10, and complimentary toppings include Sriracha mayo, tomato, onion and lettuce. As an added bonus, it's BYOB, so bring along a bottle of wine to save a few more bucks.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Enjoy dinner and a show in Millennium Park

icon-location-pin Millennium Park

While it's undeniably one of Chicago's biggest tourist traps, Millennium Park has a lot to offer to local couples looking for affordable entertainment. Come summer, you can lay out a blanket on the lawn of Pritzker Pavilion and check out free concerts, movies and festivals.

Make it a date: Swing by Pastoral and grab a picnic basket or sandwiches to go. (Booze is banned at some Millennium Park summer events, but outside food is almost always allowed.)

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Photograph: Martha Williams
Music, Rock and indie

Catch a free show at the Empty Bottle

icon-location-pin Ukrainian Village

Looking for a toe-tapping night out? On most Mondays, the Empty Bottle hosts free shows featuring local acts and touring bands, including indie rockers and experimental electronic artists.

Make it a date: Grab a table next door at Bite Cafe and order the Monday night special: A $5 chicken sandwich topped with pickled chiles, house pickles and aioli. Splurge on a few rounds of drinks or a photobooth session with your partner.

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Photograph: Max Herman
Movie theaters, Independent

Have a cinematic evening at the Music Box Theatre

icon-location-pin Wrigleyville

The Music Box's 90-year-old main theater is the most romantic place to see a movie, with its Italian architecture and simulated clouds rolling across the ceiling. The prices are just as nice: Adult admission is just $11, but on Mondays, most screenings are $7. Popcorn and soda are B.O.G.O.

Make it a date: After the credits roll, walk two blocks south to the Butcher's Tap, which features a menu of affordable sandwiches and more than 115 beers.

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Things to do, Quirky events

Play Ping Pong at SPiN

icon-location-pin River North

Nothing breaks the ice quite like smacking a small plastic ball as hard as you can. This River North Ping Pong club charges $8 an hour (per person) for use of one of its tables, but you can offset the cost with happy hour drink deals, which are available from 4 to 7pm Monday through Friday.

Make it a date: Head across the river to the iconic Billy Goat Tavern. Impress you date by pronouncing "cheezborger" correctly and rattling off a few facts about the framed photos of journalists hanging on the restaurant's walls.

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Photograph: Mark Wright
Bars, Sports Bars

See a turtle race at Tin Lizzie

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

Ever been to a turtle race? It's never too late. A $25 fee grants you access to an open bar from 5 to 9pm, which includes beer, well drinks, pizza and five race tickets. Bet on your favorite turtle, and if your reptile wins the race, you get free shots.  

Make it a date: After the races, take your date two blocks north to the Wiener's Circle, a small walkup stand known for its sassy employees, a short-lived reality show and great hot dogs.

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Movie theaters, Independent

Brush up on the classic at Doc Films

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

If your date had "cinephile" or "film buff" in their dating profile, this is sure to win you brownie points. Curated by the University of Chicago, Doc Films screens movies every day of the academic year, often showing flicks that can’t be seen anywhere else. Tickets are always just $7, and summer memberships are $25.

Make it a date: Have a drink at neighborhood speakeasy the Hyde. To get into this hidden spot, you'll need to provide a password that can be found on the bar's Instagram account.

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Bars, Beer bars

Become a pinball wizard at Emporium

icon-location-pin Wicker Park

They say nothing's sexier than talent, so why not impress your date by getting a high score on one of Emporium's pinball tables? In addition to a selection of retro arcade games, this Wicker Park haunt boats a full bar and allows customers to bring in outside food. Tokens are just 25 cents, so your money goes far.

Make it a date: Take advantage of the food policy by ordering from Antique Taco, located two doors down. All of the tacos ring up under $5, which allows you to spend more on that Game of Thrones pinball machine when you get back to the bar.

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Shopping, Liquor stores

Learn about liquor at the Koval Distillery

icon-location-pin Uptown

The liquors that Koval Distillery produces are expensive, but a tour of the Chicago facility where they’re made is a bargain. For just $10 per person, you and your boo will get to see how Koval formulates its organic whiskeys while sampling the product.

Make it a date: Balance out the booze at Sun Wah BBQ in Uptown. The restaurant is known for its Hong Kong-style BBQ, and if you don’t order the jumbo-sized family portions, you can easily feast on egg rolls, Chinese broccoli and roast duck for less than $40.

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Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Arts District
Art, Galleries

Go on a gallery crawl in Pilsen

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

Going on an adventure is a great way to get to know someone, but you don't have to book a flight to spend an evening exploring. Every second Friday of the month, the Chicago Arts District hosts 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, allowing you and your date to explore the galleries and studios along Halsted Street in Pilsen at your own pace.

Make it a date: After you've taken in paintings, sculptures and photographs by local creators, walk south on Halsted Street to Del Toro, a Pilsen restaurant that serves cheap tacos and excellent margaritas—we recommend the Pepino.

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Readers' choice: Best wine store

Do brunch and a wine tasting in Roscoe Village

If you're dating someone who's vegan or vegetarian, you know it can be hard to find restaurants that are accommodating. Start your Sunday with a healthy brunch at Lucy’s Cafe, a small Roscoe Village haunt that boasts an entirely vegan and vegetarian menu. Prices are reasonable, with most entrees costing $12 or less.

Make it a date: Of course, it wouldn’t be brunch without a little day drinking. After your meal, head over to Lush Wine and Spirits for a free vino tasting beginning at 2pm.

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Photograph: Erin Delahanty
Movie theaters, Independent

Find big screens and deals at the Davis Theater

icon-location-pin Lincoln Square

Dinner and a movie may not be the most original date idea, but it's an undeniably fun way to spend an evening with someone you love—and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. The Davis Theater boasts ticket prices that are a bit less than the multiplex.

Make it a date: Adjacent Carbon Arc Bar offers drinks and classic bar food specials that you can take with you into the theater. The restaurant serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm, with a menu that includes $15 bottomless mimosas.

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