Get us in your inbox

Search
Chicago skyline
Photograph: Shutterstock

11 cheap things to do in Chicago

Enjoy the city without spending a ton of cash by searching out cheap things to do in Chicago

Zach Long
Emma Krupp
Written by
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
Advertising

Chicago, we love you, but you can be pretty damn expensive (hello, $15 cocktails and pricey cover fees). If you're on the hunt for cheap things to do in Chicago, you'll find plenty of options that don't require spending a ton of dough. Some of our favorite low-cost pastimes are on hold due to current restrictions, but it's still possible to ball out on a budget while also supporting local businesses. You can help keep the best music venues in Chicago afloat with livestreamed concerts or explore exhibits at newly reopened Chicago museums. We're all yearning for the days where we can cram into dive bars for no-cover karaoke or enjoy late night drink specials, but in the meantime, here are some of the best cheap things to do in Chicago right now.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Cheap things to do in Chicago

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Loop

If you're in the Loop and want to visit a museum but you're looking for something a bit smaller (and more affordable) than the Art Institute or anything on Museum Campus, might we recommend the Museum of Contemporary Photography? The relatively compact galley typically displays one show at a time, making it easy to stop by and see some amazing photos when you have an hour or two to spare. Due to capacity restriction, visitors currently need to secure a timed reservation.

Price: Free, donations welcome

Explore the city on a Divvy bike
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

2. Explore the city on a Divvy bike

There are few better ways to see large swaths of the city up close than atop a bicycle. Chicago's bike-share system makes it easy to rent a bike for anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours and then return it at a dock. You can ride a Divvy along the Lakefront Trail, speed across the 606 or cruise through the city's boulevard system—if you're feeling adventurous, you could even try testing out one of Divvy's new (and extra-fast) e-bikes. Just don't forget to bring your own helmet and make sure there's a Divvy dock nearby your destination. And if you're wary of biking in the cold, here are some winter riding tips.

Price: Single 30-minute ride $3.30, 24 hours of 3-hour rides $15

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Suburbs

While most drive-in theaters are closed for the season, Rock Island Public House is welcoming cars to park in front of a makeshift screen in its parking lot. The Blue Island bar hosts first-come, first-served outdoor screenings every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a rotating selection of films that range from obscure slasher flicks to classics like Goodfellas and Groundhog Day. Once you're parked, you can also enjoy drinks and food from the bar, but you may have to show up early to lock down your spot.

Price: Free

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Millennium Park

One of the most distinctive features of Maggie Daley Park is its quarter-mile skating ribbon, which wraps around a climbing wall. In the winter, the ribbon is coated with ice so that skaters can slide along the curvy, gently-sloped path. Currently, you need to make a reservation to get on the ice—it's cheaper if you bring your own skates, but rentals are available.

Price: $5 per reservation, skate rentals $16

 

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • East Garfield Park

The lush indoor gardens at the Garfield Park Conservatory are still closed to the public, but the local institution's weekly yoga program is continuing virtually. You can log on for a one-hour flow session broadcast from inside the conservatory every Saturday at 9am—even total beginners are welcome to join! Keep an eye on the Garfield Park Conservatory events calendar to reserve your spot in each session and consider making a donation to support the organization.

Price: Free, donations welcome

  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Wrigleyville

With its auditorium closed to customers, the Music Box Theatre has started offering affordable at-home rentals of newly-released arthouse movies. You can browse the latest options (including foreign films and documentaries) on the Music Box Direct website, then download the app on your Roku, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV to watch your selection on a larger screen. For the full Music Box experience, you can also pick up popcorns, beverages and other snacks from the theater.

Price: $12 per movie

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Pullman
  • price 1 of 4

Explore labor history and more in Pullman, the Far South Side neighborhood that was once home to the infamous Pullman Company planned community. The Historic Pullman Foundation offers guided tours (featuring attractions like the Pullman National Monument) on the first Sunday of every month from May to October, but visitors are always welcome to take a free, self-guided look around the neighborhood with the help of a walking tour brochure.

Price: $10 adults, $7 students and seniors; self-guided tour is free

  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • River West/West Town
  • price 1 of 4

No one can predict when live music might be able to resume at local venues, so for the time being, going to a show at the Hideout will mean logging onto NoonChorus and tuning into a stream. Tickets for individual shows—Hideout bartender Lawrence Peters' weekly happy hour or live performance from local acts—will typically run you anywhere from $5 to $15, but diehard fans can also opt for a monthly $25 subscription to save some dough.

Price: $5–$15

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Suburbs

Want to spend an affordable day appreciating nature? Head out to suburban Lisle to soak in the 1,700-acre expanses of the Morton Arboretum, home to more than 222,000 live plants from around the world. Explore winding trails and forests or check out the Arboretum's calendar of events, where you'll find tons of nature-related activities and other outdoor programming. Don't forget to secure a timed reservation from the Morton Arboretum website before you head out.

Price: Adults $15 ($10 on Wednesdays), seniors $13 ($9 on Wednesdays), children $10 ($7 on Wednesdays)

  • Music
  • Music

This Roscoe Village venue—which typically hosts jazz, experimental and contemporary classical acts—has installed a robotic camera system during its COVID-imposed downtime, and it's now hosting a couple streaming concerts every week. Recent shows have featured folks like Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and local saxophonist Isiah Collier performing in Consetllation's music room. Admission is donation-based, with proceeds split between the artist and the venue.

Price: $15 suggested donation

Advertising
  • Theater
  • Interactive
  • Uptown
  • price 1 of 4

Equal parts block party and populist performance art, the Neo-Futurists' signature show The Infinite Wrench packs about 30 two-minute plays into a 60 minute show—and now, you can stream weekly performances straight to your home with The Infinite Wrench Goes Viral. Sign up on Patreon for one of five weekly subscription tiers (ranging from the $3 Elbow Bump to the $100 Extended, Almost Uncomfortable Hug) to receive a link to each week's show; the pricier tiers will net you more perks and bonus content, but even a manageable $3–$5 a week gives you access to the troupe's latest performances.

Price: $3–$100 a week.

More cheap things to do

Advertising
Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising