Got limited funds but unlimited energy? Join the club. To alleviate your all-too-real FOMO, we've compiled a list of the best things to do in Chicago on the cheap. After all, there's no need to miss out on the best dishes in the city or Chicago comedy nights just because you're on a budget. So save up your pennies for that vacation you've been dying to take and hit up these cheap things to do in Chicago. And while you're at it, check out the best free things to do, too.
Cheap things to do in Chicago
If eating your way through the city on a fairly tight budget sounds like a challenge you're up to, we've got a good one. We've rounded up the 50 best cheap eats we could find around the city, from fantastic tacos and burgers to pizza. See how many you've tried and how many more you need to hit to round out your list.
There's no shortage of great Chicago plays and musicals to see any day of the year—but sometimes there might be a shortage in your wallet. Traditionally, most theaters in Chicago (including Broadway in Chicago) have offered incentives for full-season subscriptions. But anecdotally at least, subscription bases are on the wane, as younger audiences want more flexibility. And subscriptions do no good for visitors to the city. So what to do if you want a deal? Here are seven avenues to seeing Chicago theater on the cheap.
Under a glass dome and in greenhouse rooms on just more than a half acre thrive more than 40,000 plants representing around 200 species. Attractions include an extensive fern collection, a room full of dozens of orchid varieties and a 100-year-old, 50-foot rubber tree. Flower shows change with the seasons.
Cheap can mean chintzy or substandard, but not when it comes to this list of bargain shops. While many of these stores offer cheap clothes, bargain accessories or marked-down menswear, the quality is anything but inferior. Not to be confused with vintage clothing or thrift stores, these shops are the place to score amazing new merchandise at a fraction of the cost—whether it's 65 percent off designer handbags, a plethora of affordable bow ties at a men's store or the perfect little black dress for just $30.
Housing of one of the largest collections of modern art in the nation, the Museum of Contemporary Art also hosts major touring exhibits, film screenings and performing artists. When they're not browsing the extensive galleries, visitors can grab a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant or take a stroll through a picturesque sculpture garden. Don't forget to exit through the gift shop—it boasts one of the city's best selections of offbeat tchotchkes.
Lace up your ice skates and become part of a favorite winter tradition at the rink at Lincoln Park Zoo's Farm-in-the-Zoo on select dates from November 25–February 26. (Check the website for a calendar.) The Main Barn is open for concessions and warming up. Skate rental is available for an additional $5.
Hop off the train at the Fullerton Red and Brown line station and you'll find yourself at the front door of this underrated art museum on the DePaul University campus in Lincoln Park. The currators of the DePaul Art Museum have made a habit of hosting exciting exhibitions culled from the school's personal collection, including photographs taken by Andy Warhol and Jeff Carter's sculptures made from IKEA furniture.
We don't know if they're painting smiles on people's faces at the door or if they're mixing something into the booze, but everyone seems to be in a good mood at this energetic and inclusive queer party that's been going strong since 2008. It's worth getting there early, or else risk getting stuck in a line running down the block.
Produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Lake FX Expo + Summit gives practicing artists and creative professionals a place to meet and learn more about their craft. The three-day conference will feature keynotes by industry leaders, workshops, networking opportunities and showcases of local music and film.
Polish American painter Ed Paschke grew up on the Northwest Side, attended the Art Institute and taught at Northwestern University. The Ed Paschke Art Center makes a collection of his work available to residents of the city he loved. His confrontational, brightly-colored paintings typically dealt with topics like fame, sex and violence, inspired by the pop art of Warhol. The gallery include a recreation of Paschke’s 2004 studio and works from each period of his artistic career.
Score an awesome Mid-century piece, impeccable 70's gear, or beef up your vinyl collection at this north side market in, yes, an Uptown parking garage. Markets run on the third Sunday of each month from April to October–each with a different theme. Next up: the "Rockability Tiki" market.
You don't have to look any further than Pilsen to find one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art and explore a 6,000-piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits, performing-arts showcases and educational programming that represents an illustrious Mexican culture.
When this institution opened in 1961, African-American history was suffering serious neglect at the hands of the city’s—and for that matter the nation’s—cultural institutions. The Hyde Park cultural hub is now one of the oldest African-American–focused museums in the country. On display are documents and artifacts from the lives of overlooked or unjustly marginalized movers and shakers, plus a collection of vibrant African-American art.
Since being converted to the Cultural Center in 1991 (it used to be the Chicago Public Library), this city-block-wide institution now offers free classical concerts Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Most of the center’s classical offerings take place in Preston Bradley Hall on the second floor near the Washington Street entrance, but the Claudia Cassidy Theater (named for the Tribune’s venom-penned theater and music critic from the ’40s) on the Randolph Street side is used for experimental concerts, too. Concerts are always free.
More than 200 vendors hawk their antique housewares, furniture, ephemera, clothing and more at this indoor-outdoor festival. Stop in for vintage clothes and jewelry, a vinyl swap meet, a fancy food market and global goods bazaar or bring your own items for appraisal. This event typically occurs on the last weekend of each month. During the warm-weather months of May–September, the market adds an outdoor area, offering even more vintage shopping and a beer garden.
Stave off the winter blues inside the Chicago Botanic Garden's Regenstein Center, where the greenhouses and gallery will be packed with more than 10,000 in-bloom orchids, featuring an array of hybrids. On Saturday and Sundays, the Orchid Marketplace allows you an opportunity to purchase the plants.
This polite Lincoln Park club has an unusual setup–two different bands in two different rooms on two different stages, with MC Frank Pellegrino keeping things moving at all times. Expect to find local bands that lean in a rock direction while playing standards such as "(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," though the club occasionally books out-of-town acts as well.
Intuit is the only nonprofit organization in the U.S. devoted to the exclusive presentation of outsider and contemporary self-taught art. More than simply a gallery, Intuit is a vital resource for students, scholars and the art enthusiasts, featuring a permanent collection containing 1,100+ works of art, the Henry Darger Room collection, the Robert A. Roth Study Center, educational programs and more.
The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink is open to the public for skating with one of the best views of the downtown skyline. Experience one of the city's finest winter traditions from November 18 (the same day as the city's 103rd annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration) to March 5. Check the website for daily hours of operation. Admission is free with free skating lessons Friday through Sunday one hour before the rink opens.