Get us in your inbox

Search
Chicago skyline
Photograph: Shutterstock

15 cheap things to do in Chicago

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

Erin Yarnall
Written by
Erin Yarnall
Advertising

A city as big of Chicago is backed with opportunities to experience amazing things, but many of them come with a hefty price tag (hello, $15 cocktails). Thankfully, your options aren't limited to expensive dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants and pricey tickets to stadium concerts. You can find cheap things to do in Chicago that are as memorable as they are affordable. Love comedy but can’t find any affordable tickets? Spend a night watching students perform at the Second City. Interested in history but can’t spring for a Chicago crime tour? Some of the best museums in Chicago are pretty affordable. We’ve tracked down cheap things to do in Chicago that don’t skimp on the good times.

Cheap things to do in Chicago

  • Music
  • Rock and indie
  • Ukrainian Village
  • price 1 of 4

As one of the largest cities in the country, it’s almost guaranteed that most musicians will make a stop in Chicago while they’re on tour. Since 1992, the Empty Bottle has been one of the preferred places to catch rising acts, including early shows by the Strokes and the Mountain Goats—the small dive bar’s stage offers a great opportunity to see live music up close and personal. All shows are 21 and up, and tickets to most shows are usually affordable. Plus, shows on Monday nights are usually free!

Price: Varies, usually less than $20

  • Things to do
  • Millennium Park

What says summer more than hitting the links? Well, the miniature links—Chicago boasts a great mini golf course located right in Maggie Daley Park, offering an unbeatable view of the city’s skyline from each hole. It also features Chicago-themed holes, including one that challenges golfers to get their ball to go over a miniature model of the Wells Street Bridge that features "El" train cars running above it. The course opens up each May and closes in the fall.

Price: $10–$12 per game

Advertising
  • 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

Rent a Divvy and hit the Lakefront Trail
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

4. Rent a Divvy and hit the Lakefront Trail

One of the best things about Chicago is its location right next to Lake Michigan. And one of the best ways to enjoy the lake is on Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile path that stretches from Edgewater Beach to Jackson Park. If you want to ride along the lake, it’s easy to rent a Divvy bike at a neighborhood station or docks in parks along the lakefront. For a speedier ride, spring for an e-bike, which uses an electric motor to add additional power to your pedaling.

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

Advertising
Rent a canoe or kayak and hit the river
  • Things to do
  • North Center

Yeah, we know, Lake Michigan is great, but don’t forget about the Chicago River. There are three branches to explore, including a 1.6-mile stretch that takes boaters through the heart of the city’s downtown, passing under the bridges that connect the North Side of the city to the Loop. At Chicago River Canoe & Kayak, which operates out of the Clark Park boathouse in North Center, you can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle your way past amazing riverside sights.

Price: $20–$25 per hour

  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 2 of 4

For comedy fans, there are few stages as hallowed as the ones at the Second City, where comedy greats like Chris Farley, Jordan Peele and Amy Poehler got their start. While Main stage shows can cost a pretty penny, student shows typically only cost about $10. Second City has student shows most nights (be sure to check their online schedule), and they feature students currently involved in the comedy training center’s many programs, including acting, writing, improv and stand-up.

Price: $10

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

When he founded the Oriental Institute more than 100 years ago, University of Chicago professor and archeologist James Henry Breasted insisted that civilization began in the ancient Middle East, rather than in Greece or Rome. This museum has continued to explore the mission set forward by its founder, featuring more than 350,000 artifacts that have been uncovered by the museum’s own archeologists, including a nearly 3,000 year old sculpture that previously stood at the entrance of the Kingdom of Assyria’s throne room as early as 700 BC.

Price: $10 suggested donation

  • Attractions
  • Towers and viewpoints
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

As the birthplace of Ferris wheels, it only makes sense that Chicago still boasts a magnificent one. The Centennial Wheel doesn’t come with the history of the original wheel, built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The current Navy Pier attraction was built in 2016, featuring contemporary luxuries like enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas that operate year-round. The wheel lifts riders up 200 feet into the air, giving them not only a great view of the rest of Navy Pier, but a spectacular look at  the city’s skyline.

Price: $18

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Little Italy, UIC
  • price 1 of 4

Sure, you can go on a crime tour and learn about Chicago’s seedy past, but if you want to hear about the good of the city, look no further than Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. The building was originally a settlement house run by Jane Addams that housed and provided employment to immigrants, but it’s now a museum that serves as a memorial to Addams and her work. The Hull House Museum tells the story of the people who utilized the space, and the work they created while living there, including textile pieces and pottery produced by artists living at Hull House.

Price: $5 suggested donation

Get a drink at the Signature Lounge
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Streeterville
  • price 3 of 4

If you’re on a budget, you might want to steer clear of the Signature Room, an elegant restaurant located on the John Hancock building’s 95th floor that serves an $80 surf and turf entree. Instead, take the elevator one floor higher to the Signature Lounge, where you can grab a drink for less than $20 and take in what’s arguably one of the best views of the city from more than 1,000 feet in the air.

Price: Varies, less than $20 per drink

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Hyde Park
  • price 1 of 4

Chicago is well-known as one of the great architecture cities in the world, but the architecture tours only go so far (specifically, the Loop). Beyond the gleaming skyscrapers, there are other sturctures that prove that Chicago is rightly-acclaimed for its architecture, including homes designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, especially the Robie House in Hyde Park. Glances of the exterior are free, of course, but tours of the historic house are only $20, making it a budget-friendly way to explore one of the city’s most creatively-designed homes—an early example of Prairie School architecture.

Price: $20

  • Museums
  • Sport
  • Streeterville
  • price 1 of 4

If you’re coming to Chicago and not getting some sort of sports experience, you’re missing out. The city's various team have racked up a number of trophies through the years, but getting a glimpse of the teams in action can sometimes get a bit costly. A more affordable option? Paying tribute to Chicago’s best at the Chicago Sports Museum, a wallet-friendly stop that charges just $10 for admission. At the museum’s "Measure Up" exhibit, visitors can compare their jump heights to Michael Jordan’s, or their wingspan to Scottie Pippen’s. It also hosts the “Curses and Superstitions” exhibit, exploring the reasons why some fans believe the Cubs went 108 years without winning a World Series.

Price: $10

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

  • 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)

Advertising
  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Hyde Park

Founded in 1940, the University of Chicago's single-screen Doc Films theater is on record as the longest continuously running student film society in the country. While it began featuring documentaries, the current screening schedule showcases classic films from a variety of genres, appealing to film aficionados as well as casual moviegoers. Tickets go on sale a half hour before each showing in Ida Noyes Hall and all screenings are open to the public.

Price: $7, quarter pass $35

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising

      The best things in life are free.

      Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

      Loading animation
      Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

      🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

      Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!