Travel can be expensive. But with a little planning, it can be affordable. Just check out our Chicago weekend on a budget.
This fall we took a family vacation (via Amtrak train) to Chicago for a long weekend and I was able to maximize our entertainment and sightseeing by doing a little research and planning in advance and keep our admission costs minimal.
I did splurge for SkyDeck tickets, but I did save us $9 on tickets from getting a deal on Travelzoo, so be sure to check out the deal sites to see where you can get some money off.
There are also a lot of iconic sites in Chicago to view for free when you are in route to other destinations, like Calder’s Flamingo sculpture and The Chicago Theatre that we saw as we walked from the hotel to the SkyDeck.
Also, we were able to get in FREE to three places that normally charge admission because we have a membership pass to the Science Museum of Minnesota. The Science Museum of Minnesota is part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program which gets us free general admission to over 350 science center and museums.
If you do not have a science museum membership to use, consider getting a Chicago City Pass if you will be able to go to 5 of the locations listed.
Other places in Chicago that you are able to use your science museum pass include the International Museum of Surgical Science and Museum of Science and Industry. Be sure to look at what other memberships (like children’s museums or history museums or arboretums or zoos) you have as they may get you in for free or at a discounted price.
Consider taking a walk tour (or at least take a cab to one end) of Grant Park (which includes Millennium Park) to see all the iconic sculptures that are there to view for FREE! Some of the things you will see include Cloud Gate “The Bean”, The Crown Fountain, The Lurie Garden, Buckingham Fountain (remember that from the opening credits of Married with Children?), and Grant Park Rose Garden.
A couple other places to go check out that are FREE (and walkable to each other include the Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory. They are also near The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, if you happen to be going there as well. Seeing all three on the same day is completely reasonable and saves you any additional cab fare.
Also, if you happen to be lucky (or plan it out accordingly) you can tours places like the Lyric Opera for FREE if you go during Open House Chicago weekend. Last year there was over 200 places you could tour for FREE. When we toured the Lyric Opera they were also offering a discount to buy tickets for a show later that day, which might be something to keep in the back of your head when you are touring some of the places.
I think it would be awesome to go back again that same weekend with just my husband or some girlfriends so we can tour more buildings. I just find all of the architecture in Chicago to be fascinating!
Cab fares for our family of four typically ran anywhere from $10-$15 (plus tip), but it also helped that our hotel was pretty centrally located.
There are also a couple options for water taxis in Chicago, which in some instances have cheaper fares (depending upon locations) than a street cab. Or if you are just looking to get out on Lake Michigan for a bit, this is an inexpensive way to do it and give you awesome views of the Chicago Cityscape. Plus there are routes on the Chicago River that are a nice way to do some sightseeing through downtown without traffic congestion. You can also find discount coupons for the water taxi in some coupon booklets (I saw it in the one from the Amtrak station in Chicago.)
Other places that are FREE to visit anytime include (there may be parking fees though, just admission is free):
- City Gallery in Historic Water Tower
- National Museum of Mexican Art
- The DuSable Museum of African American History
- The Oriental Institute
- Museum of Contemporary Photography
- Chicago Botanic Garden
- Smart Museum of Art
- Navy Pier (it is free to go here & some attractions are free, but there are also lots of options to spend money here as well)
A Chicago weekend on a budget is a fun getaway for all ages. Just spend a little time planning and you’ll be sure to save money on your trip.
Your turn: What are your favorite low-cost things to do in Chicago?