How to Visit Chicago on a Tight Budget

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Experience chic downtown Chicago without blowing your budget.
Experience chic downtown Chicago without blowing your budget. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

In a city known for its high-end museums, elegant steakhouses and luxury hotels, at first glance you might think Chicago has little to offer the budget-minded traveler. But if you know where to look, the Windy City also has a host of free sights and budget-friendly devices that will help you save a pretty penny.

Cheap Digs

HI Chicago is an all-ages hostel in the heart of downtown Chicago, just two short blocks from Grant Park. The seven-story hotel has private guest rooms and dorm rooms for up to 10 guests, the latter of which has rates starting at $32 a night as of December 2014. Members of Hosteling International receive an even bigger discount. The hostel includes free breakfast, sheets, towels, and maps and tours of the city. Just steps from the hundreds of shops and restaurants on the Miracle Mile, the Red Roof Inn Chicago Downtown has double occupancy rates starting at $75 a night as of December 2014. Kids 17 and under and pets stay free. The motel also has an affordable on-site diner and valet parking with in-and-out privileges at no cost.

Free Sights

Chicago has many major attractions that are free. Nestled along shores of Lake Michigan, Lincoln Park Zoo covers nearly 50 acres. Open year-round, the venue is home to more than 1,100 animals, including a primate house, petting zoo for kids and bear habitat. Special events include story time sessions and zoo keeper talks. The Chicago Cultural Center is housed inside a massive 1897 building with two stained-glass domes, ornate mosaics and marble pillars. Throughout the year the center hosts scores of free events, such as concerts, theatrical and dance performances, film screenings and art exhibits.

Affordable Transportation

Divvy is a bicycle-share company with a fleet of 3,000 bikes scattered across 300 stations throughout the city. As of December 2014, you can buy a day pass for just $7 that allows you to check out bikes from any station for 30-minute intervals during a 24-hour period. CTA trains and buses provide public transportation throughout Chicago’s various neighborhoods. As of December 2014, single rides cost just 50 cents, and discounted, one-day Ventra Cards offer unlimited bus and train rides for 24 hours for just $10.

Discount Tickets and Cards

Hot Tix is a ticketing agency that offers half-priced tickets for more than 200 theaters throughout the Chicago region, including such venues as the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Paramount Theatre and Chicago Children's Theatre. Run by the League of Chicago Theatres, the company sells discounted tickets online and in person at three outlets based downtown. Go Chicago Card is a service through which you can buy a one- to five-day pass that provides admission for up to 26 attractions for one discounted rate. Attractions available include such landmark tourist sites as Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Art Institute of Chicago.

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