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City living can be expensive and then factoring in entertainment can make your paycheck disappear. Thankfully, the Windy City has a bounty of regular free or cheap activities to keep Chicagoans occupied, if you know where and when to look. Let’s check out the best activities in Chicago that won’t break the bank.

Frugal Fun Ideas for Chicago

As someone who grew up in Chicago, I’ve seen countless opportunities to enjoy the city without breaking the bank. The city is a beautiful mix of cultures, which lend themselves to the various fun to be had around every corner. Here are a few of my favorite things and places in Chicago!

Cultural Excursions

The Chicago Cultural Center

Originally designed to be the primary library for the city, in 1991 it became the Cultural Center which is home to over 500 free art exhibits and musical performances each year. Beautifully designed with mosaics, decorative stonework, and stained glass throughout the complex, the Chicago Cultural Museum is one place you can spend an afternoon for free and feel like royalty.

City Museum Free Days

The Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, The Art Institute, and the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier are but a sampling of the world-class museums that offer free days throughout the year. A quick Google search can tell you what museums are free during which times, or you can go to their websites and get an idea of when the free days will occur.

Famous Chicago Parks

Millennium Park

Ah, the Bean, one of the most recognizable sights in Chicago. Its shiny surface attracts thousands of visitors each year but the whole 5-acre attraction has something for everyone. In the summer, you can cool off in the water fountains or marvel at the Crown Fountain Towers as the faces of Chicago natives rain water down on the pavilion. The Lurie Garden is attractive to butterflies and people alike, with its mix of beautiful landscaping and breathtaking art, and there is live music almost daily. In the winter, grab your skates and show off your skills at the ice rink.

In every season, Millennium Park is the perfect spot to spend an afternoon with the family or that date you want to impress.

Garfield Park Conservatory

One of the three largest indoor gardens in the world, the Conservatory houses different plants for various types of biomes, from deserts to the tropics. Additionally, they rotate their flora and bring in many different hybrids, rare plants, and unique specimens from across the world. There’s even a special garden for children that is home to trees with huge roots, plants that quiver when touched, and other oddities that are sure to delight kids and grownups alike.

Many Chicago natives have never even heard of the Conservatory, and that’s a shame – it is a shining urban oasis that offers the beauty of nature all year round.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Zoos are fun for the whole family, and the Lincoln Park Zoo has the added benefit of being completely free. With events sprinkled throughout the year and a gorgeously landscaped interior filled with exotic and domestic animals alike, you’ll have no problem spending a morning or afternoon here. There’s even a working model of a farm to interact with!

With multiple train stops all around it, an afternoon of wildlife and greenery is only an L fare away.

Living in Chicago

Whether you’ve livid in Chicago your whole life, are just visiting, or you’re contemplating making the big leap to the Windy city, there’s so much to see, do, and learn. For those looking at moving to Chicago, the idea of renting an apartment can seem overwhelming. That’s why, amidst the frugal fun you’re having, it’s important to utilize smart resources to help you find an apartment in Chicago. Don’t let the stress of apartment hunting take away from the beautiful experience that is life in the city!

Greeter Tours

Greeter tours are especially great if you’ve recently started living in the city because you can find out about attractions close to your home for free while you’re still reeling from the expenses of moving. Even if you’ve lived in Chicago your entire life, there are so many hidden gems and interesting facts about the city that you’ll learn something new every time. These tours are run by native Chicagoans who will take you all over the city, explaining sites and sounds, history, and current events, and the tours are completely free.

CTA Day pass

While there are weekly, monthly, and annual CTA passes for students and workers alike, a day pass is a minor investment ($10) to travel wherever you want within Chicago. Plan your trip, get your pass, and explore one of the most magnificent cities in the world at your own pace.

If you get bored, simply hop on the L and take it to a different station. Explore downtown and the lakefront, or check out Navy Pier, the Riverwalk, or the art of Pilsen. $10 is a small price to pay for unfettered access to any part of Chicago.

City fun doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg

Frugal living in Chicago doesn’t have to be hard work – there are plenty of places to visit, exhibits to see, and music to hear completely for free. With a little work and maybe a picnic lunch, you can enjoy some of the most iconic parts of Chicago with very little monetary investment, and that’s pretty spectacular.

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