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Top 10 budget things to do in Chicago

Posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2006 at 10:13 pm CET

Here is a list of 10 cheap things that you can do on your visit to the Windy City. From walking along Michigan Avenue and seeing the lake from Navy Pier, Chicago is a great city. Here is my list of top free (or cheap) things to do in and around Chicago:

  1. Stained Glass Museum, Navy Pier
  2. Millennium Park
  3. Field Museum of Natural History
  4. Eli’s Cheesecake World
  5. Magnificent Mile
  6. Museum of Science and Industry
  7. Illinois Beach State Park (Zion)
  8. Shedd Aquarium
  9. Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe)
  10. The Spindle (Berwyn)


Navy Pier

Stained Glass Museum, Navy Pier

700 E. Grand Avenue, ( 312-791-6049
Open Su-Th: 10am-8pm; Fr-Sa: 10am-10pm

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is a permanent display of 150 stained glass windows housed in an 800ft.-long series of galleries along the lower level terraces of Festival Hall at Navy Pier. All of the windows were designed by prominent local, national and European studios and most were originally installed in Chicago area residential, commercial and religious buildings. The museum is free.


Jay Pritzker Pavilion (left) and Anish Kapoor's 'The Bean' (right) at Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Between Michigan Avenue, Randolph Street and Monroe Street
( 312-742-1168, Open Mo-Su 6am-11pm

Millennium Park is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. Among Millennium Park’s prominent features are the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States; the interactive Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa; the contemporary Lurie Garden designed by the team of Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel; and Anish Kapoor’s hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture on the SBC Plaza.

Before you go don’t forget to download this official (and free!) audio tour for your iPod. The 40-minute tour is a great way to experience the park. Audio tour rental is also available for $5 in the Chicago Shop at Millennium Park.


Field Museum of Natural History
Photo by Atelier Teee

Field Museum of Natural History

1400 S. Lake Shore Drive ( 312 922-9410
Open: Mo-Su 9am-5pm

The highlight of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History is Sue, the largest, most complete and best preserved T-Rex in the world. Also worth visiting is the museum’s comprehensive set of cultural exhibits, including artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Pacific Northwest, and Tibet. Entrance to the museum is free, but if you want to see Sue (she has been moved out of the main lobby) you must get a Gold Pass, which is $19 for adults. However, the museum has 52 discount days in the year on which admission is just $7.

Check out this live view of the Chicago skyline from a cam located on top of the Field Museum.



Eli’s Cheesecake World

6701 Forest Preserve Drive ( 800-ELI-CAKE
Open: Mo-Fr 8am-6pm, Sa 9am-5pm, Su 11am-5pm

Eli’s Cheesecake World offers sneak peek tours of their factory, where you can see the 62,000 square foot bakery where Chicago’s favorite dessert is actually being made. You learn about the company and see how a cheesecake is made from start to finish – including research and development, mixing, baking, hand decorating, and packaging.



Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile is a wonderful part of North Michigan Avenue with world-class shopping, dining, lodging and leisure entertainment. There are many free events throughout the year, including Light Nights in January, Tulip Days in April/May, Gardens of Chicago in the summer and the Lights Festival in November.

Before you go check out this helpful page with a listing of the public restrooms, weather, maps and other resources.


Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
Photo by sftrajan

Museum of Science and Industry

57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, ( 773 684-1414
Open: Mo-Sa 9:30am-4pm, Su: 11am-4pm

The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the most beloved and visited museums in the world. Current temporary exhibits include Living Heart (through 5 March) and Robots like us. Regular admission is $11 for adults, but the museum has over 50 free days through the year.



Illinois Beach State Park

Lake front, Zion, ( 847-662-4811, open: Memorial Day to Labor Day sunrise to 8:00 p.m; Labor Day to Memorial Day sunrise to sunset

Illinois Beach State Park (see map) stretches 6 miles along scenic Lake Michigan. It was established as a means to preserve the beach’s shoreline and the unique ecosystem within this park. It is one of the most popular Illinois state parks, offering camping, hiking and swimming. Check out this related article with some photos of my last visit to the park.


The John G. Shedd Aquarium
Photo by joethefig

Shedd Aquarium

1200 South Lake Shore Drive, ( 312 692-3274
Open: 9am-5am or 6am (see detailed hours page

The Shedd Aquarium is the second largest aquarium in the world, with 5 million gallons of water and 20,000 fish. It was opened in 1929, making it one of the oldest public aquariums in the world. Admission is steep at $23 for adults, but there are discount days throughout the year that are listed on the website.


garden scene
Photo by petalpower

Chicago Botanic Garden

1000 Lake Cook Road , Glencoe, ( 847 835-5440
Open: 8am to sunset

The Chicago Botanic Garden, a 300-acre living museum, offers you the opportunity to experience more than 20 different gardens, from the serenity of the Japanese Garden to the vibrant colors of the Rose Garden. Entrance to the park is free, but a parking fee of $12 per car is applied.


Berwyn Spindle

The Spindle

Update: The Spindle was removed in May 2008

Made famous in the 1992 film Wayne’s World is this 40 foot spindle of eight cars at Cermak Plaza Mall in Berwyn, Illinois. The Spindle is an 1989 work of art by Dustin Shuler, who has more auto works in the de Saisset Museum in Santa Clara, California. There are 20 other sculptures located around the mall. We visited this place last week; check out these photos.


Feb 12, 2007
7:41 pm
#1 Janie Jenkins wrote:

This is a fabulous post. I forwarded to a friend. I LOVE Chicago! Thanks for the info!

Jul 18, 2007
3:01 pm
#2 Maggie wrote:

Please visit our site at dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the Spindle.

Jul 17, 2010
6:54 pm
#3 Jessy wrote:

The Spindle isnt there no more. Update your facts

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