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Lindsay Eagan

Visiting Chicago on a Budget - A Simple Way to Save on Your Vacation

Chicago is a Midwestern jewel of a city, nestled on the southwest corner of Lake Michigan. It's home to the first skyscraper and what were once the tallest buildings in the world. The city is a great choice for budget-minded travelers, especially when you use a Go Chicago Card, which makes visiting Chicago on a budget a breeze. It's lush during the warmer months and magical during a fresh snowfall in the winter. There is plenty to see and do during a trip to Chicago, and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

Save on Admission to Tourist Attractions

Admission to many of these Chicago tourist attractions and are included on the Go Chicago Card. Go Chicago Cards give you the flexibility to choose as you go from dozens of top attractions to create a vacation tailored to your family's interests. See all available passes, attractions & prices – Learn more. A few of the attractions include:

  • Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago Tour
  • The Shedd Aquarium
  • SkyDeck Chicago
  • Architecture River Cruise
  • And more!

Top Attractions to Visit for a Budget Friendly Trip Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Tour

Image of Bus, Vehicle, Tour Bus, Person, Double Decker Bus, The Hop On Hop Off Chicago Bus Tour combines flexible touring options and history lessons. All stops are conveniently located near popular destinations. Just get off, walk a little ways, and arrive at your destination with the least amount of hassle. Docents provide information about the area you're visiting while in transit. Getting In: Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Chicago Tour tickets are included on the Go Chicago Card.

The Shedd Aquarium

Image of Animal, Fish, Sea Life, A draughtsboard shark at the Shedd Aquarium.
The Shedd Aquarium brings the wonders of oceans, lakes, and rivers and makes it accessible to all. Resting neatly along the shore of Lake Michigan, the Shedd exhibits everything from nurse sharks to beluga whales and river otters. And it has almost everything in between. The Shedd is a delight to see for visitors of all ages who don't have the opportunity to visit these creatures in their natural habitats. Getting In: Shedd Aquarium tickets are included on the Go Chicago Card.

SkyDeck Chicago

Image of City, Photography, Urban, Building, Cityscape, Metropolis, High Rise, Outdoors, Office Building, Person, SkyDeck Chicago is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. It has one of the best views in town as it's the tallest building in Chicago with an observatory open to the public. Glass boxes that extend out away from the building make brave souls feel as if they're suspended in the air above Chicago. Those not as brave can wander around the deck and view the great expanse that makes up the city and its surrounding suburbs. Getting In: SkyDeck Chicago tickets are included on the Go Chicago Card.

Architecture River Cruise

Image of Boat, Vehicle, Ferry, Barge, Watercraft, Water, Waterfront, The Architecture Cruise is an exciting tour of the Chicago River and its architectural landmarks where you will see an incredibly diverse selection of architecture alongside the river. The Architecture River Cruise is a must do when in Chicago. The docents talk about the buildings, their history, and what caused them to be put there in the first place. Getting In: Chicago Architecture Boat Tour tickets are included on the Go Chicago Card.

The Field Museum

Image of Person, The Field Museum of Natural History was founded with an endowment from Marshall Field, the department store magnate. Nowadays the museum is home to the famous T-Rex skeleton known as Sue. The halls are filled with vintage dioramas including the mounted remains of famous animals from around the world. It's also full of interactive and educational displays that make the museum a lively and interesting place to visit. Getting In: The Field Museum tickets are included on the Go Chicago Card.

Fun Options to Visit During Your Trip:

360 Chicago

360 Chicago is located on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building, conveniently located on Michigan Avenue. The observatory has a 360-degree view of the surrounding environment and it's possible to see neighboring states on a clear day. Those who want a bit of adventure can find it at Tilt! where the ledge leans out at an angle over the street below.

Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium is a unique combination of museum, theaters, and a live observatory. Catch the latest showing about the world and universe that surrounds us or check out antique instruments used in the past to track the stars and skies above us. It's conveniently located near the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is a well-known destination that caters to all ages. The Ferris Wheel got an overhaul for 2016 and offers air conditioned cars that are much more comfortable than the old ones. There's also a tilt-a-whirl, light tower ride and merry-go-round to add to the carnival-like atmosphere that the Pier is well known for. If the rides aren't to taste, check out the remote control boats and be a captain for a few minutes.

Bike and Roll Chicago

Feel like getting your sweat on while seeing Chicago? Bike and Roll does just that! Rent a bike to travel the lakefront trail either by yourself or on a guided tour. Don't want to break a sweat? Get on a Segway to roll around the area and see Millennium Park, the Museum Campus and Buckingham Fountain just to name a few of the things you'll see.

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, located just south of Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue, is home to artwork from around the world. It's most famous for being the home of "Sunday on The Grande Jatte." Check out the Impressionist paintings by Monet, Degas, and Renoir, all collected by a famous Chicagoan from the 1800s.

Free Activities for a Budget Friendly Vacation: Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo has the distinction of being the oldest free zoo in Chicago. There is never a charge to enter the gates and view the exhibits. It's a world-class zoo that does an excellent job of creating habitats for the animals while making it easy for visitors to see them at any time.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park offers unique sights that include temporary sculpture exhibits, the face fountains, and the Cloud Gate, colloquially known as The Bean. Head over to the Peristyle by Randolph and Michigan for an interesting backdrop to a family photo. Don't hesitate to splash around in the pool between the gigantic video faces as they squirt water down towards those looking to cool off for a few minutes.

Explore Chicago's Underground Pedway

The Underground Pedway connects many buildings in the Loop to nearby train stations. The Pedway runs about 40 blocks, sometimes going overhead via bridges. It's designed so people can make their way from building to building without having to step outside during inclement weather. There are plenty of interesting retail shops located throughout.

Walk the Lakefront

Chicago's Lakefront has clear access going north and south. There's a lakefront trail that makes its way to the end of the beach on the north at Hollywood and Lake Shore Drive, then goes all the way south to the Museum of Science and Industry. It's a beautiful walk and offers incredible views of the buildings along the lake.

Let's Recap on Visiting Chicago on a Budget

There you go - a few great recommendations for things to do when visiting Chicago on a budget. Remember, many of these great budget friendly attraction options and more are included on the Go Chicago Card, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate. So when you are planning your trip, consider including some of these options to your Chicago vacation itinerary.

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