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Sweet Home Chicago: Tourist on a Budget

In my last post, I shared my tips on the best way I've found to visit all the best ticketed attractions in Chicago... But what about all the things to see and do that may be free of charge? Yes, please!

Chicago is a beautiful city to just walk around and look at! It costs you nothing to head out and just sightsee. Walk down the Magnificent Mile and window shop. Go down to the newly constructed Riverwalk and soak in the view. Admire the architecture at the Water Tower (one of very few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.) Pretty much every street downtown will deliver some fascinating history or interesting finds.

The quintessential photo op is the Cloud Gate sculpture also known as "The Bean" in Millennium Park. Everyone should take some time out to visit and get your variety of photos. But don't miss out on all the beauty surrounding it... Behind Cloud Gate is the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion. Keep an eye on the schedule for several free events. On my first visit to Chicago, we stumbled onto one of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, which are open to the public. There are several other free events such as the Grant Park Musical Festival and a variety of fitness classes among others. Also, don't miss out on Crown Fountain, the wacky water feature that spits on children. Trust me, it's worth a gander in the summer.

Millennium Park

There are so many parks (8,000 acres!) and beaches to visit along Lake Michigan. A rather famous one is Grant Park which features another beautiful attraction, Buckingham Fountain. It's not too far of a walk from Millennium Park, just south of the Art Institute of Chicago. And beaches? Take your pick because there are 26 miles of them! There's Montrose, North Avenue, Oak Street and Ohio Street to name a few. North Avenue Beach has PLENTY to do and see, and I love Oak Street's location. Every beach in the summer is a lovely little getaway from the city with that cool lake breeze!

Buckingham Fountain

One of Chicago's best kept secrets is the Lincoln Park Zoo. Residents of Chicago may be aware, but the idea of a free zoo will probably seem foreign to visitors. It is one of very few zoos in the country to have free admission and is open 365 days a year. There are tons of events for children and adults alike from animal feedings to wine tastings! Over 200 species are represented, so you can be sure to find your favorite creatures. You'll also get an awesome view of the Chicago skyline. Getting to the zoo is easy using public transit buses, so no excuse to not a take a trip up and visit.

View from the Signature Lounge at John Hancock

My final tip on a free-ish thing to do is take a little trip up to The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building. Here's the ish part... it doesn't require you buy anything to go up to the bar per se, but you may be tempted by their menu. It has one of the best views of the city lights at nighttime. And good news for the ladies... the view from the women's restroom tops them all. All you need to do is hop in line for the elevator up and say you're heading to the Lounge (no reservation required). This is a separate floor from the restaurant, The Signature Room where reservations are required. There can be a bit of a wait to get into the Lounge, but the views are well worth it! The drinks and appetizers aren't bad either.

Whether by walking, biking or just lounging on a beach or park bench, Chicago is an absolutely gorgeous city to just take in without needing to spend much money. There is always plenty to see and several free events available with a little research. Take advantage of it all and save some money for the delectable Chicago cuisine which I'll dive into in my next post... stay tuned!


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