Chicago is a must-see destination. The aptly named Windy City is one of the most attractive, diverse, and largest cities in the United States. It offers some of the best food (deep dish, anyone?), attractions (Millenium Park, Willis Tower) and events (Lollapalooza).
Being a world class destination leads many to see Chicago as an expensive travel destination. The neighborhoods of West Loop, River North, and Streeterville are all well-known for their glitz, glam, and high prices. But as with all major cities, Chicago can be one for all budgets.
With O'Hare International Airport the second-busiest in the world, there are many options for the budget-savvy as well as the expensive travelers out there. All you have to do is take the time to plan your visit, set a budget and do some research into the top attractions you would like to see.
Be Strategic About Where and When to Visit
Chicago's weather can be brutal. It can also be spectacular. That's why when it comes to planning a budget-friendly visit to the Windy City you must be strategic. The most popular times to visit Chicago are late Spring, early fall, and early summer. Peak travel season is generally late June to early July.
With increased tourism comes increased overnight costs. Average hotel costs in Chicago peak in June and October, reflecting two of the milder months when it comes to weather. If you're looking to save money on travel costs avoid these months.
Don't worry about missing out on June and October, either. The months of April, November, and even March can be prime times to travel. Not only are overnight costs cheaper, the weather is mild and there are still plenty of events to take advantage of.
If you really need to go low-budget during your visit you'll want to look at the months of December, January, and February. While the weather can be brutal during these months, there is still plenty to do and see. You'll just have to withstand the cold, snow and rain.
Find the Best Foodie Deals
Chicago is a foodie heaven. It offers some of the world's best cuisine. This is for both those with deep pocketbooks and those on a budget.
Fine dining options in West Loop such as Oriole, Smyth, and Elske offer world-class dining experiences, but they come at a high price.
For those looking to save money while dining in Chicago there should be no fear. Chicago has plenty of great dining options while on a budget. Popular options can be found throughout the city. Some of the best are right in the heart of downtown, too. The Windy City offers some of the best street food options in the world, from Cevapcici Chicago in East Garfield Park to Jim's Original Hot Dog located in the Maxwell Street Market.
Another great option for those who want to save on a trip to Chi-Town is to visit during Chicago Restaurant Week. Restaurants around the city showcase their talents with specials designed to save travelers money. Combine these deals with the cheap hotel costs of late-January and early-February and your budget will thank you!
Experience Other Cultures
As the most populous city in Illinois and the third-largest in the United States, it should be no surprise that Chicago is diverse. That's an understatement, too. Chicago is widely considered one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. There are several districts dedicated to particular world cultures and ethnicities.
Wanting to experience Greece? Visit Greektown! What about Italy? Little Italy is the perfect destination. There's also Pilsen, a Mexican-American neighborhood, and the always-popular Chinatown, where you can find the Chinatown Square Mall and explore a 100-year-old tourist destination.
Cultural exploration of Chicago wouldn't be complete without mention of the city's immense Polish population. While traditional Polish neighborhoods have started to assimilate into the general city, visitors will still find many traces of Polish influence, culture, and cuisine. These are some of the best, most budget-friendly experiences. Nobody can pass up a traditional pierogi!
Take Advantage of the Navy Pier Trolley
They Navy Pier free trolley is a MUST if you are looking to save money on a trip to Chicago. Just one of the many budget-friendly transportation options in the Windy City, the trolley takes travelers from Navy Pier to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Top destinations along the route include:
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Millennium Park
- Michigan Avenue
- Grant Park
One piece of advice: make sure you check the trolley schedule. Seasonal adjustments limit service through much of the year. The months of September through early spring are the most affected, with trolley service occurring mainly on weekends. Exceptions to this seasonal adjustment take place during special events and weeks.
Visit the MANY Free Attractions
Too many travelers think you have to pay to experience the best a city has to offer. Not so with Chicago! It's one of the best cities to visit if you are looking for free attractions.
One of the best options just happens to be a family-friendly adventure, too! The Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory is free year-round. That's right. Free. You won't be seeing typical animals, either. The zoo features domestic and exotic animals for all tastes and experiences. Whether you'd like to see a wood duck, domestic chicken pied tamarin, polar bear, African lion, zebra, or eastern black rhinoceros, there is plenty to see!
Other popular and free Chicago attractions include:
- Chicago Cultural Center
- Buckingham Fountain
- Garfield Park Conservatory
- Elks Memorial
Chicago is a world-class destination. The luxury offerings of West Loop are contrasted by the many budget-friendly attractions the city has to offer. Its blend of cultures, experiences and events lead it to be one of the top destinations for travelers. Next time you decide to book a vacation make sure you consider Chi-town, especially now that you have some insight on how to save a little money during the ride.