Chicago offers many free attractions for the frugal traveler. These free sights offset more costly splurges like deep dish pizza, the entrance to the famed Shedd Aquarium, and a trip up the Sears Tower.
From Memorial Day weekend through the Labor Day weekend, between 10am and 6pm, free trolleys operate every 20-30 minutes to Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. There are stops along Museum Campus, Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) and Navy Pier. Do a few of the loops to get a sense of the city. Drivers often give out bits of information about landmarks.
Street parking downtown is often free on Sundays.
Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, and Millennium Park
Buckingham Fountain (seen in the opening credits of the tv show Married With Children) in Grant Park, close to the waterfront, was designed to emulate the great fountains in the palace of Versailles. It consists of three basins, surrounded by four bronze seahorses.
More modern art can be found in the adjoining Millennium Park. The Crown Fountain has two giant glass towers with projections of faces on them. Water squirts out of the faces’ mouths, much to wading children’s delight. Cloud Gate resembles a giant stainless steel jellybean, warping the reflection of onlookers.
Navy Pier hosts a street carnival type of environment. There is a classic styled 148 ft Ferris Wheel, a musical carousel with painted animals, a children’s museum, a museum of stained glass, and a funhouse maze. Add seasonal street performers, food vendors, and face painters, and travelers can people watch for hours.
The Old Water Tower
The Old Water Tower, situated on the famed Michigan Avenue near the John Hancock Center, is one of the most famous survivors of the Great Fire. Designed to resemble a tiny European castle, the Old Water Tower is now a visitors center.
The Art Institute Of Chicago
With great American masterpieces like Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the Art Institute Of Chicago is a must see for art lovers and a freebie for the savvy traveler. From May 31st to August 31st, admission is free after 5pm on Thursday’s and Friday’s.
There are many other free or frugal attractions in the Windy City, window shopping on the Magnificent Mile, facades such as Dearborn Street Station and others.