How to Vacation in Chicago on a Budget

August 8, 2019

The idea that traveling to a big city will eat a hole in your wallet is entirely false.

Between the airfare and the cost of a hotel room, people believe that a vacation in the city will cost an ungodly amount. Traveling to a city such as Chicago doesn’t have to eat away at your savings account. You can enjoy the beautiful city of Chicago and save money if you plan accordingly. Use these tips to help plan your vacation to Chicago on a budget.

The Chicago skyline viewed from North Avenue Beach.

Purchase a Chicago CityPASS

Have you heard of the Chicago CityPASS? This pass provides travelers with admission to Chicago’s top attractions for one low price. When you purchase your Chicago CityPASS, you’ll have direct access to these popular Chicago attractions:

The pass is valid for 9 consecutive days, so you can spread out the fun or have a jam-packed vacation in Chicago - it’s completely up to you. For travelers going to Chicago on a budget, this pass is exactly what you need. Without this pass, you’ll pay full admission at each popular attraction. Talk about destroying a vacation budget in a matter of minutes!

the bean in chicago in the autumn

Take Advantage of FREE Activities and Attractions

Little do people know, cities such as Chicago are filled with free activities, attractions, and events. From street festivals to concerts, museums to parks, Chicago has a whole world of free entertainment for travelers. To save money and maximize your time, check out these free opportunities for those traveling to Chicago on a budget:

Millennium Park
Filled with popular art installations such as Cloud Gate, this beautiful park is home to free events and plenty of fun. Bring a blanket, purchase a snack from one of the many food trucks, and enjoy your time in Millennium Park for absolutely free.

Navy Pier
No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting Navy Pier. While it’s free to roam the pier and take in all of the sights, it does cost money to enjoy the attractions. However, a ride on the enormous Ferris Wheel is absolutely worth the small fee!

Lincoln Park Zoo
Who knew that you could visit the zoo for free? At the renowned Lincoln Park Zoo, guests visit for free and learn all about the zoo’s conservation efforts while seeing their favorite animals.

Magnificent Mile
While shopping at the stores along the Magnificent Mile will cost a pretty penny, it’s still worth the experience to walk through the area.

Free Festivals and Events
Chicago is home to numerous free events and festivals throughout the year. If you plan to visit Chicago on a budget, try planning your trip around one of the many free events, such as:

  • Chicago Blues Festival (June)
  • Grant Park Music Festival (June - August)
  • Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June)
  • Chicago Jazz Festival (August)
  • World Music Festival (September)
  • Free Days at Select Chicago Museums (Year Round)
  • Taste of Chicago Food Festival (Summer)
  • Free Ice Skating in Millennium Park (Winter)

Batting Practice at Wrigley Field
All baseball fans should get to see the historic Wrigley Field, even if their travel budget doesn’t include a game. Head to Wrigley field early enough before the game to check out the Chicago Cubs’ batting practice.

Do you dare experience TILT at 360 CHICAGO?

Get a 360° View of Chicago

For a small admission fee, you can see the entire city of Chicago from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. 360 CHICAGO also offers guests the opportunity to tilt over the side of the building (safely, of course) for daring and breathtaking views otherwise not seen. Visiting Chicago on a budget shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice the views.

Set a Food Budget

When people think of Chicago, they think of the iconic food. From deep dish pizza to a Chicago-style hot dog, you’ll want to try it all. Don’t be afraid to set aside some of your vacation budget solely for sampling Chicago’s finest cuisine.

If you want to dine in style, find a restaurant whose menu prices meet your predetermined food budget. It’s also in your best interest to make restaurant reservations ahead of time as tables at the most popular restaurants fill up fast. Trust me, you want to try the food in Chicago - it might be your favorite part of the trip.

Save on a Hotel with Tripster Chicago

As with most city vacations, a convenient hotel can cost quite a bit. You pay for premium amenities, a prime location, and other extraneous fees. However, if you’re looking to stay within budget, book your hotel through Tripster Chicago. You’ll find the right hotel for your travels at a great discount, too.

Buckingham Fountain in Downtown Chicago.

Travel in the Off Season

One of the best ways to travel to Chicago on a budget is by visiting in the off season. Traveling in the off season ensures that you pay the lowest airfare, hotel room rates, and avoid the crowds.

The summer and winter months tend to be the most crowded times of the year. Try traveling to Chicago from either late March to early June or late August to early November. Keep in mind that Chicago gets chilly (or freezing, depending on your tolerance to the cold) during the fall and winter months, so pack accordingly.

Rely on Public Transportation

Parking in a busy city is pure madness. From dealing with broken parking meters on the side of the road to finding a parking garage that doesn’t cost too much, it’s practically impossible to park in the city. And don’t get me started on the cost of hotel parking garages!

To avoid these astronomical fees altogether, rely on Chicago’s public transportation. The city has a great train system (known as the L), reliable taxis, and ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft available to visitors. Utilizing public transportation allows you to skip out on parking and rental car fees, which can demolish a vacation budget in no time. If you’re planning to vacation in Chicago on a budget, relying on public transportation can help you save money and also avoid the headache of parking.

Start Planning Your Vacation to Chicago on a Budget

People may say that going to Chicago on a budget is impossible. Now you know otherwise! Check out Tripster Chicago’s discounted hotels, attraction tickets, and show reservations to stay well within your vacation budget.

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