Vacation splurges certainly happen, and we say, "Go for it." After all, it's tough to stick to a budget when there's that pair of shoes that we just can't live without or that once-in-a-lifetime experience that we can't pass up. As visitors to a new city, or even acting as tourist in our own city, it's definitely understandable. In Chicago, there are loads of excellent reasons to spend a little more than expected. The trick is knowing how to balance those out by also finding the many cheap things to do in Chicago: free museums, kids-eat-free restaurants, cheap tours and free attractions. We've rounded up a varied list of free and nearly free things to do in Chicago that make those occasional splurges free, too—of guilt.
This national historic landmark is a showplace for the performing, literary and visual arts, featuring a huge variety of programs presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Free guided tours offered W-Sa at 1:15 pm. M-F 10 am-7 pm, Sa-Su 10 am-5 pm; closed holidays. Free.
Named for Chicago’s first permanent citizen, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the museum displays art, artifacts and documents tracing African-American history. Tu-Sa 10 am-5 pm, Su noon-5 pm. Admission $10; with ID students and seniors $7; children 6-11 $3; under 5 free; discounts for Chicago residents; free for military.
The two locations of this restaurant each feature a full menu, cocktails, local art on the walls and acoustic music in an intimate performance space with music nightly. Each also boasts a front bar/lounge area decked out with couches and two fireplaces, a great place to linger over coffee or cocktails.
Bounded generally by Chicago Avenue to Merchandise Mart, Orleans Street to Dearborn, this vibrant district boasts one of the greatest concentrations of galleries in the country. Within walking distance are dozens covering every era and subject including Vale Craft, Catherine Edelman, Carl Hammer and Gruen galleries.
For more than 50 years, Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) has been celebrating Chicago’s magnificent architecture. The foundation offers 85-plus docent-led tours, including Chicago’s most popular river cruise and many downtown walking tours that depart from its current location above the CAC River Cruise dock.
A relaxed, mostly male crowd fills this eclectic Uptown standby, located adjacent to popular brunch nook Tweet. The small dance floor pulses on F-Sa nights; pop in on Sunday afternoon for $2.50 vodka lemonades and a free buffet spread (starts at 4 pm) with a changing menu (barbecue during summer).
This interactive museum commemorates the world of sports using simulated experiences, relics and stats. The museum engages visitors to measure up against players like Blackhawk Patrick Kane and Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. Relive the glory of the Cubs' historic win at the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series exhibit.