Free Or Close To It In Chicago?

Old Jan 25th, 2009, 11:56 AM
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Free Or Close To It In Chicago?

DH and I will be spending a month in Chicago this summer. Besides the Lincoln Park Zoo, is there anything that is free or low cost that two retirees would enjoy in that wonderful city?
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Old Jan 25th, 2009, 12:18 PM
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There is, of course, Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (more popularly known as "The Bean").

There's the Taste of Chicago in late June/early July.

The Art Institute usually will have some sort of free evening.

There are free fireworks at Navy Pier over the summer, too.

Depending on when you are visiting, you might also be able to catch a film in Grant Park as part of Chicago's Outdoor Film Festival.
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Old Jan 25th, 2009, 01:56 PM
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The Museum of Science and Industry used to have a free admission day. I think it was on Thursday. You might google free admissions/Chicago museums to see which one still have free days.
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Old Jan 25th, 2009, 06:12 PM
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There are free or low cost events at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Harold Washington Public Library, and the Newberry Library.

Also, check out the Chicago Greeter service.
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Old Jan 25th, 2009, 06:48 PM
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Do you have bicycles? There are miles of great bike paths along the lake.
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Old Jan 25th, 2009, 09:26 PM
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There are also free concerts in Millennium Park. Check back in May for the concert schedule.

If you contact me by e-mail I will send you my walking tour of the Loop art. Some public pieces of art include Calder, Picasso, Miro, DuBuffet, and Chagall.

Field Museum of Natural History is free the second Monday of each month(be sure to see the man eating lions of Tsavo - the Ghost & the Darkness).

The Art Institute is free Thursday nights from 5 - 8 pm.
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 05:27 AM
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Have you thought about becoming a community organizer?
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Old Jan 26th, 2009, 05:55 AM
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Walk the length of Navy Pier on a sunny day. At the end, purchase a beer or soft drink and just sit at the outside tables and watch the boats.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 07:22 AM
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Thanks for all of the great suggestions. Turns out there are many many free things to do in Chicago. Not that I am surprised. I <heart> Chicago.
For the benefit of future searchers for free or inexpensive stuff to do in Chicago, I found these websites to be very helpful: and
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 09:25 AM
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The Navy Pier also has an excellent (and free) museum/display of stained glass.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 09:52 AM
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Right now the Art Institute is free from 4 or 5 pm to closing on Thursdays.

In truth, downtown Chicago in most anything, especially purchasing anything at all, or parking- is very, very expensive.

I used to take the train in and walk along Navy Pier all by myself in summer for a couple of years there, and it was a LOOONGG walk from my station at LaSalle.

The mass transit has increased fares now and so do check out many websites before you leave for the best package purchase you can get for Pace/Metra/CTA whatever. and other sites might give you a better idea about costs for meals too. There are truly wide spans of cost you might encounter and you might like to plan for the more reasonable.

The biking is the best idea of all. My friend and her husband are in their 60's and come to Chicago from MI, just to do that ride from South to North, at least once a summer.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 12:32 PM
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If you want to venture out of the city, Brookfield Zoo is right at one of the train stops of the Burlington Northern Metra line. Burlington departs from Union Station which is right downtown. (The train's website is referenced in the zoo's website below.)

Another option outside the city is Ravinia, a concert venue, also reachable by train (thru the metrarail link above.) The train stops right there.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 12:48 PM
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Is the free museum of stained glass on Navy Pier still there?
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 03:02 PM
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The Taste of Chicago has free entertainment events, cooking demonstrations and so forth but the food and drink will set you back some dollars, probably quite a few. But if you go with a set dollar amount and you know in advance *only* which places look the most interesting to you, you can still go and not spend too much. The entertainment schedules and food vendors (with their dishes being served) are posted on the City of Chicago's website by early June.

I doubt you'll see many (if any) free days at the major museums this summer, especially with the economy in the state it is, unless Target continues their contribution to the Art Institute. However, Chicago has many smaller less well-known museums which are definitely worth exploring and have general admission fees which are less than the major ones and/or free. Just three which spring to mind are: the Oriental Institute and the Smart Museum of Art down in Hyde Park; and LUMA (Loyola University Museum of Art), located on N. Michigan Avenue.

Brookfield Zoo can add up to some bucks, too.

If you can get your hands on a Chicago Tribune where you live, usually in April, they include a complete listing of all the city and neighborhood festivals in their Sunday supplement. Keep in mind that the neighborhood festivals usually charge a gate entry fee (usually $6-8 pp) but the entertainment is free. You can also get this information on the City of Chicago's website, the Chicago Reader online and Metromix online.

Here are some additional suggestions:

Check the Grant Park Symphony's website for a listing of their concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Go to the Chicago Park District's website and see all the free events.

The Chicago Green City Market has free cooking demonstrations by some of the city's best chefs. I assume that you won't be eating out every day; and since this is so, this gives you the chance to pick up some items.

Why not have a picnic with some of them? After all, Chicago's waterfront is one big park system.

You might want to go out to the Chicago Botanic Garden via METRA from the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The Chicago Botanic Garden has free admission. METRA has had $5 weekend passes in the past (although what will happen now, don't know).

Become a member of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Not only would you get the buy-1-get-1-free ticket to their great River Cruise (a savings of up to $30 just in itself), there are more than 60 free tours which you could take, as well members-only discounts to other tours. Even if you don't become a member, their tours are very reasonably priced.

The Chicago SummerDance series is held at the Spirit of Music Garden on S. Michigan Avenue.

Arm yourself with a good walking tour book and go. You can even buy them "gently-used" online at Amazon. I recommend: Gerard R. Wolfe's "Chicago In and Around the Loop: Walking Tours of Architecture and History". You'd be surprised at some of the interesting tidbits you'll learn along the way.

Stroll Astor Street in the Gold Coast. There are a couple of mansions of historical significance which have their own tours. See the Gold Coast Neighbors website for details.

The Chicago Loop Alliance's website contains three free downloadable walking tours (landmarks, theatres, artwork) and Millennium Park's website has their own. There is also a Blues History tour narrated by Buddy Guy on the City of Chicago's website.

If you wanted a little splurge, then I'd suggest a tour of Wrigley Field. They have them on certain dates when the Cubs are playing away.

Take a tour of Graceland Cemetery at the corner of N. Clark and Irving Park (about 4 blocks north of Wrigley Field). The Chicago Architecture Foundation gives tours of the architecture found there, but you don't need to spend a penny if you go it on your own. There are maps at the office just inside the gate, and even little guidebooks for a reasonable cost.

You will be amazed at some of the tombstones, mausoleums and other monuments to many of the city's, nation's and world's most famous whom are laid to rest there.

But my #1 suggestion to you: Get yourself a CTA pass and just visit the various neighborhoods. You can get to them via bus and rail. You have the luxury so many do not: the time to savor exploring new places.

The prettiest bus routes, IMHO, are these: The #10 CTA bus going to/from the Museum of Science and Industry, especially when it is traveling NB back downtown on Lake Shore Drive. The #145 or #146, which travels along Lake Shore Drive, the Magnificent Mile (aka N. Michigan Avenue) and either S. Michigan Avenue (the #145) or State Street out to the Museum Campus (the #146). And the #151, which travels Michigan Avenue north through the Gold Coast into Lincoln Park and further northwards into Lakeview. This last one is a local, so it's slower going. The others are express part of the way.

Hope you have fun when you are here.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 05:02 PM
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walk around oak park past the frank lloyd wright studio and some of his design homes and church nearby.
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Old Jan 27th, 2009, 06:39 PM
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Wow, exiledprincess, as Bobby Baccala used to say to Junior Soprano, "I'm in awr of you." I'm starting to see that a month isn't going to be enough ...
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 07:02 AM
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You can take the water taxi to cruise up and down the Chicago river from Michigan Avenue all the way to Chinatown. The taxi stops at LaSalle/Clark and Madison Street in between. It's only $2.00 per person for one ride, or you can purchase an all-day pass for only $4.00 per person. Then you can hop on and off as you like! Check out their website at
Also, check out this website -
It's a comprehensive website that will give you information on anything Chicago - from museums and restaurants to Navy Pier and special events, anything you want to know about the city is here. Good luck and have a wonderful visit to beautiful Chicago. Hopefully it will stop snowing by summer!
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Old Jan 28th, 2009, 09:04 AM
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My wife and I were in Chicago last August, and we had a great time just walking around the downtown area. Fantastic architecture everywhere you look.
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Old Jan 29th, 2009, 06:13 AM
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Venetian Night and the Oriental Institute Museum.
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