Budget-Friendly Sites in Chicago

Our first stop on our 2,700-mile road trip — yes, you read that right — was Chicago. Given that we’d be on the road for several days, we had a budget. But Chicago is known for its amazing outdoor, public art, so that was high on our list of activities, and I was confident we could easily find other activities that fit within our budget.

Chicago Walking Tour of Free Museums & Art

Start at the Palmer House

Chicago turned out to be the only place we ran into traffic in the middle of a storm at that. Our 3 pm anticipated arrival turned into 6 pm, which is just enough time to tip the scales from excited to a little grumpy.

We flipped right back to excited upon walking into our hotel for the next two nights, the gorgeous Palmer House. We had entered the hotel from S. Wabash Avenue, having parked in the garage across from the hotel.

A narrow escalator carried us into the middle of the Palmer House lobby, which felt like we were making our entrance into a grand new world. The lobby was bustling and beautiful. We’re a fairly well traveled family, but even we stopped and gaped at the gilded lobby. Pick one of the ornate couches, and grab a Shirley Temple for your kids from the bar so you can take your time admiring the lobby.

Calder’s Flamingo

From the hotel, head west to see Alexander Calder’s Flamingo. Larger than life sculptures and structures really capture a child’s eye, and this one is enormous. Flamingo is a large, brilliantly colored metal sculpture, which kids can wander under and around. From here, continue just another two blocks west to the Money Museum.

Money Museum

The Money Museum is a free museum run by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, just a few blocks from the Palmer House. I love free museums! The kids will get a kick out of photo ops with a million dollars and everyone walks out with a bag of money. Shredded money.

Chicago Walking tour of Free Museums in Chicago - Money Museum
The Federal Reserve’s Money Museum is one of the free museums in Chicago you’ll visit on our Chicago walking tour.

Chagall’s Four Seasons

From here, head a few blocks north on S. Dearborn Street to find Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, a huge mosaic where your children may enjoy finding the different images in the mosaic. Then head to the Chicago Design Center, just two blocks northeast.

Chicago Design Museum

Another free museum, the Chicago Design Museum features interesting exhibits that cover all aspects of design. For example, a recent exhibit focused on different designs using paper. The museum also hosts various events throughout the year. The museum closes in between exhibits, so be sure to check their web site before stopping by.

Chicago Cultural Center

Less than two blocks east of the Chicago Design Museum, stop for a “ride” on the bronze cow outside the Chicago Cultural Center before stopping in to view the center.

Beautiful buildings are what seemed to catch our eye during this trip. Within a few short blocks from the Palmer House, we found the Chicago Cultural Center, which is completely free, and wound our way to the top of the building. It was worth the climb.

There is the most gorgeous room at the top, with beautiful painted ceilings. Find a quiet corner and let your kids lay down on the floor to admire the ceiling. The Chicago Cultural Center also offers a number of free programs and exhibitions throughout the year that may work with your schedule.

Best Cheap Eats in Chicago

By now, someone in your crew must be hungry. Two great, inexpensive options near the hotel are Falafel Island for kabobs or shawarma and Good Stuff Eatery for handcrafted burgers. Swing by Crown Fountain in Millennium Park on the way back to the hotel, then dig in.

Altogether, you can see all of these sites in just a little over a mile with a starting point at the Palmer House, and all are absolutely free.

You may also enjoy:

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Calder’s Flamingo photo by Vincent Desjardins / CC BY 2.0

Chicago Walking Tour | Free Museums in Chicago | Best Cheap Eats Chicago

Know Before You Go

  • Chicago’s nickname is “The Windy City.”
  • Make sure to visit Millennium Park so that you can see the world-famous Bean!
  • Avoid visiting in the winter if you aren’t a fan of cold weather! The weather warms up around May.

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Andrea L. Are you interested in traveling to Chicago? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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