How to: Experience Chicago on the Cheap

by  Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | May 22, 2015

Despite the city's hard-working Midwestern roots, Chi-town's world class restaurants, museums, and theaters don't come cheap. But native Chicagoans know where to go to snag a deal and score free stuff. Follow these insider tips on Chicago bargains, and you'll rarely have to get spendy in the Windy City again.

Head to the free art exhibits, movies, and concerts.
The Art Institute of Chicago boasts an unparalleled collection of works from all over the world -- but it's easy to drop lots of dollars there, considering its $20 general admission and pricey cafeteria and restaurant. Head instead to the Chicago Cultural Center, which offers free exhibits, films, and year-round concerts. Check out the monthly schedule to discover the myriad of options, and don't miss the world's largest Tiffany Dome , displayed on the third floor. While it may be crowded,  Millennium Park  is the spot to be in the summer for a reason; free concerts, movies, and outdoor exhibits abound here, too.

Indulge in cheap eats.
Even if you don't sample Chicago's top restaurants, dining out can be expensive, especially downtown. It's tricky to grab a meal for under $7 -- but a few gems do still exist. On Jeweler's Row, in the back of jewelry mall and past glistening rings and watches, the Oasis Cafe serves up hearty meals at bargain prices. Chicagoans love the falafel, lentil soup, or baba ganoush (under $5) along with full entrees that are just a few dollars more. For a taste of classic eats, the famous Billy Goat Tavern offers its double “cheezborger” for under $5. You can also order ham and egg, corned beef, or chicken sandwiches in the same low price range. For the ultimate Chicago snack, line up for Garrett's Popcorn and snag the essential cheese and caramel Chicago mix. A small bag, bursting with popcorn, cost less than $5 -- and all the butter, cheese, and sugar is guaranteed to keep you happy and satisfied.

Enjoy some priceless music.
Chicago is known as the Home of the Blues, and the city also produces standout jazz. Various clubs hosting legendary musicians are scattered all over Chi-town. Local blues lovers avoid the crowds and cover charges by catching the free acoustic sets at blues master Buddy Guy's Legends club. Jazz fans also flock to the Museum of Contemporary Art for its summer Tuesdays on the Terrace series, where jazz greats perform free concerts alfresco.

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