The Budget Travel Guides are travel tips to help you save money and enrich your travel experiences. As one of the most beautiful cities in the US, Dan Patterson shares this Chicago travel guide filled with activities, ways to connect with locals, and money saving tips for the windy city.
In this Chicago travel guide you’ll learn all about how to make the most of your trip to Chicago, the Windy City. You’ll learn about some of the less-expensive ways to get around town, where the attractions are, and other things to do while you’re in Chicago.
Chicago travel guide for budget travelers
So get out your notebook and start taking notes, because this Chicago travel guide is going to give you a lot of information to make your stay in Chicago the best.
Just like any major city, taxis are plentiful in Chicago. While they are incredibly convenient and will take you anywhere you want to go, they are also the expensive option.
Here are a few alternatives to consider rather than taking the taxi.
The best way to see Chicago is by walking it’s streets. If you take the time to plan your trip in advance, you can pick a hotel that is close to all of the main things you want to see and do. This gives you the option to get out and walk around rather than spending money on other forms of transportation. You’ll be glad you did.
With 144 rail stations all over town, the “L” trains run by the Chicago Transit Authority are one of the most cost-effective ways to get around Chicago. Not all of the trains are “elevated.” The Chicago Transit Authority runs above-ground, street-level, and subway trains as well as more than 100 bus routes to help you get where you need to go.
A single bus ride is only $2.25. You can also pick up a Transit Card for bus and rail rides to make it even more convenient as well. You can pick them up at the rail station vending machines and Chicago Visitor Information Centers.
If you know you’re going to be using the transit a lot, you can also pick up 1, 3 and 7 day CTA passes for the best rates. These passes are available at select Currency Exchanges, Jewel and Dominick’s grocers, and CVS and Walgreens stores.
If you’re going to be seeing a lot of sights on the waterfront a fun way to get around is on a water taxi. Single rides range from $3.00-8.00 or you can get a day pass for $11.00-29.00.
During the warm months of the year water taxis are a popular way to travel between sites like Willis Tower, Michigan Avenue, Chinatown, and more.
Like any big city, Chicago is full of hotels to stay in. Because of that, you can always find a place that’s within your budget, and in this Chicago travel guide we’ll help you do it!
One thing to keep in mind is that if you want to get the most out of your stay, you should try and find a hotel that’s close to the attractions and activities that you want to experience. Here are some of the neighborhoods of Chicago and the attractions and hotels you’ll find there.
The Loop and Downtown
The loop is the historic commercial center of downtown Chicago. This area has the Chicago River as it’s north and west border, Lake Michigan on the east, and Roosevelt Road on the south.
Lincoln Park & Wrigleyville
Some of the attractions in this area include the Lincoln Park Zoo, North Avenue Beach, and the music clubs of Lincoln Avenue. And or course, if you’re a Cubs fan (or a baseball fan in general) this is the area where you’ll find the famous Wrigley Field.
The Magnificent Mile
If you’re coming to Chicago to shop, this is where you want to be. The Magnificent Mile serves as the main street between The Loop and the Gold Coast and is now known as Chicago’s shopping district. Here you’ll find all sorts of mid to high-end shops as well as amazing restaurants and hotels.
Hotels in the area include Trump International Hotel & Tower, Hotel 71, Hotel Sax Chicago, Raffaello Hotel and more. Naturally because this is the shopping district and also a big nightlife area you can expect to pay a little more to stay in this part of Chicago.
Planning ahead is the key to finding the best lodging. If you know ahead of time the kinds of things you want to do while you’re in Chicago you can save not only on your lodging, but also on the amount of transportation you’ll need.
As you can imagine, Chicago is full of great places to eat. So let’s jump right into the next section of this Chicago travel guide and show you where to eat.
With any big city there is fine dining to be had for a lot, but if you’re traveling on a budget you need to stick with the less-pricey side of things.
First of all, if you have a smart phone and you aren’t using Yelp when you’re in bigger cities, you need to start doing it right now. With Yelp you can find the nearest restaurants, see the ratings and reviews that others have given them, and sometimes you can even get discounts or special deals just by “checking in.” The other benefit of using Yelp is you can get an idea of what the prices will be like before you even go into the restaurant, saving you time and money.
Here are some other tips for saving money on food in Chicago:
- Stay at a hotel that offers breakfast. That’s one less meal you have to pay for.
- Plan a picnic in the park. Millenium Park, Grant Park… there are so many parks in Chicago that make for a great afternoon picnic while enjoying the Chicago scenery.
- Street Food Vendors. If you want to keep going on your sightseeing, consider carrying cash and just picking up some food from some of the amazing street vendors. A lot of them are even registered on Yelp so you can plan ahead.
While you’re in town you have to budget to eat at a nice restaurant, but to keep things reasonable follow some of the steps above to save money on food while you’re in Chicago.
There is so much to do in Chicago that you definitely won’t have time to do it all. This is where once again planning ahead is key so you know what you want to see this trip, and what you can save for a future trip.
For starters, if you’re going to go to Chicago you have to take time to see the parks. Your visit to Chicago won’t be complete if you don’t get a picture at Cloudgate (The Bean) in Millennium Park. Also make sure to see Grant Park and the famous Buckingham Fountain.
If you’re into city attractions, you’ll want to plan on seeing famous sites like the John Hancock Observatory, Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry or any of the other amazing museums in Chicago.
Here’s a little Chicago travel guide tip: if you know you want to hit the top attractions in Chicago pick up the Chicago CityPASS. You’ll get discounted admission to some of the top attraction in Chicago and also get to skip a lot of the main ticket lines. Find out more at CityPASS.com.
If shopping is your thing, head over to the Magnificent Mile.
If you’re into the nightlife scene, there is plenty of that going on in Chicago as well. A great resource for all things nightlife is ChicagoMag.com. For example, check out the top drinking and nightlife bars and lounges for 2012.
No matter what your preference, Chicago has enough for days of enjoyment.
Connecting With Locals
If you’re looking to connect with the local scene, you just need to know what is going on in town the week or weekend you’re going to be around. One great resource for this kind of information is Metromix Chicago. There you’ll find all of the concerts and other events that are coming up in the Chicago area.
Bars and night clubs are of course another great way to connect with the locals. Or, head to a Cubs, Bulls, or Bears game to also cheer for the local pro team.
There is no way that this Chicago travel guide could cover all of the great things to do in Chicago. But hopefully I’ve given you enough information to help you get started on planning a great trip to Chicago.
Have you been to Chicago? What travel tips and recommendations do you have for visiting this city?
Dan Patterson works for CityPASS. Save money on your trip to Chicago with the Chicago CityPASS. To help plan your visit in advance, be sure to see our Plan Your Visit to Chicago page.
Thanks to Dan for sharing these awesome tips in this Chicago travel guide and for sponsoring this post.