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How to Do Chicago on a Budget

Chicago is a gorgeous city with plenty to experience. However, if you're not careful, it can also cost you quite a bit to enjoy all the sights. From luxurious hotels to high profile restaurants, the temptations are everywhere in the Windy City. But if you know where to look, you can enjoy the best of what Chicago has to offer and still keep to your budget. Not sure where to begin? Here's how to do Chicago on a budget.

Budget Flights Into Chicago

With three major airports servicing the Windy City, the chance of finding a cheap flight to Chicago is pretty good. Even if all flights to O'Hare International Airport are booked, Gary/Chicago International Airport and Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport, although not as conveniently located as O'Hare, are all viable substitutions. Maximize your chances of landing a great deal on airfare by comparing rates and reserving your tickets online as far in advance as possible.

Sleeping on a Budget in Chicago

The majority of Chicago hotels are priced in the mid- to upper-range. But that doesn't mean there are no cost effective accommodations to be found. The Essex Inn, found on Michigan Avenue, is only steps away from Grant Park and many of Chi-Town's famous attractions. It has 254 guest rooms and suites and offers much more value than its $79 per night price tag may otherwise indicate. Also found on Michigan Avenue is the Hilton, where you can enjoy traditional Hilton service and comfort for a reasonable rate starting at $98 per night. The Chicago Hilton has 1,544 rooms and is in close proximity to many of the city's famous museums.

Thanks to Chicago's “El” public transportation system, you don't have to dwindle your budget down by staying at a hotel near the Loop. Spending your sleeping hours outside of the city's center can save you quite a bit of money and give you a chance to experience more of what Chicago travel has to offer. Good examples of budget accommodations found just on the outskirts of the city include the Central Arms Hotel and the Hudson Hotel, both found in nearby Bronzeville at a fraction of what the bigger, fancier hotels charge.

Tips for the Budget-Conscious Diner in Chicago

Besides accommodations, dinner is one of the fastest ways to part from your money on any vacation and Chicago is no different. However, you can fill your belly for much less than you would expect in the Windy City if you know where to look. Of course, no visit to Chicago is complete without digging in to some of their famous deep-dish pizza, and Bella Bacino's Margherita Napoletana is considered one of the best (and it only costs $9.95 for a full pie of heavenly bliss).

The locals are just as passionate about their hot dogs as they are about their pizza. At Portillo's you can sink your teeth into an all-beef hot dog with mustard, kosher pickle, freshly chopped onions, relish, sliced red ripe tomatoes and peppers piled high onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun for only $2.09, or make it a Jumbo Dog for only 35 cents more.

The international cuisine at Chicago restaurants is loosely configured to certain areas of the city. For example, the West Side is home to Greek specialties while the North Side has Indian cuisine. In Bronzeville, soul food is the menu of choice. But no matter what area or cuisine you’re looking for, you can find inexpensive meals served to satisfy.

Seeing Chicago on a Budget

Grant Park and Millennium Park are two of the more esteemed parks in Chicago, and visitors can enjoy them for free. Stop by for a refreshing spray from the Clarence Buckingham Fountain in Grant on a warm summer day or enjoy some of the architecturally artistic displays at Millennium. The family can spend the entire day, or longer, enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of these spots and Chicago's other dramatic parks.

Chicago is filled with fantastic museums, and if you look closely, some offer free admission on certain days or between certain hours. These trips easily rank among the top things to do in Chicago. Some examples of this generosity include the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free on Tuesdays and the Art Institute has free admission on Thursdays and Fridays from 5pm until 9pm. The Chicago Cultural Centre has free lunchtime concerts at 12:15 during weekdays and some weekends. Not to be outdone, Millennium Park has free lunchtime and evening concerts.

If you do a little research online, you can find a host of available activities to enjoy in the Windy City. From accommodations to places to eat, you can save significant money if you know where to look. If you're really tied up for an idea, just ask one of the friendly locals. They're always quick to give visitors a tip and point them in a worthwhile direction.

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