Chicago offers a vast array of attractions, and some of them involve expensive prices. You might not be able to avoid every costly activity, but you can introduce some inexpensive items to your itinerary. Fortunately, these things to do in Chicago that cost $10 or less are enjoyable, must-do experiences.
Rent a Bike for 24 Hours
Divvy is Chicago's enormous bike rental system. There are 580 stations and 5,800 bikes available. A Divvy one-day membership is $9.95.
But many riders don't need a 24-hour rental. The first 30 minutes of the ride is free, and a keep for 31-60 minutes incurs a $2 charge. From 60-90 minutes, the price increases to $6. Beyond 90 minutes, you'll pay the $6 plus an additional $8 for each additional 30 minutes.
That one-day membership pass comes in handy if you want an afternoon of riding. The pass is available for purchase at any Divvy station kiosk.
Bike tour suggestions are extensive in Chicago. You can take an architectural tour, visit one of the city's extensive parks, or even take in a game at Wrigley Field. There is a bike valet service at the park that arranges storage underneath the Addison CTA stop, just a block or so from the stadium.
Get Top Row Seats at a Cubs or White Sox Game
At certain points of the season, tickets for Chicago White Sox games can cost as little as $10, but you'll probably have to sit in seats that are far from the action. If you simply want to have the experience of seeing a game, seats like that are adequate.
For the best prices, avoid holidays or hot pennant races, or visiting teams that are in hot pennant races.
With a recent string of success on the field, Chicago Cubs tickets at $10 are a bit more difficult to find than in years past. But those who shop the ticket outlets or street vendors sometimes find such bargains. It's worth the effort, as taking in a game at Wrigley Field ranks with some of the best travel experiences available in Chicago.
Guaranteed Rate Park, home of the White Sox, doesn't have the iconic pizzazz of Wrigley. But it is an enjoyable place to watch a game, and conveniently located a short walk from the CTA Red Line.
Enjoy the Views at Navy Pier
Navy Pier will pop up on most checklists of Chicago things to do. Fortunately, admission to the pier itself is free, although you will have to buy tickets for some of the attractions it hosts.
For example, it will cost $15 to ride the famous Ferris wheel, and even more if you plan to use the fast pass to navigate your party around long summer lines. The view of Chicago's lakefront from 200 feet above the pier is a tempting benefit, but this attraction doesn't fit our $10 limit.
A few that do: the Pepsi Wave Swinger ($8), the 44-foot Carousel ($5), and the Climbing Wall ($8).
It costs nothing to enjoy the views and fireworks shows visible from the pier during the warmer months. Just like a walk on Michigan Ave., a stroll on the pier is a quintessential Chicago experience.
Book a Free Chicago Greeter Tour
Chicago Greeter is a wonderful service that few visitors to the Windy City discover. That's a shame. Where else can you get a quality guided tour that lasts 2-4 hours at no charge?
There are some strings attached. You must make arrangements for this benefit at least 10 business days prior to your visit. At that time, you'll specify interests, specific neighborhoods, and native language. You must also show that you are a visitor to the city and that you've booked accommodations within the city for the duration of your stay.
A second kind of tour, available on shorter notice, is called the "InstaGreeter." You'll meet the guide downtown on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday for a one-hour tour. No registration is required.
If you're new to the city, a great strategy is to take the tour early in your stay (but note that the rules state it can't be scheduled for the same day as your arrival). Guide commentary could point out places for more extensive visits in the days to follow.
The guides are volunteers who are enthusiastic about Chicago and relish the opportunity to show it off to visitors. Naturally, you'll want to tip them for a job well-done.
Try a Chicago-Style Hot Dog
What's the big deal about buying a hot dog for $10 or less? The Chicago variety is worth sampling at least once during your visit. This, you see, is a distinctive dog.
Important elements in a Chicago hot dog include buns covered in celery salt, sliced pickles that run the length of the sausage, and yellow mustard. Other items commonly included are chopped white onions, tomato or pepper slices, and sweet relish.
Important: never ask for ketchup when eating a Chicago hot dog. It's taboo in these parts to slather a dog with anything red.
Where is the best place to try a Chicago hot dog? We have a few suggestions. But don't get too concerned about finding a famous place. Any neighborhood hot dog stand will do just fine.
Buy a One-Day CTA Pass
Buy a $10 disposable one-day Ventra card at any CTA ticket window, vending machine, or on the website. In exchange, you'll ride all CTA buses and trains (including the L Trains for which Chicago is famous) at no additional charge.
Activation occurs the first time the card is used. Chicago's network of trains and buses will take you to two international airports, as well as scores of neighborhoods throughout the city limits and a few in the northern and western suburbs.
The pass is good on nearly 1,900 buses along 130 routes, serving more than 10,000 stops. Eight train routes and 145 stations are included as well.
This is the nation's second-largest public transportation system. Use it to your full advantage on each day of your stay.
Take in a Comedy Show
Finding an affordable show can take some doing, but careful shoppers often see that the rock-bottom price for admission to these shows is about $10.
For example, many of the shows offered at Public House Theater (3914 N Clark St.) require ticket purchases in the $15-$20 range. But if you look at their calendar of events, it's often possible to find a show or two for $10.
The Laugh Factory, 3175 Broadway St., offers Top Ten Tuesdays, when admission is $10.
Goldstar is an online portal that allows shopping for low-priced tickets throughout the city.
Bear in mind that some places require a one- or two-drink minimum in addition to the admission price.
Take Advantage of Whitehall Hotel's Park for $10 Package
Driving in downtown Chicago isn't advised. You'll often struggle with heavy traffic and a lack of affordable parking.
Hotels in the Chicago Loop routinely charge $50-$70/night just for the privilege of parking your vehicle. City garages are far less expensive, but will still cost in excess of $20 in most places for an overnight stay.
Enter Whitehall Hotel's Park for $10 Package.
The deal includes unlimited in and out privileges and valet service (tip not included). You must book one of their Superior or Pinnacle rooms, which typically range from $110-$180/night (fairly affordable for downtown Chicago). This place bills itself as an "independent boutique hotel," with amenities such as premium cotton sheets and silk-covered down comforters. The Whitehall Hotel is located on the Gold Coast, at 105 E. Delaware Place.