Known as the Windy City, Chicago combines striking modernist architecture with a world-class take on art and culture, set to the sounds of freewheeling jazz. Chicago’s fuss-free mid-Western attitude has also made it the go-to city for travellers looking for city adventures that keep purse strings intact. Here are five unmissable encounters that will help you sample the best of Chicago, minus the hefty price tag.
Schedule a Thursday night date with the Art Institute of Chicago
What do you get when you cross a sparkling lineup of Impressionists and iconic works from American art stars with a regal 18th-century building that unfolds in Grant Park? The one-million-square-foot Art Institute of Chicago, of course.
The Institute regularly tops lists of the country’s most-loved art museums and it’s not difficult to see why, and the fact that the art behemoth offers free entry on Thursday evenings makes it even easier to appreciate. Make sure you set aside time to view classic pieces such as Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ and Edward Hopper’s famous riff on city life, ‘Nighthawks’.
Come face-to-face with your reflection at Millennium Park
As far as defining Chicago experiences go, it doesn’t get much better than Millennium Park. The downtown oasis is home to enthralling examples of architecture, art and landscape design and it won’t cost you a cent.
Highlights include the Crown Fountain, Jay Pritzker Pavilion – an inventive performing arts space designed by Frank Gehry – as well as a regular roster of free jazz concerts. However, no visit to the Windy City would be complete without an encounter with Cloud Gate, a mirrored Anish Kapoor sculpture that unites onlookers with mind-bending versions of their own reflections.
Explore Chicago villages like a local with a free guided tour
From bohemian Wicker Park and elegant Lincoln Square to the Art Deco charms of The Loop, Chicago’s villages can be difficult to navigate without insider knowledge. Luckily, free walking tours offered by the Chicago Greeter program are designed to do just that. Make sure you register 10 days in advance to secure your spot.
Get a lesson in Windy City style at the Chicago Architecture Foundation
Architecture fiend? You’re in luck! Chicago is one of the world’s leading architecture capitals, thanks to an urban landscape dotted with 18th-century skyscrapers, glossy modernist structures and landmark reminders of the Jazz Age.
Free to the public seven days a week, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s ArchiCenter is home to revolving exhibitions that are an instant education in the city’s design heritage.
Catch a film under the stars courtesy of the Chicago Park District
Chicago’s striking skyscape might lure building enthusiasts, but the city has no shortage of green spaces known for stellar cultural attractions. Movies in the Parks, a free program that screens classic and contemporary films at dusk from June until November, is one of the Midwest’s favourite wallet-friendly pleasures. Grab a blanket and settle in for a cinematic treat.