1. Chicago Greeters
Chicago Greeter service is a walk through Chicago with a friendly, passionate and knowledgeable local. And it's FREE, how can you beat that? Chicago Greeters offer a free (yes I'm saying it again, free) 2-4 hours guided tour of selected Chicago neighbourhoods. If you want the customised tour, you have to book at least ten business days in advance.
Instagreeter is available on a first come first serve basis from the Cultural Center. This is a must do while in Chicago. It is a great way to get to know the city's history and see some amazing art and architecture.
Who knew that this mid-west town could have such a fantastic display of art and architecture? Well maybe you knew, but I was amazed.
While the 1871 fire was a tragic event in Chicago it is also a real example of how tragedy can turn into a positive. Following the fire, the city rebuilt and some of the most interesting architects contributed to it's rebirth.
There are lots of other interesting architectural cities but Chicago has a high percentage of interesting buildings representing many different architectural styles.
Many people may not know that most of the building are public and you can go inside (at least to the lobby). So don't stop at appreciating the outside of the building from the street, go on in. Many of the building have information available about the history, go in and have a read.
And guess what? A walk through the city gawking up at the buildings doesn't cost a penny!
It is hard to separate Art/Sculpture and Architecture because in Chicago they are very much inter-related. But since Chicago has some of the most amazing sculpture on public display, it deserves it's own reason to love Chicago.
What other city do you know that has a sculpture from Miro, Picasso, Calder (and many others) on public display for free? Chicago clearly takes pride in art and architecture, it ooses from the streets. The buildings are set back from the street (a by-law), many with a sculpture in from of them or in their lobbies.
4. Clean and Friendly
The entire weekend I did not see a single piece of garbage or graffiti (granted we only had three days so we spent it in the core/loop).
Visiting today, it is hard to believe that at one time not so long ago the Chicago river was so polluted with animal carcases and garbage that it stank up the city. The city made an effort to clean up the river. You can now dine riverside and eventually the city wants to make the river safe for swimming. Chicago is clean and beautiful.
Chicagoans are friendly and proud of their city (as they should be), ask for help if you need it, you are likely to get it.
You can see the stunning Tiffany Domes in the Chicago Cultural Center for free, just go on in and follow the signs, you will be amazed! Stunning!
There are many other examples of Tiffany tile throughout the city. Stop by Macy's and have a look, right near the perfume counter, don't forget to look up!
6. Music Scene
Whether it is Blues, Jazz or something else that gets you moving, Chicago has an unmatched music scene. Sure some clubs have a cover but did you also know that during the summer, Chicago offers many free outdoor concerts? And did we mention the stunning Frank Gehry designed, Jay Pritzker Pavilion (bandshell) in Millennium Park? Which leads to the next reason to love Chicago....
7. Millennium Park
Hard to believe that this park only opened in 2004, it looks like it has been there forever. It is an absolutely beautiful park with an interesting combination of art and flora.
Take a walk under the "Cloud Gate" also known as the "Bean" by Chicagoans, a stunning piece of sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor.
8. Lakefront and River Views
A walk along Lakeshore Drive or along the rivers and bridges, stunning! You'll fall in love.
9. Gardens and Flowers
For a city that has a nasty winter, you might be surprised at how much effort the city places on creating gardens. Everywhere you go you will likely see beautifully maintained gardens. The weekend I was in Chicago, it was the beginning of fall and the gardens were being filled with flowering cabbages and mums. Absolutely stunning!
10. The Art Institute of Chicago
If you happen to be in Chicago on a Wednesday and live in Illinois you can visit the Art Institute for free on their "Free Family Wednesdays". If not, you'll have to fork out the $18 regular adult admission which I agree is a bit steep. However where else can you see so much impressionist art in one visit? A trip to Europe will certainly set you back a few more dollars. So given every other reason to love Chicago is free, I think you've saved enough to splurge on seeing the Art Institute's amazing collection of Impressionist art, Modern European Art and the Famed Chagal Windows.
Honestly, it is hard to stop at ten reasons. I hope you will take a visit and create your own list of reasons to love Chicago.
Happy Affordable Travel!