Local Excursions: A Mini-Guide to Free and Cheap Fun in Chicago

I know a lot of you are new to Chicago and hopefully you’re finding your way around and enjoying yourselves so far. Now that Core has started, and with the quarter less than two weeks away, I’m sure you’re picking up on the fact that your free time is about to significantly diminish. Nonetheless, I wanted to let everyone know about some of the stuff Chicago has to offer for free and cheap throughout the month. As you might have noticed, this city spends a lot of money on entertainment so that broke grad students don’t have to.

The Art Institute of Chicago: Hopefully most of you have had a chance to check out the AI already but if not, every Thursday night at the Art Institute is free from 5 to 8. Also, it’s good to note that Student Memberships to the Art Institute are $50 for the year and include free Illy coffee in the Member’s Lounge (I definitely drank $50 worth of coffee there last year and would recommend the place as an excellent mid-day reading spot to anyone willing to drop the money).

Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art: No admission on Tuesdays ever. The Jeff Koons is still here for a little bit and is worth checking out. MCA also hosts First Fridays, a monthly event that draws a pretty hip crowd and is well-catered (though it’s $15 per head plus cash bar).

Museum of Science and Industry: You’ve probably seen this building, as it’s sort of across the street from us. There are a bunch of free days as the Museum of Science and Industry but they’re sort of random each month and they’re waiving the admission for the entire month of September. Check out the calendar of free days here.

The Field Museum: This one’s pretty close to Hyde Park too and they have a ton of free days. In addition to waived admission each second Monday of the month and for the entire month of February, there are some additional free days listed here on the Field Museum’s calendar.

The Shedd Aquarium: Shedd also has 52 days per year in which general admission is free and they offer a discount on their events packages. I haven’t been to Shedd since I was about 9, but I’ve had friends mention that because this is a “community” discount day, you have to be able to demonstrate to them that you live in Chicago, either with an I.D. or utility bill or something like that. This is, however, hearsay and conjecture so maybe call for more info before you head over. The Shedd Aquarium discount days calendar can be found here.

Addler Planetarium: Unfortunately, there is always some fee to watch the shows at the Planetarium, but there are a bunch of days when admission is free and the show prices are discounted. Check out their discount day calendar here.

Lincoln Park Zoo: There is never admission at the Lincoln Park Zoo and they have a pretty impressive varied of imprisoned critters.

Chicago Arts District–Pilsen: Pilsen is an amazing Chicago neighborhood full of galleries and studios of all different kinds. It doesn’t take too long to get there and if you find yourself without something to do after social hour on October 14, you can use that as your first opportunity to check out Pilsen’s Second Fridays. Their monthly gallery walk is a total scene and a lot of fun.

Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago: This is always free for students but you should definitely try to make it to the tour this Friday (Sept. 19) to get the rundown on what’s currently there and what we have to look forward to this year.

Lyric Opera of Chicago: Every once in a while, MAPH will get a pair of free tickets and when we do, we send out a first-come, first-served email. Other than that, I don’t know of any ways to get to the Lyric Opera for free, but they do have an amazing program that gets us discounted student tickets. For more information on that, you can sign up here.

Hyde Park Art Center: This is right in the neighborhood and always has tons of cool stuff going on. Another pair of cool monthly events are their Second Sundays free activities day and Cocktails and Clay, held the second Friday of every month.

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