Magnificent Mile Street Sign in Chicago
Head to North Michigan Avenue — called the Magnificent Mile — to get your fill of luxury offerings.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

6 Free Ways to Make the Most of Your Time in Chicago

Stroll State Street and the Magnificent Mile

Less architectural masterworks than retail hubs, State Street and the Magnificent Mile (a section of North Michigan Avenue) still offer plenty of enjoyment even if you want to keep your wallet closed. Consider Macy’s on State Street, which Chicago’s official tourism service says is the world’s second-largest department store.

It also boasts a fifth-floor ceiling fashioned out of 1.6 million pieces of Tiffany Favrile glass. Retail staples such as FootLocker, Urban Outfitters and T.J. Maxx also line the street.

Meanwhile, the appropriately named Magnificent Mile dazzles with both its beauty and luxury offerings. It contains the Water Tower and Pumping Station (which helped fight the Great Chicago Fire in 1871), as well as the Chicago Tribune Tower and the astonishingly ornate Wrigley building.

Then there’s the shopping, with high-end retailers such as Gucci, Montblanc, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. You don’t have to part with a penny to enjoy some delectable window shopping.

A young man cycling in Chicago, the background blurred by his speedThe pave pathway of the 606 will give you an elevated view of the city.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Hike the 606

If you prefer your exercise without pecuniary temptation, consider hiking the 606, a 2.7-mile strip of paved trail tracing the path of a long-abandoned railway line. When the neighborhood of Logan Square needed nearly 100 additional acres of public space in order to meet city standards, the 606 was born.

Not only can you safely walk, jog and run through four distinct Chicago neighborhoods, the 606 will grant you an elevated view of parts of the Windy City not normally frequented by tourists. There are also permanent art exhibits, as well as temporary works. And the Exelon Observatory, which is located on the trail, features free stargazing once a month with a resident astronomer.

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A crowd at a music festival, arms thrust into the air as revelers stand before a stageChicago has plenty of music festivals to choose from, including gospel, blues and house.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Enjoy World-Class Music

Sadly, you’ll find your ability to enjoy free music in Chicago limited by the seasons. Summer is pretty much the only time to enjoy the city’s manifold music festivals. But what a time it is.

Grant Park Music Festival probably qualifies as the most tony of the bunch, a classical music event that features a Grammy-winning orchestra, numerous guest conductors, and performances of Beethoven and Mozart. But if your tastes skew toward more popular tunes, take heart! You’ll find a festival for you.

There’s the Chicago House Party (which features electronic musicians), Chicago Gospel Music Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, World Music Festival and Chicago Jazz Festival (which has run the longest of any of them). Check out ChooseChicago.com for details on dates and times.

But if you miss out on a particular gathering, don’t worry yourself too much. As you can tell from this list, it’s easy to occupy yourself in Chicago without spending a cent.

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