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The Illinois city is known for world trade, popular culture and a rich history, but it is the gratis activities that make the Windy City a summer destination.

Millennium Park
Downtown’s Millennium Park is a public-art-studded showpiece with a trove of freebies in summer, including gratis garden tours, no-cost yoga classes and complimentary kids’ activities. But nothing beats the free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, especially the weekend classical gigs. Patrons bring wine and picnics to set the scene as the sun dips, the skyscraper lights flicker on, and glorious music fills the twilight.

Green City Market
Stands of purple cabbages, red radishes, green asparagus and other bright-hued produce sprawl through Lincoln Park at Chicago’s Green City Market, that largest farmers’ market in the city. Follow your nose to the free demonstration tent, where local cooks (such as the US reality show Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard) prepare dishes – say, rice crêpes with a mushroom gastrique (a sauce made with caramelised sugar) – using market produce.

Money Museum
Pop into the Money Museum, a small gallery inside the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and you’ll emerge richer than when you entered. Literally, since the museum provides a bag of cash to take home (if only it wasn’t shredded), and figuratively, as displays impart knowledge such as who’s on the $10,000 bill. Get a photo of yourself clutching the million-dollar-stuffed briefcase for the ultimate money shot.

Shakespeare in the Parks
‘How many fond fools serve mad jealousy?’ The question lingers in the evening air while families huddled on blankets sit rapt before the makeshift stage. The Comedy of Errors, the Bard’s slapstick tale about mistaken identity amid two sets of twins, brings Shakespeare in the Parks to 18 neighbourhoods between 26 July and 25 August and provides the answer free of charge.

North Avenue Beach
North Avenue Beach is Chicago’s most popular strand of sand and wafts a distinctly southern California vibe. Buff teams spike volleyballs, kids build sandcastles, fit young things run, cycle and rollerblade along the lakefront, and everyone jumps in for a swim when the sun heats up. Bands rock the steamboat-shaped beach house, which serves ice cream and margaritas in equal measure. A short walk on the curving breakwater yields postcard skyline views.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the capitol of Illinois. This has been fixed.

The article ‘Chicago: Summer on a shoestring’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.

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