"This winter, we encourage visitors to come out to explore all that our city - and our state - has to offer," said Illinois Director of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Jack Lavin. "Illinois' affordable and world-class attractions draw visitors from near and far, pumping millions of dollars into the Illinois economy and are helping to create good jobs for the hard-working people of our state."
Here are just a few free ways to discover Chicago this winter:
- Grab your scarf and mittens and head out to Millennium Park for the Frozen Fun Fest where you can navigate a kid-size ice maze, the first of its kind in the Midwest. Play frozen versions of your favorite outdoor games, including corn hole, ring toss, and penny pitch. Pose for an ice portrait and enjoy drinks that keep you warm. Festive theatrical and musical strolling performances take place on the hour (February 7-8).
- Have some fun on ice, day or night. Bring the whole family and your skates to outdoor ice skating rinks in neighborhoods throughout the city, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in award-winning Millennium Park, and the Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Grant Park (various days and times).
- Be dazzled at Snow Days Chicago, a snow sculpting competition and winter festival in Grant Park, when professional snow sculptors create 15 unique works crafted out of man-made snow. The five-day event also features dogsled demonstrations with Siberian Huskies, a snowboarding competition, and crafts and storytelling for kids (February 12-16).
- Share an artist's vision of Chicago at Exquisite City, City of Cardboard, an exhibition of work by more than 70 Chicago artists who have designed an imaginary city made almost entirely out of cardboard. The Chicago Tourism Center at 72 E. Randolph Street will be transformed by this miniature cityscape inspired by Chicago that includes buildings, parks, vacant lots and assorted skyline and neighborhood scenes (January 15-March 15).
- Celebrate Life's Moments on the Magnificent Mile. Rejoice in 6:30 p.m. fireworks that illuminate the sky over the Chicago River every Saturday night in February. With Moët & Chandon luxury champagnes at participating retailers, restaurants, hotels and spas, toast to a birthday, an engagement, a reunion or other special moments (throughout February).
- Observe Lane Tech Prep High School's 100th anniversary with a special exhibition of 11 recently restored murals from the School's collection, Hidden Treasures: The Lane Tech Murals, on display at the Chicago Cultural Center through March 1. After viewing the exhibition, take a February 7 bus tour to the School and view one of the largest and most comprehensive high school art collections in the country.
- Many museums and attractions are always free including Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, the Garfield Park Conservatory, and the Smart Museum of Art. Others have free days including the Chicago Children's Museum, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, DuSable Museum of African American History, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition, the Art Institute of Chicago will be free throughout the month of February.
Got just a little extra cash this year? Stretch your dollar by checking out these affordable ideas:
- Great food at one great price! Please your palate and your pocketbook during Chicago Restaurant Week when more than 130 restaurants serve up special 3-course lunches for $22 and dinners for $32 (February 20-27).
- Honor Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial at the Chicago History Museum's 200th Lincoln birthday celebration where admission costs just a penny (February 12); or be inspired by the legendary James Earl Jones narrating Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Tickets start at $17 (February 21 & February 24).
- Experience Chicago theater with hundreds of shows each week at 190 theaters. Choose a show and meet cast members or go behind the curtain with Theater Thursdays. Prices vary (February 5, 12, 19 and 26); or purchase half-price tickets to a show through Hot Tix, in person or online.
- See the latest models at the 101st Chicago Auto Show, North America's largest with 1,000 different vehicles, including domestic and imported passenger cars and trucks, SUVs and experimental and concept cars on display. Admission: adults, $10; seniors 62+/children 7-11, $5; children under 7 w/paying adult, free (February 13-22).
For information about hotels offering Explore Chicago Winter 2009 packages with great rates plus special add-ons, visit www.explorechicago.org. You will also find the Guidebook of Special Values featuring exclusive discounts at museums, restaurants, shopping centers and entertainment venues.
Visitors and Chicagoans planning to entertain out-of-town guests can receive Chicago brochures, reserve hotel accommodations and receive trip-planning assistance by calling toll-free 1.877.CHICAGO (1.877.244.2246) or visiting www.explorechicago.org.
Brochures and information on Chicago's events and activities are also available at the Visitor Information Centers. The centers are located at Chicago Water Works, 163 East Pearson Street at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph Street. For those calling from outside the United States, Mexico and Canada, please call 1-312-201-8847. The TTY toll-free number for the hearing impaired is 1.866.710.0294.
The Chicago Office of Tourism, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, is the official City agency dedicated to promoting Chicago to domestic and international visitors and to providing innovative visitor programs and services.