Chicago is an expensive city. When you visit the Windy City you can expect to fork over some serious cash. With all the amazing experiences that can be had in this Midwestern metropolis, the money is surely well spent. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find worthwhile activities that are also budget-friendly. After living in Chicagoland for over six years- first in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and now in the suburbs- I have made it my mission to seek out fun entertainment for the whole family that also doesn’t make a dent in our pocketbook. I’m here to share another one with you today.
Located quite literally a stone’s throw away from Lincoln Park Zoo’s northwest entrance (another budget-friendly place I highly recommend) is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. The outside of the building is actually rather uninspiring. So uninspiring, in fact, that even after passing the entrance dozens of times on the way to the zoo while we lived in the city, we never went in. We finally decided to check it out last weekend when our original plans in the city fell through. This foliage house, maintained by the Chicago Park District, is a fun place for plant lovers. Even if you’re not an aspiring botanist, the Conservatory is worth a visit at least once. It houses four rooms and one outside garden– each with a different theme- and is completely free. A donation box is available at the entrance if you feel so inclined to drop in a few dollar bills but it is not required.
Visitors to the Conservatory from now through January 7th receive an added bonus. They get to see the showroom all decorated for Christmas. Silver knick-knacks and red and white poinsettias mingle amidst the greenery to create a magical Christmasy world. My kids’ favorite part of the scene was the trains that weaved their way through the foliage. Pulling Buddy away was especially difficult as his train-loving heart was completely in awe. We probably spent most of our time in the showroom watching the trains go around and around their tracks. I was reminded of our trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden last year to see the Wonderland Express.
About the Lincoln Park Conservatory
As the name suggests, the Lincoln Park Conservatory is located on Stockton Drive in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Hours run from 9 am to 5 pm. Tours are available at select times and days for those who want to find out more about the exotic plants that are housed in the Conservatory. We chose to forgo the guided tour and just wander around the rooms on our own. Although the Conservatory is larger on the inside than it appears on the outside, it is not huge. I recommend planning about half an hour to spend inside the building. For the kids, scavenger hunts are available with pictures of plants to find inside. It’s great fun for little ones trying to find things like a fruit tree or different types of ferns and even fish.
Construction for the Lincoln Park Conservatory began in 1890 and was completed over five years. One of its initial purposes was to allow Chicago residents access to nature as the growing metropolis rapidly reduced the city’s green spaces. It continues to serve that purpose. In fact, all of Lincoln Park acts as a refuge from the bustling noise and activity of Chicago and is, hands-down, my favorite place in Chicago.
Getting to the Lincoln Park Conservatory
There are a few options for getting to the Conservatory. For those who plan to drive, a parking lot is available on the north side of the building. However, like all pay-to-park locations, the cost is pretty steep and, in my opinion, not worth it when there are other options. Street parking along Stockton Drive and most places east of Broadway Avenue is free. Parking is limited but if you are patient and don’t mind walking, you can usually find a spot after driving around for a while. This is what we do when we drive down from the suburbs.
However, if you’re able, public transportation is usually the way to go in Chicago. Busses 151 and 156 will get you the closest to the Conservatory. The Stockton and Fullerton stop will get you nearest to the entrance but there are a few other stops along Stockton Drive that aren’t too much farther. The purple, brown, and red line trains all stop at the Fullerton CTA station. You can then walk the mile east to the Conservatory or take a taxi.
While visiting the Conservatory, consider taking advantage of all the other awesome things to do in Lincoln Park. You can easily spend a whole day in this peaceful haven right in the middle of Chicago.