Best Free Things to Do in Chicago – Places to Have Fun without Spending a Penny

Are there any free things to do in Chicago? Some of the best free attractions include the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

free things to do in chicago

There’s no need to break the bank when visiting the third-most populous city in the USA – there are plenty of free things to do in Chicago! From world-famous attractions to hidden gems, this city has something for everyone.

Free Things to Do in Chicago – Downtown

Where to find free things to do in Chicago? Walking around Chicago’s downtown is a free activity in itself – take a stroll and admire the architecture, stop for a photo in front of The Bean (Cloud Gate) at Millennium Park, or window-shop on Michigan Avenue.

If you’re looking for free things to do indoors, head to the Art Institute of Chicago or the Museum Campus (which includes the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium). And don’t forget about free public events like concerts in the park and free summer festivals!

Navy Pier

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago, Navy Pier is a great place to spend a day – and it’s free to enter. There are plenty of things to do here, including taking a free architectural tour or simply enjoying the beautiful lakefront views. Check out Navy Pier’s website for up-to-date information about free public programs to attend.

The Loop

The Loop is the central business district of Chicago – and you can experience it on a walking tour offered by Free Tours by Foot or Chicago Greeter. Or, ride the elevator to the top of Willis Tower and see the city from up above. Check out Richard J. Daley Center for art installations, or enjoy free events at Maggie Daley Park.

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If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at urban exploration and see the city from a different perspective.

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, and it’s free to enter! Inside, you’ll find free art exhibits, concerts, and dance performances. The center also offers free tours of its historic building.

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain is one of the most iconic landmarks in Chicago. Located in Grant Park, this fountain is free to visit year-round. During the summer months, it’s especially beautiful to see the fountain’s evening light show.

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

During the winter months, head to McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park for free ice skating. Skate rentals are available for a small fee.

Free Things to Do in Chicago – Away from the Center

While downtown Chicago is a must-see, don’t spend all your time there – explore some of the city’s 77 unique neighborhoods!

Visit Wicker Park for hipster vibes, Chinatown for delicious food, or Hyde Park for a taste of history (former president Barack Obama’s home is here). Humboldt Park is another great neighborhood to explore, especially during summer when the free Puerto Rican Day parade is held.

The Magnificent Mile is one of the most famous streets in Chicago, and home to high-end shops, restaurants, and hotels. Start at Millennium Park and walk north on Michigan Avenue – you can’t miss it.

Lincoln Park and Its Zoo

Lincoln Park is one of the largest parks in Chicago, and it’s free to enter. There’s so much to do here – from exploring the free Lincoln Park Zoo to sunbathing on the beach, you could easily spend a whole day here.

The free Zoo features a variety of animals, including lions, tigers, gorillas, and reptiles. Plus, there are free events and programs offered throughout the year.

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If you’re looking for more free things to do in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, take a walk through the Butterfly Garden or visit the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.

Lakefront Trail

The Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path along the shore of Lake Michigan, and it’s one of the best ways to see the city. Start at Millennium Park and head north – you’ll pass by Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, and more. Or, if you’re feeling active, rent a bike from Divvy and explore the trail that way!

Garfield Park Conservatory

The Garfield Park Conservatory is a free public conservatory and botanical garden, and it’s one of the largest in the world. With over 300 species of plants, it’s the perfect place to escape the city for a few hours.

Chicago Air and Water Show

Every summer, the Chicago Air and Water Show takes over the city’s lakefront. This free event features aviation and water stunts, and it’s a great way to spend a summer day.

Free Museums in Chicago

While most museums in Chicago charge an admission fee, there are a few that are free to enter. Which ones are they?

  • The National Museum of Mexican Art is the largest museum of its kind in the United States, and it’s free to enter thanks to its generous donors. The museum features a variety of exhibitions, as well as free events and programs.
  • Smart Museum of Art is another free museum on this list. Located on the campus of the University of Chicago, the Smart Museum is home to a collection of over 15,000 works of art.
  • The Field Museum is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions, and it’s free to enter with a suggested donation. The museum houses a variety of exhibitions, as well as a popular dinosaur exhibit.

There are also a number of themed and art museums that offer free days – typically once per month. Check out the website of your favorite museum to see when their free days are.

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Conditionally Free Things to Do in Chicago

We’ve listed a good number of attractions that are free for everybody all the time, but that’s not all. Here’s a list of places you can visit for free on certain conditions.

  • The Museum of Contemporary Art has free admission for people under 18.
  • Adler Planetarium is free for Illinois residents on Wednesday nights.
  • The Art Institute of Chicago is free for Illinois residents on set days, and always free for active duty military, Chicago teens under 18, and all children under 14.
  • The Shedd Aquarium is free for Illinois residents on select days throughout the year.
  • The Museum of Science and Industry is also free for IL residents whenever they schedule it so.
  • The Jay Pritzker Pavilion sometimes hosts free concerts in the summer, so be sure to check their schedule.

Visit Chicago and Enjoy Your Free Events

Free things to do in Chicago are endless – there’s something for everyone! We hope you enjoy your time in the Windy City. Have fun and be sure to take advantage of all the attractions without spending a dime.

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