This is your ultimate guide to free things to do in Chicago. Exploring Chicago doesn't have to cost a fortune. It can actually be cheap if you know where to look, and we're here to help you save as much money as possible while still having FUN!
You'll be surprised at how many free Chicago attractions, galleries and museums there are, as well as lots of free events in Chicago. Even our world-class museums, including Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, Museum of Science & Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and the Art Institute of Chicago, offer free museum days for Illinois residents.
Whether you're looking for free and cheap things to do in Chicago this weekend, free events in Chicago today, or trying to save money on a future visit, these attractions and activities can help keep you on a budget. Speaking of budget, you might want to check out our guide on how to save money in Chicago and our Food and Drink Specials.
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Free Things To Do In Chicago
Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, and one of the last remaining free zoos. It's open to all 365 days a year and features animals from every climate. It's also dedicated to conservation and science, with one of the largest programs in the country. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N Cannon Dr
Know before you go: check out our guide to Lincoln Park Zoo
Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center was the nation's first free municipal cultural venue, and today its free programming in the arts makes it one of the most popular attractions in the city. Be sure to check out the largest Tiffany dome in the world. It's breathtaking! Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St
Know before you go: check out our guide to the Chicago Cultural Center
Navy Pier is one of Chicago's most popular attractions, and one of the most popular destinations in the Midwest. While there are fees at many of the attractions at Navy Pier, there are some that are free. One of the best reasons to visit is the view, which is (of course!) free! The Pier extends half a mile into Lake Michigan, giving you some of the best views in the city. Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave
Know before you go with our ultimate guide to Navy Pier.
Chicago Botanic Garden
This peaceful respite north of Chicago is free, although you will have to pay for parking. If you ride your bike there, however, you'll get some exercise and won't have to pay anything to wander this 385-acre attraction.
Get the inside scoop on the Chicago Botanic Garden with our complete guide to this free Chicago attraction.
Grant Park is home to many free events. Chicago has several free summer festivals like Taste of Chicago, Chicago SummerDance, and more, and they take place in Chicago's Front Yard. Be sure to check out all of the public art year-round and the lights show at Buckingham Fountain during the summer. Grant Park, Columbus & Balbo
Grant Park's neighbor to the North, Millennium Park is an adult playground with its collection of sculptures, the acoustically-sound Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Lurie Gardens, and other amenities. There's free ice skating in the winter and loads of free concerts and workouts in the park during the summer. It's now the #1 attraction in the Midwest, supplanting Navy Pier from the top spot. Millennium Park, 205 E Randolph St
Want to learn more? Check out our complete guide to Millennium Park.
Maggie Daley Park
The northeast corner of Grant Park has been turned into an impressive destination. The lakefront recreation center features a climbing wall, a skating ribbon, and a giant playground. (Seriously - it's giant!) Maggie Daley Park, 337 E Randolph St
Garfield Park Conservatory
Visit one of the largest conservatories in the world. Open since 1908 and featuring "landscape art under glass," the conservatory, like Lincoln Park Zoo, is open 365 days a year. Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N Central Park Ave.
Learn more about this free attraction
photo credit Rob Pongsajapan
Harold Washington Library Center
The Harold Washington Library Center is one of Chicago's treasures. Inside its nine stories are books, of course, as well as music practice rooms, meeting rooms, extensive geneology databases, and a Maker Lab. Be sure to head to the top floor and soak in the sun in the Winter Garden (pictured above). Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S State St.
The Newberry Library is a world-renowned independent research library with an extensive noncirculating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts, and other printed material spanning six centuries. Free tours are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am. They host several free events throughout the year that are open to their public, and any bibliophile will not want to miss their annual sale. Newberry Library, 60 W Walton St.
There are several free museums in Chicago, plus many free days at Chicago museums that charge admission.
Free museum days:
- Adler Planetarium Free Days
- Field Museum of Natural History Free Days
- Free Days at the Museum of Science & Industry
- Free Days at the Shedd Aquarium
National Museum of Mexican Art
Located in Pilsen, this is the only museum dedicated to Latino culture that's a member of the American Alliance of Museums. The museum has over 9,000 examples of Mexican art from ancient Mexico to the present as well as special exhibitions. While technically free, they do ask for a donation if you can spare it. National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W 19th St
Check out reviews of the National Museum of Mexican Art
Photo: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Facebook
Museum of Contemporary Photography
Founded by Columbia College Chicago in 1976, this museum presents works that reflect a wide range of aesthetics and technologies. It's the leading photography museum in the Midwest, and is continually searching for new talent to exhibit. They're particularly interested in how photography impacts society, culture, and politics. Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S Michigan Ave
See why you should visit the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Photo: Chicago Design Museum
Chicago Design Museum
What began as a pop-up exhibition became a full-fledged museum in 2014 thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. The museum features exhibitions that are geared towards starting a conversation about how design can improve the human condition. Admission is free and it's open Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm to 7pm. Chicago Design Museum, Block 37, 108 N State St 3rd Fl
Read reviews of the Chicago Design Museum
photo courtesy The Oriental Institute
The Oriental Institute
The Oriental Institute is not just a museum, but is a working research laboratory at the University of Chicago. Known as some of the premiere archaeologists of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the objects on display were primarily uncovered during expeditions in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The Oriental Institute, 1155 E 58th St
Jane Addams Hull House Museum
Social reformer Jane Addams was one of the most influential people of her time. Her work helped immigrants and to shape national and international policy. The museum preserves the Nobel laureate's legacy and helps further her vision through research, education, and social engagement. The museum is free with a $5 suggested donation, and they offer free tours on Wednesdays and Sundays at 1pm. Jane Addams Hull House Museum, 800 S Halsted
photo courtesy Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum
Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum
Ever wanted to see what a million dollars looks like? Or see inside a cash processing center? You can, and it's free! The Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum even offers a free guided tour every weekday at 1pm. Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum, 230 S LaSalle St
photo courtesy Cambodian American Heritage Museum
Cambodian American Heritage Museum
This museum and memorial tells the story of Khmer Rouge and the Killing Field through multimedia displays, archives, narratives, and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts. Guided tours are available so you can learn more about what happened during the Cambodian Civil War. Cambodian American Heritage Museum, 2831 W Lawrence Ave
Photo courtesy Ed Paschke Art Center
Ed Paschke Art Center
This center dedicated to the famous artist is located in Jefferson Park, and with its bright mural you can't miss it. You can check out an iPod at the front desk for a self-guided tour, or visit the first Thursday of the month at 2pm for a thirty-minute guided tour. Ed Paschke Art Center, 5415 W Higgins Ave.
photo courtesy DANK HAUS
DANK HAUS German Cultural Center
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 1pm to 5pm, and the cultural center offers several events. There are cooking classes, film screenings, and a monthly "Stammtisch." This is a communal event featuring games, live music, dancing, dining, and drinking. DANK HAUS German Cultural Center, 4740 N Western Ave
There are tons of things to do outside. There are free festivals and free concerts in Chicago almost every day during the summer, including the Grant Park Music Festival, and free ice skating during the winter.
If you're a movie buff, you'll love Movies in the Park. This takes place at neighborhood parks throughout the city, and the Millennium Park Summer Film series is a highlight each year.
Of course, we can't forget Chicago's beaches. There are 28 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan with several beaches along the way. They're all connected by the Lakefront Path, one of the true Chicago gems.
Speaking of Chicago beaches, the Chicago Air & Water Show is one of the most fun things to do in Chicago every year, and show central is North Avenue Beach.
More favorite free festivals include the Taste of Chicago, Chicago Blues Festival, and Chicago Jazz Festival, just to name a few.
TLTip: If you've got a Chicago Public Library Card, you can check out the Kids Museum Passport, which gets you into several attractions for free.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
This hidden oasis is just west of Lake Shore Drive and north of the Lincoln Park Conservatory - and unless you know about it, you'll never find it. Landscape architect Alfred Caldwell was hired by the Works Progress Administration to fix the Victorian-era lily pond after years of neglect. Enter the wooden gate from Fullerton Avenue, and you'll see he did an excellent job. Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, 125 W Fullerton Pkwy
TLTip: This is a lovely spot for a picnic! Check out this handy picnic tote for two, complete with plates and flatware.
Looking for more Free Things To Do in Chicago? Browse our interactive map and directory.
For even more Chicago fun:
- Check our huge guide of things to do in Chicago
- Find out ways to save money in Chicago, including discounts on theater, restaurants, hotels, and parking
- Add free outdoor concerts to your calendar
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