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 & IndustryShedd 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

 

Find things to do in Chicago this weekend by signing up for our weekly newsletter AND get a printable of Chicago free museum days, organized by date.

Free Things To Do In Chicago

Free Chicago Attractions

There's never a charge at these attractions, you can find free things to do in Chicago today.

 

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of many 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

Read reviews of Lincoln Park Zoo

Know before you go: check out our guide to Lincoln Park Zoo

 
Chicago Cultural Center

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

Read reviews of the Chicago Cultural Center

Know before you go: check out our guide to the Chicago Cultural Center

 

 

 

Navy Pier from Lake Michigan with the Chicago Skyline in the background

Navy Pier

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

Read reviews of Navy Pier

Know before you go with our ultimate guide to Navy Pier.

 
Flower from the Chicago Botanic Garden, one of the top free things to do in Chicago

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.

Read reviews of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Get the inside scoop on the Chicago Botanic Garden with our complete guide to this free Chicago attraction.

 

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

Grant Park

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

Read reviews of Grant Park

 

 

Millennium Park and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. This is one of the best outdoor concert venues in Chicago.

Millennium Park

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

Read reviews of Millennium Park

Want to learn more? Check out our complete guide to Millennium Park.

 

 
Maggie Daley Park Playground

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

Learn more about Maggie Daley Park

 

Garfield Park Conservatory - photo credit Joseph Blewitt

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

 

Winter Garden in the Harold Washington Library Center - photo credit Rob Pongsajapan

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.

 

Newberry Library - a world-renowned independent research library in Chicago with free tours and events
Newberry Library

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.

Free Museums in Chicago

There are several free museums in Chicago, plus many free days at Chicago museums that charge admission. 

Free museum days:

 

Diorama at National Museum of Mexican Art

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

 
Museum of Contemporary Photography

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

 
Chicago Design Museum

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

 
Yelda Khorsabad Court at Oriental Institute

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

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

 

Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum

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

 
Cambodian American Heritage Museum

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

Ed Paschke Art Center

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.

 

DANK HAUS New Year's Eve Celebration

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

Learn to speak German

 

 

Free Things to Do Outside

Millennium Park Presents: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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.

Movies in the Park

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

 

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:

 
 

Save this for later!

Chicago can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be! Check out all of the free things you can do in Chicago, from parks to museums to the city's biggest attractions. #Chicago #budgettravel #freethingstodo #Midwest #US