Free Things To Do in Chicago

Free Things To Do in Chicago

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There is an amazing number of free things to do in Chicago. You'll be surprised at how many free attractions, galleries and museums there are, as well as lots of free events in Chicago. Even our world-class museums - Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, Museum of Science & IndustryShedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, etc. - offer free museum days for Illinois residents.

This is your ultimate guide to free things to do in Chicago. You can browse our favorites, and then you can search our interactive directory and find free events in Chicago today and any time on our calendar. You can even save money on dining out with our Food and Drink Specials

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!

 

Free Things To Do In Chicago

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.

 

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.

 

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

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 Things to Do Outside

There are tons of things to do outside. There are free festivals and free concerts in Chicago almost every day during the summer, 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.

 
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

 

Looking for more Free Things To Do in Chicago? Browse our interactive map and directory.

For even more Chicago fun:

 
 

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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
 
2831 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
773.878.7090
The Museum & Memorial serves as the Cambodian national principal institution in Illinois for examining the implication of Civil War in Cambodia.
78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
312.744.6630
Drawn by its beauty and the fabulous free public events, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the Chicago Cultural Center every year.
Chicago Cultural Center
4740 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
773.561.9181
The DANK Haus houses DANK Chicago, a chapter of the nation-wide organization German American National Congress. 
230 S LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60604
312.322.2400
A guided visit to the Money Museum museum, open to visitors without a reservation, lasts roughly 30 minutes and is available at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624
312.746.5100
The Garfield Park Conservatory has showcased "landscape art under glass" for over 100 years on the West Side of Chicago.
Columbus & Balbo, Chicago, IL
312-742-7648
Proudly referred to as Chicago's "front yard," Grant Park is a public park, 319 acres located in Chicago’s central business district in the Loop Community area.
Grant Park
400 S State St, Chicago, IL 60605
312.747.4300
800 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607
312.412.5353
How much: Free; $5 suggested donation
The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum serves as a dynamic memorial to social reformer Jane Addams
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
2200 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614
312.742.2000
337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
312.742.3918
Maggie Daley Park is a lakefront recreation center featuring a climbing wall, a skating ribbon, and giant playground.
Maggie Daley Park
201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60202
312.742.1168
In Millennium Park, you’ll find a new kind of town square – a lively, spectacular gathering spot located in the heart of the city and a destination for Chicagoans and visitors alike.
Millennium Park Map
600 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605
312-663-5554
How much: Free
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is dedicated to a greater understanding of the cultural and political implication of the image in our world today.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608
312.738.1503
Our mission is to stimulate and preserve knowledge and appreciation of Mexican culture through events and exhibitions that exemplify the rich variety of visual and performing arts.
National Museum of Mexican Art
600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
312.595.PIER
Navy Pier is the People’s Pier, Chicago’s lake front treasure, welcoming all and offering dynamic and eclectic experiences through partnerships and programs that inspire discovery and wonder.
Navy Pier Logo
60 W Walton St, Chicago, IL 60610
312.943.9090
The Newberry is committed to building, preserving, and making accessible a world-class collection focused on the humanities.
Newberry Library
1155 E 58th St, Chicago, IL 60637
773.702.9514
The Oriental Institute is an internationally recognized pioneer in the archaeology, philology, and history of early Near Eastern civilizations.
Oriental Institute

For your reading enjoyment, by the founder of The Local Tourist:

"If John Steinbeck earned a Nobel Prize in Literature shortly after publishing Travels with Charley, then Theresa should start planning a trip to Oslo, Norway, because Two Lane Gems is every bit the book Travels with Charley was. And then some." ~Amazon review