Find ALL the 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 attractions, galleries and museums are free, as well as the number of free events in Chicago. Even the city's world-class museums offer free museum days for Illinois residents.

These free 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

Millennium Park

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

Millennium Park is a veritable 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 Chicago, 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.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Lincoln Park Conservatory greenhouse and flowers, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

Lincoln Park Conservatory has been a beautiful getaway since the 1890s. Inside, you'll find tropical palms, ancient ferns, and plenty of other exotic plants. Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N Stockton Dr

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of many free things to do in Chicago

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

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

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

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

Everything you need to know about Navy Pier.

Chicago Botanic Garden

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

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

Buckingham Fountain in 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

Find a place to stay near Grant Park

Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park Playground

The northeast corner of Grant Park has been turned into a GIANT playground. (Seriously - it's giant!)  The lakefront recreation center also features a climbing wall and a skating ribbon. Maggie Daley Park, 337 E Randolph St

Learn more about Maggie Daley Park

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory - photo credit Joseph Blewitt

Visit one of the largest conservatories in the world. Open since 1908 and featuring "landscape art under glass," Garfield Park Conservatory, like Lincoln Park Zoo, is open 365 days a year.  Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N Central Park Ave.

Harold Washington Library Center

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

photo credit Rob Pongsajapan

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

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

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 museums that charge admission. 

Free museum days:

National Museum of Mexican Art

Diorama at National Museum of Mexican Art

Located in Pilsen, the National Museum of Mexican Art 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

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photo: Museum of Contemporary Photography, Facebook

Founded by Columbia College Chicago in 1976, the Museum of Contemporary Photography 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. The museum is particularly interested in how photography impacts society, culture, and politics. Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S Michigan Ave

City Gallery

Historic Water Tower Chicago

This free gallery is located within the historic Water Tower and features a rotating gallery of works by Chicago photographers and artists. City Gallery, 806 N Michigan Ave

Related: Museums on the Magnificent Mile

Clarke House Museum

Clarke House Museum

Built in 1836, the year before Chicago was incorporated, the Clarke House Museum is inside the city's oldest house. You can take a free tour of the Greek Revival mansion on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 1pm and 2:30pm, and can explore the outside at any time since it's in the Chicago Womens Park in the South Loop. Clarke House Museum, 1827 S Indiana Ave

Chicago Design Museum

Chicago Design Museum

Photo: 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

DePaul Art Museum

DePaul Art Museum

Modern and contemporary art fans will love the free DePaul Art Museum. They've got more than 3,500 objects in their permanent collection housed in a LEED-certified building. DePaul Art Museum, 935 W. Fullerton Ave

Hyde Park Art Center

Boy using a pottery wheel at Hyde Park Art Center

Photo: Hyde Park Art Center Twitter

Hyde Park Art Center is more than a gallery; it's also a community center that offers a production space as well as studio art classes, exhibitions, artist talks, and residency programs. Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S Cornell Ave

The Oriental Institute

Yelda Khorsabad Court at Oriental Institute

photo courtesy 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

Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum

photo courtesy 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

National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial

Cambodian American Heritage Museum

photo courtesy Cambodian 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. National Cambodian Heritage Museum, 2831 W Lawrence Ave

National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture

National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

Photo courtesy National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture

The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture is the only national museum that's focused on Puerto Rican arts. It's located in historic Humboldt Park stables and receptory. In addition to arts exhibits, the center also hosts festivals and community education events. National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, 3015 W Division St.

Smart Museum of Art

Smart Museum of Art

Photo courtesy Smart Museum of Art

Founded in 1974, the Smart Museum of Art is part of the University of Chicago and is home to acclaimed special exhibitions and a permanent collection that spans five thousand years of artistic creation. Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S Greenwood Ave

Ed Paschke Art Center

Ed Paschke Art Center

Photo courtesy 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 German Cultural Center

DANK HAUS New Year's Eve Celebration

photo courtesy DANK HAUS

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.

Break out your dancing shoes for Chicago SummerDance.

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

The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is a hidden oasis 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.

 

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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