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20 Fun and Completely Free Things to Do in Chicago

Free Things to Do in Chicago
Written by Irina Vasilescu

Chicago may not be the most expensive city in the world, but a schedule of paid leisure activities can soon total a hefty blow to your wallet. But, as they say, the best things in life are free. So, other than friends, family and things you’d have no matter you may be, what’s free in Chicago? It turns out that you can have plenty of fun for nothing or next-to-nothing. Let’s check it out.

Parks Are More Than Parks in Chicago

1. Visit Humboldt Park

Seriously, where else would you find an inland beach complete with a lagoon in the middle of the city? True, not all the activities offered within the park are completely free – but there’s nothing to stop you from taking a stroll around, enjoying a picnic and exploring the 219 acres. It’s the ideal spot for summertime and there’ll be plenty of people-watching opportunities. See more »

2. Explore the Pedway

Downtown Chicago has something really cool you won’t find anywhere else – an underground pedway with five miles of tunnels interspersed with bridges. Where will it take you? It could be a railway station, a public building or a private one. So why not explore? See more »

3. Go to Lincoln Park’s North Pond

“Pond” could be a misleading name. North Pond is more like a little lake, and the nature reserve there offers a tranquil setting that’s free to enjoy. If bird watching is your hobby, you’ll want to stay there all day long! See more »

4. Take a Bike Ride Along the Lake Front

Chicago Lakefront Trail

There’s 18 miles of lakefront to bike – or you can just take it in a small part of it. Either way, you’re likely to see plenty of other cyclists who had the same idea. Plus, you’ll be in a setting that could ONLY be Chicago. See more »

5. Visit Promontory Point for the View

This beauty spot is a gem for getting a view of the lake and the city. Bring your camera! Early mornings are usually best for a clear view, but any time of the day will be great – and you won’t be fighting tourists for a space either. See more »

6. Millennium Park: Events, Events, Events

Just about all the best free events Chicago has to offer happen at Millennium Park. There could be a free music festival, this summer there will be two jazz festivals and the classic blues festival, and in autumn, there’ll be a world music festival. The Lurie Garden is great for romantic strolls and for meeting and greeting friends. See more »

7. Three Words: Lincoln Park Zoo

It’s free. All day every day all year round. And of course, it’s set in those gorgeous gardens too. And guess what? Free guided tours are offered every second Saturday of the month. So whether you want to goggle at gorillas, learn more about plants and nature, or just chill out, this spot is a sure fire winner. If you’re visiting near one of the major holidays, there’ll be free themed events too. See more »

8. Head for the Ohio Street Beach

Seriously. Be there. And if its summertime it’s the perfect spot to cool off with a swim. By the way, the lakeside trail passes through here, so you can go for a walk if you prefer. See more »

Ohio Street Beach

9. Free Movies in Chicago Parks

Chicago Park District’s website or app are the place to look for free movies screened under the stars. Spread a blanket, bring some snacks along and enjoy! See more »

10. Funky Full Moon Jams

What started out as a group of local fire dancers’ and musicians’ get-together has become a very well-attended attended event. Visit the Full Moon Jams website to get the dates for the next one. Be ready to party. See more »

Arts and Gorgeous Buildings to See for Free

11. Museum of Contemporary Art

If you’re an Illinois resident, you can get in free on Tuesdays. Who said being arty had to be expensive? See more »

12. See Wilmette’s Baha’i Temple

There are plenty of reasons to visit this temple starting with “it’s free,” and including “it’s one of the most beautiful buildings ever.” You absolutely must have your camera with you. See more »

Baháí House of Worship

13. Visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum

All you need to do to get in is to show your ID. That’s it. Check it out on TripAdvisor where it got so many top rankings it won an award. It’s billed as being best for middle school kids, but adults love it too. See more »

14. The Chicago Cultural Center is FREE

Apart from being free to visit, the Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most popular attractions in the city. See what we mean about the best things being free? You can catch free performances, view free exhibitions, and all in a building that’s so stunning you don’t have to love art to love it. See more »

15. Learn and Enjoy at the DuSable Museum of African American History

Spoiler alert: this is a beautiful museum and quite possibly one of the best in the country. After all, it’s affiliated with the Smithsonian. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t get in free, but on Sundays, you can walk right in without paying an entrance fee. See more »

16. Hang Out at Hull House Museum

It’s like getting into a time machine! There is a recommended entrance fee of $5, but it’s purely voluntary. Once you’ve seen it, you might be eager to make that donation, though! See more »

17. The Smart Museum of Art

Smart Museum of Art

Donations are welcome, but entry is always free. There’s also a schedule of family events and activities with an arty twist – but even when there’s nothing else on, there’s always magnificent art on show. See more »

18. Find Out What Makes a Photo Art at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

The Museum is part of Columbia College and it closes when the college closes. It also closes when new exhibitions are being set up, so check its website before you visit. See more »

19. Gallery 37 Is Free to See

It’s a city sponsored gallery, and entrance is a nice price namely free. There are also programs for kids and adults, so do find you what you can sign up for. See more »

20. Don’t Miss Out! The City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower

It’s one of the city’s most famous landmarks, and it was once a water tower. But today, it is a gallery. Even if you’re not into art, you should go in there just so you can have the pleasure of saying “I did that!” See more »

By now, you get the picture. You are completely spoiled for choice when it comes to free activities in Chicago. From dancing with fire to admiring art or grooving to cool music or even chilling on a beach, there’s something for everyone. Where do you like to go for free in Chicago? Share your thoughts.

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Free Things to Do in Chicago

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.

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