This post covers the best things to do in Chicago this September including free events, family-friendly activities, and things to do at night, updated for 2023.
Chicago is a lovely place to visit in September.
Check out the suggestions below for a variety of activities, including sports, theatre, music, and of course, seasonal festivals.
For some of the more popular things to do in Chicago, read the following posts:
Some of the things we’ve listed here are included in one of the available tourist attraction discount passes.
1. Go to a Sporting Event
September is filled with several options if you are a sports lover.
Seeing a big game is a great way to spend an evening. For more things to do at night, check the section on nighttime activities below.
For other games, check out the full list of sports taking place in September in Chicago.
2. Go on a Sightseeing Tour
There isn’t a better way to experience a city than on foot with one of our history-loving Chicago-adoring tour guides!
We offer pay-what-you-like walking tours multiple times each week.
If you’d prefer to enjoy a bus tour, we have a read our comparison post of Chicago’s best bus tours.
Another way to see the Chicago River on an architecture-focused river cruise.
3. Go to a Comedy Show
Although the theatrical season won't be starting in cities like Chicago until October/November, there are still plenty of great comedians planning performances in the area this September.
Each of these performances is scheduled to take place either in Chicago or within 30 minutes of the downtown area.
- Joe Gatto | September 7th
- Iliza Shlesinger | September 8th
- Jack Whitehall | September 15th
- Kevin James | September 21st, 26th | Joliet
- Anthony Jeselnik | September 22nd
- Kathleen Madigan | September 23rd
Check here to see a full calendar of comedy shows in the Chicago area in September.
If your heart is set on Chicago's theatre scene, check out our self-guided theatre tour to admire the exterior of some of the oldest movie palaces in the Loop.
4. Go to a Concert
If you are a music lover or a fan, be sure to check out a concert while in Chicago. There are many venues from giant spaces to intimate bars.
- Duran Duran | September 1st | Chicago
- Carrie Underwood | September 1st, 2nd | Highland Park
- REO Speedwagon | September 2nd | Aurora
- Pearl Jam | September 5th, 7th | Chicago
- Greta Van Fleet | September 6th | Rosemont
- Cake | September 10th | Chicago
- Hozier | September 12th | Chicago
- Aerosmith | September 15th | Chicago
- 50 Cent | September 16th
- Nick Cave | September 29th | Chicago
- North Coast Music Festival | September 1st-3rd | SeatGeek Stadium Bridgeview | Featuring Zed's Dead, Marshmello, Flume, and more
- ARC Music Festival | September 1st-3rd | Union Park | Featuring: Acid Pauli, DJ Three, Pan-Pot, and more
- Riot Fest | September 15th-17th | Douglass Park | Featuring: Foo Fighters, The Cure, Death Cab for Cutie, and more
- World Music Festival | September 22nd-October 1st | Multiple locations | Featuring: Cha Wa, Héctor Guerra, and more
Below we list a few of Chicago's best music venues to check out.
5. Chicago Jazz Fest
Join the rest of the foot-tapping crowd in Millennium Park to enjoy Chicago’s annual free Jazz Festival.
This free family-friendly event has both local artists and special guests as well.
Either get there early to snag an up-close seat or bring a blanket and a picnic lunch to enjoy in the lawn space.
The concerts take place between August 31st and September 3rd and you can visit the Chicago Jazz Fest website for more information.
Note that there are two other jazz festivals in Chicago in September:
TIP: Learn more about Millennium Park on our Pay-What-You-Like walking tour of the Loop & Millennium Park.
Or if you prefer to move at your own pace, use our self-guided Millennium Park Tour.
Eat, drink, and be merry at Oktoberfest in Chicago.
This German-American fest that includes a parade, food, live music, and more has been taking place since 1920!
The festival takes place on Lincoln Square and runs from September 8th-10th.
Visit the Chicago Oktoberfest website for more information.
TIP: Beer connoisseurs might want to take a look at our post covering where to find Chicago's best craft beer.
7. Stroll the Riverwalk
September's comfortable weather is ideal for exploring the Riverwalk.
This beautiful stretch will bring you below the busy streets and right along the river’s edge, lined with restaurants, art, and fountains.
Learn more about the river and the riverwalk itself on our Riverwalk and History Tour.
8. Take a Boat Tour
September weather is quite nice to enjoy the views of the city from a boat. There are all kinds of ways you can get out on the water in Chicago.
There are architecture cruises, sightseeing tours, speedboats, sailboats, kayaks, and water taxis.
See our comparison post of Chicago’s best boat tours to find out what options you have.
TIP: Many tourist passes include a boat ride or cruise. If you want to save some money, consider getting a tourist pass if you plan on taking a cruise in addition to other top activities in Chicago.
9. Attend a September Festival
There is always a fun festival to attend when the weather is nice in the Windy City. Below we've listed a handful of festivals that are free, family-friendly, or just plain fun.
- West Loop Arts Festival | September 2nd-3rd
- Printer's Row Lit Festival | September 9th - 10th
- Ravenswood Artwalk | September 16th - 17th
- Edgewood Arts Festival | September 16th-17th
- West Town Art Walk | September 29th-30th
Food and Drink Festivals
- Taste of Polonia | September 1st-4th
- The Great American Lobster Fest | September 2nd-4th
- Taste of Chicago | September 8th-10th
- Lincoln Park Gyro Fest | Dates TBD
- Chicago Gourmet | September 21st-24th
For even more festivals, check out Choose Chicago for a full event calendar.
10. Save Money with a Chicago Tourist Pass
Many of Chicago’s biggest attractions have entry fees. While you do pay for a tourist discount pass, it can give you a bulk discount and free admission into some interesting tours and museums, saving you up to 55%.
They can also save you time with skip-the-ticket-line privileges at select attractions.
Each Chicago Tourist Discount Pass includes a variety of fun family-friendly activities and attractions.
Here are a few examples of what you can visit with a tourist pass, for a discount or for free.
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Adler Planetarium
- Art Institute of Chicago
- The Field Museum
- Museum of Science and Industry
- 360 Chicago Observation Deck
For more details, make sure to read our full post covering Chicago tourist passes.
There are many free activities to take advantage of in Chicago including some we have mentioned above like taking a pay-what-you-like walking tour, hearing live jazz in the park, or attending a festival.
Check out our comprehensive post about the Top Free Things to Do in Chicago.
Movies in the Park
For the past 20 years, Chicago’s Movies in the Park series has been lighting up the skies with free film screenings.
Parks dotted all across the city will be showing recent films, and along with some classics.
Check out the schedule here.
Under the Picasso
There are many free events at Daley Plaza throughout the year by the Picasso Statue.
Most often the events include music, dance, or public art. Look at the upcoming calendar to see what events are scheduled.
TIP: Our Loop & Millennium Park Tour goes through Daley Plaza!
Celebrate Mexico's Independence
There are a few ways to celebrate:
- Pilsen Mexican Independence Day Parade September 9th
- 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade | September 16th
- Annual Mexican Patriotic Parade | September 17th
These make for a great family-friendly activity! You can find more family events below.
TIP: To find some of the best Mexican food in Chicago, try our Self-Guided Mexican Pilsen Food Tour.
Check out the Chicago Cultural Center
This beautiful and historic building is free and open for the public to explore.
Beyond the art that lines the walls, you will find free traveling films, lectures, and performances here.
This is also a great place for children’s programming.
Check out their calendar of events to see what is going on during your visit.
Explore the Farmers Market
Enjoy local produce before the summer ends! From tasty veggies to locally made jams to homemade crafts and baked goods, you will definitely find something interesting or delicious.
Markets are open almost every day of the week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Find a list of the city’s markets and their schedules here.
For even more free activities, see our post on the top free things to do in Chicago.
Many of our top ten activities are perfect for the evening hours, such as seeing a sporting event, going to the theater or attending a concert.
Below are some more ideas. Be sure to read our post about the top things to do in Chicago at night for even more suggestions.
Take a Night Tour
Looking to see a different side of Chicago? Take a walk with some spooky history on our evening Ghost Tour.
You can expect to laugh more than you scream as you learn about past hauntings. You will also learn some of the dark history of The White City.
For a lovely view, check out our Twilight Chicago Riverwalk & History Tour which ends a 10-minute walk from Navy Pier.
Also, several bus tours operate night versions of their day tours.
LGBTQ+ International Film Festival
The Cultural Center hosts the LGBTQ+ International Film Festival on September 21st- October 8th
This year they are celebrating their 40th anniversary!
Visit the Reeling Film Festival website for more information.
Chicago Horror Film Fest
Join the other horror film fans at the Chicago Cultural Center to indulge in spooky movies!
The 24rd annual Chicago Horror Film Festival takes place from September 24th - 25th.
See an Improv Show
Chicago is well known for comedy and improv. Just ask Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, or Steve Carell.
Below are just a few places to catch an evening show.
You may be seeing seasoned Chicago improvisers or you might catch a group of students, but who knows? One of them could be the next Chris Farley.
Take in the Local Music Scene
There are plenty of local musical experiences at night. If you’re looking for even more opportunities to check out the local music scene, take a look at some of the more popular venues:
Admire Art at the Mart
While strolling along the Riverwalk in the evening, be sure to walk along the south side of the Chicago River so that you can see a newer art installation called “Art of the Mart”.
It is a series of non-sponsored projections on the side of a historic Chicago building called the Merchandise Mart.
Find out more from their website, Art at the Mart.
Go to a Game Bar
Whether you want to try an arcade bar with some pinball and Pac-man or try a classic board game, Chicago has a game bar for you.
Check out our favorite game bars across the city.
Practice your baseball skills right outside of historic Wrigley Field at the batting cages at Sluggers.
Beyond the batting cages, you can participate in other games such as skee-ball, and catch some games on the TVs at this beloved sports bar.
Go Out for a Cocktail
In our Guide to Chicago Bars you can find out about historic bars, game bars and where to have a pint while playing some trivia.
If you’re looking for more than just atmosphere and want to find one of the best Craft Beers, we can make sure you find a local pint.
Be sure to check out our post on top things to do in Chicago at night for even more suggestions.
Throughout this post, we have listed several activities that are suitable for kids, such as seeing an outdoor movie, going to a sports game, or seeing a musical.
Below you will find several great options to keep your children entertained this month, including parks, museums, and theater!
Be sure to check out our post about family-friendly activities in Chicago for a more complete guide.
Check Out a Museum
In September, local kids are back in school which means fewer crowds at the children's museums!
Chicago's museums are very interactive and ideal for kids. The number one choice is the Children’s Museum (see the video above).
Also, try the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a lovely nature museum with many kid-friendly events.
Go to a Baseball Game
We have two baseball teams here, so there are plenty of options for families to go catch a game!
Tour both stadiums or just enjoy the fresh air while cheering on our Chicago teams!
Both are well known for wonderful family programming.
Check their websites for updated show schedules and ticket information.
Spend the Night at Museum
Many of the museums offer special events where the kids can spend the night amongst the exhibits - whether it is dinosaurs or butterflies depends on the museum.
They offer kid-friendly activities and tours of the museums and an unforgettable way to experience some of the iconic sites of Chicago.
- MSI Science Snoozem's Sleep Overs for Kids
- Field Museum Dozin with the Dinos
- Notebaert Nature Museum Bunking with the Butterflies
Visit the Shedd
Head to the Shedd Aquarium with your little ones
You can wander around and view the aquatic wildlife that live at the zoo.
There's also a 4-D Experience covering sharks, one covering the Octopus, and a third covering Splash and Bubbles, some very colorful fish.
You can also book a guided tour or book a private meeting with a Beluga Whale or some penguins!
Visit the Shedd's website for more information.
Go to the Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country, and one of the last few free zoos.
Home to over 1,000 animals, this is a great stop during your time in the city.
While you are in the area, you can also explore the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the park itself.
Play in a Park
Chicago is full of green grass and playgrounds for kids to get out their energy.
One of the best parks, Maggie Daley Park, is nestled between downtown and Lake Michigan. It has lots of different playgrounds for kids of all ages, a rock climbing wall, mini-golf, and tennis courts.
Find out about this park and more by reading our post, Chicago's Beautiful Parks.
See our post about family-friendly activities in Chicago for even more great things to do.