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Top Things To Do for Memorial Day in Chicago

Updated: November 15, 2023
 By Mel

Visiting Chicago for Memorial Day? This post covers things to do in Chicago on Memorial Day  and the entire weekend, including a top 5 list, nighttime activities, family-friendly things to do, and free things. Read our master post on things to do in Chicago if you're there all of May. For more ideas on popular things to do in Chicago, check out our posts on bus tours and walking tours of the city.

Don’t forget, Memorial Day is a bank holiday in Chicago.  Banks, the public library, and post-offices will all be closed.  Many businesses will also close for the day, so be prepared!



Chicago offers a lot of things to do around the city for Memorial Day weekend.  Celebrate our veterans with the Memorial Day Parade and check out the rest of our top five list for Memorial Day.

For more ideas on popular things to do in Chicago, check out our posts on bus tours and walking tours of the city.

We also have a full guide on Things to Do in Chicago.

1. Memorial Day Parade

The Memorial Day festivities include a wreath-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame found in Daley Plaza, followed by the parade that stretches along State Street, just a block over.

The parade features veterans, active military duty, and marching bands.

Learn more about Daley Plaza and the Eternal Flame on our Loop and Millennium Park Tour.

2. The Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival

One of the first outdoor music festivals of the year will be the Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival which is historically held on Memorial Day Weekend. 

Enjoy a great lineup for local bands and jam out to some of your favorite songs from cover bands. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.

For other family-friendly things to do on Memorial Day, check out our section below.

3. Head to the Beach

Chicago has 18 miles of uninterrupted public park space that stretches along Lake Michigan.  This includes several amazing beaches! 

Chicago beaches officially open on Memorial Day weekend, so grab your sunscreen, towel, and a cooler of snacks to enjoy a day of soaking in the sun.

4. Watch the Fireworks - May 23

Navy Pier kicks off their free summer fireworks for Memorial Day weekend on May 23 at 10:15pm.  Head over to Navy Pier earlier in the day to ride the Centennial Ferris Wheel with the family or to indulge with a famous Chicago Rainbow Cone.

Our Riverwalk and History Tour will bring you right to the big show!

For more nighttime activities, visit our Things to do at Night in Chicago post.

5. Consider a Tourist Pass

A lot of the highlights in Chicago have admission costs and while you do have to pay for a tourist pass, it can work in your favor and get you free admission into a museum or attraction you were already planning on visiting.

Each Chicago Tourist Discount Pass includes a variety of fun family-friendly activities and attractions.

Here are just a few examples of locations you can visit either for free or at a discount with one of these tourist passes.

Even better, admission to these attractions with a tourist pass may include Fast Track/Skip the Line entry.

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There are a number of things to do in Chicago at night on Memorial Day. For additional ideas on how to spend your evening, make sure to check out our master  Things to Do at Night in Chicago post. Some of our other sections offer nighttime options as well, like the tours we give in our free section.

Raise a glass at a Chicago bar

Chicago is known for its many cultures and neighborhoods, each with plenty of food and drink places to explore. Try Kuma's Corner if you're into heavy metal, bang your head and grab a burger.

For something  a bit more cozy, try The Violet Hour for a speakeasy experience.  You can also catch live music at The California Clipper, one of the city's most historic and beloved bars.

You can welcome summer in Chicago with the best Rooftop Bars on our blog post.

Shop Memorial Day Sales All Day into Night!

In the States, Memorial Day weekend is known for discounted shopping!  There will be discounts at the shops on State Street and off of the Magnificent Mile.  Oddly, there will also be sales on mattresses and cars, and yes, this is a U.S.A. thing.  Before shopping, be sure to hop onto our Magnificent Mile Tour.

Enjoy a Beer Garden and Band

Navy Pier hosts a free beer garden at the end of the Pier throughout the summer.  Traditionally, it gets started in May! It is a perfect way to enjoy a beverage near the Lake.  Entry is free but food and drinks are not.

Head to the club

There are many places to dance in Chicago if the nightlife is your scene.  Check out Joy Club Chicago which even has a rooftop bar.  Sound Bar is over 4000 square feet of dancing! Check out Beauty Bar for a unique experience- you can get a manicure and then dance under a disco ball.

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Chicago offers a lot of family-friendly activities and attractions any day of the year, including free things like seeing the Navy Pier fireworks listed in our nighttime section above. Here are a few more family-friendly ideas for Memorial Day.

For more read about visiting Chicago with kids.

Lane Tech Memorial Day Weekend Fair

Historically there has been a Memorial Day Weekend Fair at Lane Tech High School.  It is a great event for the entire family! There will be carnival rides, games, and activities.  There will be plenty of deep-fried snacks and beverages to enjoy. Be sure to check their website for updates.

Bike the Drive - 

Did you know that Chicago was voted the #1 bicycling city in America?

On May 24, you'll find one of the best drives in the city - Lakeshore Drive - closed to traffic for over 30 miles of car-free riding.

This is a unique chance to welcome summer and bike with the lanes to yourself (and many other cyclists)

There is a fee to register (from $40-90) but the proceeds go to a great cause.

The event benefits Active Transportation Alliance which is a non-profit, member-based advocacy organization that works to make bicycling, walking and public transit safe, convenient and fun.

Chomp on some Chicago Foods

For Memorial Day weekend, there is nothing more Chicago (or even American) than eating a Chicago-Style hotdog.  

The true ingredients that make up a hot dog that’s been “dragged through the garden” are: All beef hotdog, poppy seed bun, diced onions, sweet pickle relish, chopped tomatoes, sport peppers, pickle spear, celery salt, and of course, mustard. No ketchup.  Unless you’re under 12.

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With a little planning, there are a lot of free activities available to do in Chicago. Some of the events we’ve mentioned in this post like our walking tours are free of charge!

Here are a few more ideas for free activities on Memorial Day but for our comprehensive list, visiting our free things to do in Chicago post.

See the World’s Largest American Flag

Hanging in the historic Marshall Field’s Building which now houses Macy’s on State Street, is the world’s largest American Flag! 

It is quite a sight to see and makes a great patriotic Instagram photo.  It hangs from Memorial Day until the 4th of July. The tradition of hanging this American flag started in 1917, and still continues over 100 years later.

Take our guided Loop & Millennium Park Tour to see it up close!

Take a "pay-what-you-like" guided tour

Take advantage of the warm weather with a sightseeing tour!

We have pay-what-you-like walking tours, which cover Chicago architecture, history, new neighborhoods, and ghost stories.

If walking tours aren't your thing, you can get a ride on one of Chicago's bus tours to cover more ground.

You can also take to the water with a boat tour. Our boat tours page covers water taxis, cruises with or without dinner, and sailboat and kayaking tours.

Learn Tai Chi

The Chicago Public library in Chinatown hosts free beginner Tai Chi classes on Saturdays- including Memorial Day Weekend!  Check out their site for more details.

Stroll the Riverwalk

With the warmer weather, it is the perfect time to explore Chicago’s famous Riverwalk.  This beautiful stretch will bring you below the busy streets and right along the Chicago River’s edge, lined with restaurants, art, shopping.

For our comprehensive list, visit our Free Things to Do in Chicago post.  

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About The Author


Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: November 15th, 2023
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