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Top 10 Free Things to Do in Chicago this Summer

Updated: December 22, 2023
 By Mel

Check out our Chicago Visitors Guide, with budget advice, travel guides, and information about local Chicago attractions

Summer in Chicago is the absolute BEST because the city is brimming with cheery locals who aren’t shoveling snow.   There are so many things to do, to see, to eat, and to experience in Chicago, especially when the sun is shining. Here are some of our favorite summer-long activities and ideas for travelers to experience the City in the Garden.

Chicago millennium events 1. Music in the Park

(Mondays + Thursdays, 6:30pm, FREE, June- August, Millennium Park)

If you enjoy live music- you should attend the Summer Music series at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Throughout the summer, a different mix of musicians can be heard from Frank Gehry’s iconic musical hall.  It makes for a great date night in the city! You can bring a bottle of wine, a picnic meal, and blanket to lounge in the grassy section or grab a seat up front.



Chicago millennium park 2. Movies in the Park

(Tuesdays, 6:30pm, FREE/June-August, Millennium Park)

Chicago presents movies in all of our neighborhood parks.  Mid-June through August, you can expect to find a free movie most days of the week.  On Tuesday nights, you can watch a movie in Millennium Park at Pritzker pavilion with crowds of other eager Chicagoans.  This is one of the best parks to enjoy a movie since it is downtown with an incredible backdrop: the Chicago Skyline.


3. Attend a Festival

Most Chicago festivals are free to attend and we have LOTS of them throughout the year.  There are nearly 100 festivals in Chicago in the summer.  There are food festivals, beer festivals, tequila festivals, music festivals, and art festivals. There is a fest for every type of visitor.  Our most popular summer festivals are:

In June- Blues Fest is a weekend of free Blues music in the park.

In July- Taste of Chicago is a huge Chicago food festival- Free to attend but you must pay for what you consume!

In August- Jazz Fest is a full weekend of free Jazz music in the park.

chicago farmers market 4. Head to a Chicago Farmers Market

(Thursdays, 7-2pm, May-October, FREE, Daley Plaza, Chicago Loop)

Throughout the summer and early fall, you can find farmer’s markets in many corners of the city- even in the Loop!  It is a great chance to grab a mid-day snack, buy some fresh produce or to find a neat artesian craft. Admission is free and there is no better way to appreciate a community than to sample the produce! There are other farmer’s markets at different locations all week!


5. Explore one of our Famous Parks

Chicago is known for our beautiful public parks that are literally in every neighborhood of the city. Some of the most popular parks are downtown in the front yard of Chicago.  Millennium Park is wonderful to explore with our self-guided tour.  You will find beautiful art, fountains, and a lovely silver bridge that will bring you to one of our newest downtown parks.  Maggie Daley Park is for the young at heart with a carnival type theme.  There is a skating ribbon (free with your own skates), play structures, and an enchanted forest for the kiddos to roam through.  Farther South, you will find Grant Park which boasts artwork, a skate park, and of course, Buckingham Fountain.  Lincoln Park is excellent for those who adore statues and history!


Chicago flowers 6 Start your day with a FREE workout class outside

(Wednesdays at 7:30am, Saturdays 7-10am, June 6th-September 7th, Millennium Park)

In Millennium Park on Wednesday and Saturday mornings there are FREE workout classes.  From Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, and even Zumba, there is something for everyone.  The Zumba classes are often accompanied by live drummers! Not a bad way to start your day!

7. Stroll along our favorite paths

The Riverwalk, the Lakefront, the 606- to name a few.  Chicago is lucky to have amazing places to leisurely hike throughout the city.  Our Lakefront has 18 miles of bike paths that line our beaches, sprinkled with public art.  The Riverwalk is bustling with restaurants that offer local beers and tasty snacks while gazing at the buildings that line the Chicago River. The 606 is a new path built on a retired elevated train track designed by James Corner.  If you truly love the outdoors, check out the Chicago Park District for more trails!


8. Navy Pier & Fireworks

One of the best views of our skyline can be seen from the end of Navy Pier.  This tourist destination is definitely worth a visit, check out our self-guided tour for a little more information.  During the summer, Navy Pier presents fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night.  Watch the sky light up with color while you enjoy the cool breeze from Lake Michigan.


9. Chicago Summer Dance

(Fridays, Saturdays 6-7pm, Sundays 4-5pm, June-September, FREE Grant Park, Spirit of Music Garden, 601 S. Michigan Ave.)

Now is your chance to become Fred Astaire! Or better yet, Bob Fosse, who was a Chicago native before he jazz handed his way into our hearts.  Chicago Summer Dance is a FREE activity in Grant Park.  You can swing, waltz, cha cha and more with guided lessons and a live band. Be sure to check their calendar for specific dates, times, and dance styles!


10. BikeChicago bikers waterfront skyline along the Lake Shore Drive Path

We love to bike in Chicago and especially love to recommend spending time on the Lake Shore Drive bike path that runs 18 miles along Lake Michigan.  Take in the views of the city from a DIFFERENT and more LOCAL perspective.  Give our self-guided bike tour a try!


For more suggestions check out: June in Chicago, July in Chicago, & August in Chicago or 10 Best things to do in the Summer!

+++Lot's of things to do this summer. Chicago is waiting!+++

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: December 22nd, 2023
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