Experience the windy city in all its glory without breaking the bank with this post of free things to do in Chicago. Chicago provides free and affordable activities to entertain locals and tourists all year long! Between the museums, parks, and festivals, kids and adults alike will have more than enough to keep them amused and their pockets full.
For more great ways to save on your visit to Chicago, read about the various discount passes.
The Great Outdoors
With almost 600 parks, the Chicago Park District provides Chicago with over 8,100 acres blooming with opportunity for physical activity, cultural and environmental programing, and lots of free fun. Find a complete list of parks and beaches here.
337 E. Randolph St.
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
Nicknamed Chicago’s “front yard,” Grant park is one of Chicago’s oldest park, and has continued to expand over time. Some of the features of this park include world class museums (Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, the Art institute, and the Field Museum of Natural History), harbors, artwork, Buckingham Fountain, as well as Millennium Park and Maggie Dalye Park.
Grant Park also hosts annual events such as The Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, and contains the start and finish lines of the Chicago Marathon.
Spirit of Music Garden: This 4,900-square-foot open space hosts different events throughout the year. One of the more popular events is Summer dance, hosted during the summer months as 43 different live bands perform and guests show off their best dance moves. Show up a little early for a free dance lesson!
Buckingham Fountain: Gifted to the city in 1927, this is one of the world’s largest fountains. From April until October, this fountain runs from 8:00AM to 11:00PM, shooting water 150 feet into the air for 20 minutes every hour. At night, this fountain is illuminated with different colors.
201 E. Randolph St.
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
Completed in 2004, this park was a gift to the city from Mayor Daley and has quickly become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Constructed within the borders of Grant Park, this park provides a diverse event calendar with free entertainment year round. From concerts to exercise classes to festivals, this park pleases millions of locals and tourists each year.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion: With a capacity of 11,000, this pavilion has become the centerpiece of Millennium Park. With an advanced sound system and designed for its acoustics, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion hosts many musical events and festivals.
Cloud Gate: More commonly known as the bean, this piece of art design by Anish Kapoor was revealed to the public in 2005. Created with 200 stainless steel plates, this piece of art has become one of Chicago’s most distinguishing landmarks
Crown Fountain: This interactive sculpture is a family favorite in the heat of the summer. Standing at 50 feet (15 m) tall, this fountain has two towers featuring videos of 1,000 Chicago residents’ faces. Every seven minutes, the faces pucker their lips and spray buckets of water out of their mouths onto a swarm of eagerly awaiting kids.
Boeing Galleries: On the north and south end of Millennium Park you will find the Boeing Galleries. These outdoor galleries display rotating contemporary art instillations by living nation and international artists.
Luirie Gardens: This five acre perennial garden holds native and foreign plants throughout every season. This serene escape is designed to symbolize Chicago’s transformation from a marshland to the city that it is today. The garden is protected by a 15 foot tall hedge, meant to illustrate Carl Sandburg’s description of Chicago, the “City of big shoulders”.
Seasonally: Be sure to check the calendar for current events in Millennium Park! In the winter it is home to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which is free to skate but offers $12 skate rentals. During the summer months, there are free daily events, including movies in the park, concerts, exercise classes, and many festivals in between!
337 E. Randolph St.
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
Maggie Daley Park is the newest addition to Grant Park, located in the northeast corner. These 20 acres of transformed space have provided a great play space for kids, and is a park prepared to entertain in every season.
Skating Ribbon: The Skating ribbon provides a unique skating experience, with inclines and declines in the ice as guests loop a quarter mile (0.40 km) around the rock wall. Skating is free, with the option for $12 skate rentals. During the warmer months, the ribbon serves as a walking path and a perfect space for kids to scooter around with the skyline serving as the perfect backdrop.
Play Garden: This kid-friendly park houses six different playgrounds for children 12 and under across 3 acres. Each playground has a creative theme and is designed for a different age group.
Tennis Courts: The tennis courts are open from April to November, and are free of charge for walk ups. Guests can also reserve a court for $15 Monday-Friday from 7:00AM- 5:00PM, and for $20 Monday-Friday, 5:00 PM – 9:00PM and during the weekends.
500-5700 N. Lake Shore Drive Irving Park and Recreation Drive
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
This land marks the initial cemetery for the City of Chicago, but has been transformed into the year round favorite that it is today. This park hosts more than just green grass. Lincoln Park is lined with beaches along Lake Michigan, full of sports fields, and home to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.
2001 N Clark St
Park Hours: April-October: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, November-March 10:00AM-4:30PM
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest, and last remaining free zoos on the country. Founded in 1868, this zoo presents the public with more than 1,000 animals and 200 species. This zoo provides the city with a full calendar of family friendly events and festivals, including the ever popular zoo lights during the holiday season. Our Lincoln Park and Gangster Tour will escort you right the front door of the zoo!
2391 N. Stockton Dr.
Park Hours: 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
Escape the city air as you step into the Lincoln Park conservatory. Also free to the public, this conservatory and botanical gardens contains four rooms as a serene escape from the Chicago climate, stocked with tropical and exotic plants from around the world.
100 N. Central Park Ave.
Park Hours: 6:00AM-11:00PM
This 40 acres of land located west of downtown includes flower gardens, a lagoon, and the Golden Dome fieldhouse used for recreational activities. The most notable feature is the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in the country.
300 N. Central Park Ave.
Park Hours: 9:00AM-5:00PM
This “landscape art under glass” houses thousands of plants throughout its eight rooms. Highlights include diverse tropical plants, 84 variations of a palm trees, and an assortment of cacti.
6401 S. Stony Island Ave.
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
This park was designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for the purpose of being the site of the 1893 World’s Fair. The Museum of Science and Industry is the only building remaining from the fair, but this beautiful landscape also houses the the stunning Osaka Japans Garden on Wooded Island.
1400 N. Sacramento Ave
Park Hours: 6:00 AM-11:00 PM
With 207 acres of space, this extensive park is home to three historic landmark buildings, including the Boat House, the Field House, and the Historic Stables which houses the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture. This park is also known for its prairie lagoons and annual festivals, such as Riot Fest and Puerto Rican Day Festival.
Lake Michigan provides a beautiful and refreshing eastern boundary to the city, and is lined with 26 different beaches. Some favorites include North Avenue Beach and 63rd Street Beach, but find a complete list of beaches here.
Trails and Walkways:
Formerly an elevated railway line, this path has been converted into a 2.7 mile long pathway perfect for bikers, runners, and walkers. Named the 606 after the initial 3 numbers of the city’s zip code, this name signifies how this path connects three neighborhoods along it route.
This 18 mile long trail lines the western coast of Lake Michigan is a favorite for walkers, runners, and cyclists. This path connects most of the city’s beaches and passes notable attractions such as Navy Pier, Museum Campus, and Solider Field.
Known as the city’s “Second Lakefront”, this pedestrian path stretches from Lakeshore Drive to Franklin Street. The Riverwalk is full of wine and dine options, as well as boat rentals, river tours, and a calendar of seasonal events. https://www.chicagoriverwalk.us/listen Learn more about the riverwalk, the buildings that surround it, and the history of the river itself on our Free Tours by Foot Chicago Riverwalk and History Tour!
78 E. Washington St.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9:00AM-7:00PM, Friday and Saturday 9:00AM-6:00PM, Sunday, 10:00AM-6:00PM
This building was completed in 1897 as Chicago’s first central public library. This Chicago Landmark building is not only beautiful on the outside, but contains two tiffany stained-glass domes on the inside. In 1991, the building was established as the Chicago Cultural Center, the nation’s first and most comprehensive free municipal cultural venue. This historic building attracts thousands of visitors each year, with a variety of free public events for such as theater, dance, music events, lectures, films, and showcases work by artwork international, national, and regional artists. Be sure to check out the event calendar here to find free fun for the whole family!
400 S. State Street
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:00AM-9:00PM, Friday and Saturday, 9:00AM-5:00PM, Sunday, 1:00PM-5:00PM
Chicago Public Library houses 80 libraries across all different neighborhoods in the city. Since 1991, the Harold Washington Library has been the central library in city, located near the business district downtown. On the 9th floor, discover the peaceful winter garden and explore the various special exhibits and collections showcased for the public.
Chicago Public Library Cardholders can also take advantage of Kids Museum Passports. Passes are available for 15 different museums, and allow for free admission for a family of four. One child under the age of 18 must be present, and no more than two adults. Find the passes and check on availability here.
60 W. Walton St.
Reading Room Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 9:00AM-5:00PM, Saturday 9:00AM-1:00PM
Exhibition Gallery Hours: Monday, Friday, Saturday, 8:15AM-5PM, Tuesday-Thursday 8:15AM-7:15PM
The Newberry Library, is an independent research library. Founded in 1887, this library is located in the Gold Coast neighborhood and presents the public with an inspiring collection of research materials, medieval manuscripts, and work by local authors. Devoted to acquiring and sharing knowledge, this library also provides exhibits, seminars, lectures, and theatrical performances.
Atrium Gallery, 224 S. Michigan Ave.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation provides a free space dedicated to the rich architectural history of Chicago. This family friendly stop contains exhibits, programs, and a replica of downtown. Each October, the CAF hosts Open House Chicago, where people can explore buildings that are normally off limits to the public. This is the largest architecture event in the city, drawing in tens of thousands Chicagoans and tourists from around the world.
61 W. Superior St.
Hours: Monday – Friday 11:00AM– 4:00PM
Poetry Magazine was first founded in 1912 to provide a platform for poetry. 100 years later, the magazine provided a physical space for poetry, open to the public with a variety of free events and resources for all generations of poetry lovers. The Poetry Foundation is the only library solely dedicated to just poetry in the Midwest. But this space reaches beyond just a library, as it also provides a public garden, rotating exhibition library, online archive and access to Poetry Magazine, and a variety of free public events for the whole family. Check out their calendar to find an event going on during your visit!
5020 S. Cornell Ave
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 9:00AM-8:00PM, Friday and Saturday, 9:00AM-5:00PM, Sunday, 12:00PM-5:00PM
This arts center provides a space to recognize the work of emerging Chicago artists though exhibits, public events, artist talks, and professional development. As one of the oldest alternative exhibition spaces, the Hyde Park Arts Center provides a rotating display of art.
Museums and Exhibits:
5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Sunday, 10:00AM-5:00PM, Thursday, 10:00AM-8:00PM
The Smart Museum is also located on the University of Chicago’s campus. The museum contains 15,000 pieces in four permanent collection galleries devoted to modern art, Asian art, European art, and contemporary art.
806 N. Michigan Ave.
The Water Tower is one of the few buildings that survived the destructive path of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Today it functions as a mini museum that highlights local artists’ work.
108 N. State St., 3rd Floor
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00PM-7:00PM
The Design Museum’s goal is to strengthen the culture and community across the design world. With permanent and rotating exhibits, programs, and workshops, this museum attempts to invite people into a conversation about design and the impact it can have on society and humanity.
600 South Michigan Ave
Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday, 10:00AM-5:00PM, Thursday, 10:00AM-8:00PM, Sunday, 12:00PM-5:00PM
Founded by Columbia College, this museum seeks local, national, and international artists to present a wide variety of work. This stimulating space calls attention to the cultural, political, and artistic impact of photography, and celebrates both contemporary and traditional pieces.
1852 W. 19th St.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00AM-5:00PM
Located in Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community, you will find the National Museum of Mexican Art. This museum presents more than 3,000 years of Mexican culture through events and art exhibits. As one of the United States’ largest Mexican art collections, this museum strives to present the beauty of Mexican culture, north and south of the boarder, and use this to build a positive community.
1155 E. 58th St.
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday, 10:00AM-5:00PM, Wednesday, 10:00AM-8:00PM
Founded in 1919, this is an active research center and museum dedicated to discoveries from the ancient world. Located on the University of Chicago’s campus, this archeological museum displays permanent and special exhibits with artifacts related to ancient civilizations in the Near East, such as Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
3015 W. Division St.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, Saturday, 10:00AM-1:00PM
Housed inside the history Humboldt Park Stables and Receptors building is the only national museum dedicated to Puerto Rican art and culture. This museum celebrates Puerto Rican history through exhibits and educational programming, and shares the stories and traditions that have had an impact on the City of Chicago and nation as a whole.
230 S LaSalle St
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-5:00PM
This small museum is located in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. This bank is part of a network of 12 that make up the central bank for the United States. Look for the “visitors center” sign to find the museum. There are 45 minute guided tours every day at 1:00PM. Learn about the history of money, pick out the counterfeit bills, and see the glassed in display of one million 1 dollar bills. Step into the picture kiosk to get your face placed on a bill!
800 S. Halsted St
Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, Sunday12:00PM-4:00PM
The Hull House Museum is dedicated to founder Jane Addams and her work in the late 1800’s towards social reform and recreating the American democracy. The museum is housed in two of the original Hull House buildings. Admission is free wth a suggested $5 donation.
Farmers Markets: Find farmers markets seasonally throughout the city, every day of the week. These markets provide the city with fresh produce, flowers, and sweet treats!
Check here to find a complete list of farmers markets.
800 S. Desplaines St.
A Chicago tradition for over a century, the Maxwell Street Market is an open air market that operates every Sunday from 7 am to 3pm. This market has an international flare and is full of bargains, with diverse merchandise and some of the best street food. This market has a rich history, and was one of the first places blues musicians performed in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Free Tours by Foot offers tours thought the city, operating on a pay-what-you-wish basis. Experience parts of the city such as the Loop, the Riverwalk, and the Magnificent Mile with local guides full of facts, anecdotes, and much needed food suggestions. Learn about the architecture and history of the city though these tours. Check out the calendar for all tour options and descriptions. If you are on a tight schedule, be sure to check out the self guided tours that give you suggested stops as you explore a neighborhood at your own pace.
See the city through the eyes of a local, with a local! Chicago Greeters consists of a network of more than 200 volunteers that are eager to show tourists around their beloved city. Tours are customized based on what you want to see, whether it is architecture, public art, food related, family-friendly activities, or a specific neighborhood. Register online 10 business days in advance to enjoy this free 2-4 hour tour.
77 W. Washington St.
Explore the “Chicago Chapel in the Sky”. First United Methodist Church is the oldest church in the city, first founded in 1831. The church occupies the first story, as well as the top floors of the Chicago Temple Building. It is considered the tallest church in the world, measuring from the church’s street level entrance to the top of the steeple. However, the levels in between are rented out to different business, so some would say that is cheating! Tour the church for free any day of the week.
Brewery tours are a great way to learn about local beers and their brewing process, and they often include free samples. The following breweries offer free tours at various times throughout the week. Some breweries require online reservations, so be sure to plan ahead!
2323 N Milwaukee Ave, (773) 588-2267.
Tours: Every Wednesday-Friday at 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm and Saturdays at 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 5:00 pm, and 6:00 pm.
Tours include a tasting.
2747 N Lincoln Ave, (773) 295-1270.
Free Tours: Every Wednesdays at 7pm.
4727 W Montrose Ave., (In the Back),312-919-4473.
Free Tours: Every Saturday, 2:00 PM, 3:30PM and 5:00 PM (samples are extra)
2607 W. 17th St., 773.522.2097
Free Tours: Multiple tour times offered every day
Included: Free sample
Each year, Chicago hosts over 400 festivals throughout the different neighborhoods. All festivals are free, and feature live music, food, drinks, and art. Find the calendar of festivals here.
Some of the most popular festivals include:
Chicago Blues Festival (June) During three days, 500,000 fans flood the 5 stages of the Chicago Blues Festival, making it the largest free blues festival, and largest music festival in Chicago.
Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June). Local, national, and international Gospel Music performers provide soul music for the people of Chicago during this weekend festival.
Grant Park Music Festival (June-August) This music festival stretches through the entire summer season, providing 10 weeks of classical music concerts, including performances by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, the Grant Park Chorus, and other featured performers on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
SummerDance in Grant Park (June-September) SummerDance provides fun for the whole family! One hour dance lessons are followed by live music performers of all different genres when dancers can put their new moves to practice.
Taste of Chicago (July) Chicago is a city that loves to eat, and provides a diverse food scene. Enjoy the live music and family friendly activities, while you purchase food samples at one of the largest food festivals in the world.
Chicago Jazz Festival (September) Enjoy the diversity of the jazz genre at the Chicago Jazz festival and hear performances by local, nation, and international performers.
World Music Festival (September) This large, 11 day festival showcases over 650 performers from over 80 countries around the world. Enjoy the music along side 650,000 other concert-goers.
Open House Chicago (October). During Open House Chicago, explore some of the most intriguing buildings throughout the city that are normally off limits to the public.
Lights Festival on the Magnificent Mile (November) Kick off the holiday season with the Festival of Lights. With a parade and fireworks, the city comes to light during this annual event.
Christkindl Holiday Market at Daley Plaza (November-January) Based off of the German tradition, this is one of the largest Christmas markets in the United States, brining in over 1 million visitors annually. Snack on traditional German food as you stroll through the market, taking in the festivities.
Night Time Activities:
Explore the darker history of Chicago as you explore the city streets at night with our local guides. Learn about the most haunted hotel in Chicago, see the streets where America’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, roamed, and hear about the downtown prison breaks.
12 S Michigan Ave
Hours: Sunday-Friday, 11:00AM-2:00Am, Saturday, 11:00AM-3:00AM
Inside the historic Chicago Athletic Association building you will find much more than a luxury hotel. On the second floor there is a Game Room with shuffleboard, pool tables, foosball, and bocce. All free to use, find the game master to make a reservation while you enjoy something to sip on.
Top Tourist Attractions:
875 N. Michigan Ave.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11:00AM-12:30AM, Friday-Saturday, 11:00AM-1:30AM (must be over 21 past 7:00PM)
Scrapping the sky at 100 stories, this is the second tallest building in the Chicago skyline. Above the businesses, apartments, and the 360 observation deck, you will find the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. Rather than spending $20 dollars for the observation deck at the Willis Tower, enjoy the magnificent view nestled along the lakefront for free while you sip on a cocktail. Feel free to stop down at the 95th floor for the bite to eat at the restaurant, the Signature Room.
600 E. Grand Ave.
January 1- March 31: Monday-Thursday 10:00AM-8:00PM, Friday-Saturday 10:00AM-10:00PM, Sunday 10:00AM-7:00PM
April 1-May 25: Sunday-Thursday, 10:00AM-8:00PM, Friday-Saturday, 10:00AM-10:00PM
June 1-September 2: Sunday-Thursday, 10:00AM-10:00PM, Friday-Saturday 10:00AM-12:00AM
Navy Pier remains one for the Midwest’s top tourist attractions, bringing in 8 million guests annually. Take a stroll down to boardwalk to catch a sweeping view of the Chicago skyline. During the summer months, Navy Pier provides free fireworks Wednesday and Saturday nights from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Navy Pier jets out into Lake Michigan, providing entertainment for the whole family with shops, restaurants, and amusements rides such as the Ferris Wheel and carousel. Along the pier you will also find the Children’s Museum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and boat tours, all at an additional cost.
Check out our Chicago Visitors Guide, with budget advice, travel guides, and information about local Chicago attractions