31 Freebies in the Windy City: Your Ultimate Chicago Fun Guide

While many think of travel and vacation as a luxury, we believe it’s a way of life. However, that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank every time you go on a trip.

Follow along to discover the many things to do in Chicago for free or cheap!

Hey there, savvy shopper! Looking to travel to Chicago but aren’t seeking to shatter your budget? Luckily for you, there are a ton of free things to do in Chicago. Thirty-one and counting, to be exact.

Looking for free things to do near me? When you head out to the Windy City, keep these free activities in Chicago on your list of things to do.

Free Things to Do in Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! In a city full of skyscrapers, animal lovers can go wild at the Lincoln Park Zoo. This free oasis, located at 2001 N. Clark St, features big cats, gorillas, and so much more in an immersive setting ranging from savannahs to rainforests.

The juxtaposition of modern marvels like Willis Tower with wildlife habitats makes the experience that much more engaging.

Close up of baby gorilla and his mom at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo via Facebook

Millennium Park

Can you even say you went to Chicago without snapping an iconic photo at Millennium Park at 201 E. Randolph St? The main attraction at Millennium Park is Cloud Gate, more commonly known as “The Bean.”

This unique sculpture produces seriously cool reflections of the city, drawing a crowd even on the coldest days. However, the park is also home to the famous Crown Fountain, two interactive video towers with digital faces, as well as the charming Lurie Garden.

Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Great Lawn hosts free music concerts and film screenings during the summer season. On the other hand, those looking for things to do in Chicago in winter will love the McCormick Tribune Plaza which transforms into an incredible ice skating rink.

Psst.. wondering if the climbing walls at Maggie Daley Park are free? Unfortunately, a fee is required to participate in this fun activity but keep scrolling as we spill the tea on other great Chicago free activities!

Chicago Cultural Center

Ready for some free things to do in Chicago this weekend? Visitors and Illinois residents alike can take advantage of free art exhibits, music, and dance performances every day of the week. In addition, the center hosts free weekly building tours covering the architecture and history of the building.

The standout of this tour is the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome in Preston Bradley Hall. Find the Cultural Center at 78 E Washington St.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

This museum, located at 600 S Michigan Ave, presents projects and exhibitions focusing on contemporary image-making through camera and digital forms. Admission is always free.

Smart Museum of Art

Another great thing to do in Chicago for free is tour the Smart Museum of Art. This University of Chicago Art Museum houses over 15,000 objects.

Each is dedicated to Asian art, European art, modern art and design, and contemporary art. Make your way to 5550 S Greenwood Ave for a glimpse.

Wide shot of a room with white walls and floors and with different art pieces on the walls and a metal sculpture on the floor at Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Smart Museum of Art via Facebook

Garfield Park Conservatory

As one of the most stunning conservatories in the nation, the fact that Garfield Park Conservatory at 300 N Central Park Ave boasts free admission is pretty impressive.

During your visit to the Park, enjoy over 2 acres of historic indoor gardens as well as 12 acres of outdoor seasonal gardens. This is truly a tropical oasis right in the heart of the Midwest!

Chicago Festivals

When you’re searching for free stuff to do in Chicago, festivals are always a good bet. The following is a sample of free events:

  • Grant Park Live Music Festival
  • Chicago Blues Festival
  • Chicago Jazz Festival
  • SummerDance
  • Chicago Air and Water Show

Seasonal Events

Chicago loves any reason to throw a party or a parade. This certainly rings true during the holidays, with special events like St. Patrick’s Day, during which the Chicago River is dyed green.

Related Post: Current Festivals and Events in Chicago

Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk and enjoy the emerald water. In addition, Chicago turns into a twinkling wonderland during Christmas, which features the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Both holiday events are free to the public.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Chicago has a surprising number of places to visit in Chicago for free that are dedicated to all things green for a big city. For example, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, on the shores of Lake Michigan at 2430 N Cannon Dr, has a botanical garden teeming with ferns, tropical flowers, and palms.

Exterior view of the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Lincoln Park Conservatory via Facebook

Chicago Botanic Garden

The green-themed free things to do in Chicago continue at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It houses over 27 gardens spread out over 385 acres across nine islands. For this reason, it’s a true sanctuary for anyone looking for free outdoor activities in Chicago! Find it at 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Looking for free things in Chicago if you’re a resident? You’re in luck! Chicago residents can visit the Lakefront Museum of Contemporary Art for free on Tuesdays. The museum, located at 220 E Chicago Ave, houses post-World War II paintings, sculptures, photos, and videos.

DePaul University Art Museum

The list of free things to do in Chicago continues with the DePaul University Art Museum at 935 W Fullerton Ave. Home to a diverse permanent collection, works range from photography to sculpture, paintings, and more.

Chicago Greeter Program

Want an inside look at a Chicago neighborhood? Join a two or four-hour tour led by the Chicago Greeter Program.

Related Post: Ahoy, Windy City! Your Deep Dive into the Chicago Boat Show Spectacle

These tours are available throughout the city, and the guides are locals. Accordingly, you’re sure to learn a lot about the ins and outs of this city.

Navy Pier

This iconic Chicago attraction at 600 E Grand Ave is bursting with attractions. Unfortunately, however, many of them charge a fee, but we would still consider it one of the cheapest things to do in Chicago. But, believe it or not, there are several free activities Chicago at Navy Pier.

Tour the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows or simply stroll the 50-acre playground to take in the views and atmosphere. Looking for free things to do in Chicago at night?

Navy Pier hosts free fireworks shows from Memorial Day through Labor Day every Wednesday and Saturday night. This is the ultimate destination for your quintessential Chicago summer vacation.

wide view of navy pier with the skyline in the background in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago Children’s Museum

Looking for indoor activities Chicago? The free activities at Navy Pier continue at the interactive Children’s Museum, with families admitted free on Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Plus, kids ages 15 and under are free on the first Sunday of every month.

Buckingham Fountain

From mid-April to mid-October, catch a free water show every hour at Buckingham Fountain, located at 301 S Columbus Dr. Go once the sun is setting so you can watch the spouting jets as they dance to music and a beautiful light display. This is one of our favorite Chicago Spring activities.

Buckingham Fountain Surrounded by Skyscrapers - Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Buckingham Fountain via Facebook

Chicago Architecture Foundation

Are you an architecture buff? If so, go here for an in-depth look at Chicago architecture. Take a free tour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

The Foundation showcases exhibits on modern design, the city’s architectural history, and current Chicago projects.

Humboldt Park

Explore the 219 acres of Humboldt Park at 1400 North Sacramento Avenue in West Town. It boasts a historic fieldhouse, fitness center and gymnasium (fee), island beach, lagoon, Boathouse Café, and so much more. This definitely makes our short list of free dates in Chicago.

Lakefront Trail

Walk or bike the beautiful 18-mile Lakefront Trail. It stretches from Ardmore Street (5800 N. Sheridan Road) on the North Side to 71st Street (7100 S. South Shore Drive) on the South Side. Psst.. this is one of several showstopper fall activities in Chicago.

Promontory Point

Head to Promontory Point at 5491 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr to enjoy some of the best views of Downtown Chicago.

Milton Lee Olive Park/Ohio Street Beach

This beach/park combo at E Ohio St is one of the top-rated free places to go in Chicago to cool off during the summer season. Plus, it offers excellent views of the city skyline.

Wide shot of Ohio Street Beach with the city in the background on a cloudy day in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Taryn Ivianne via Facebook

Revolution Brewery

Wednesday through Friday, visitors can take a free brewery tour at Revolution. Please note this is one of the few first-come, first-served Chicago free things to do. Find it at 3340 N. Kedzie Ave or 2323 N Milwaukee Ave.

Hull House

Looking for the best free things to do in Chicago with a historical perspective? Then we recommend visiting Hull House at 800 S Halsted St.

Once a settlement house, it is now a memorial to Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She created innovative programs for immigrants. As a result, she improved their lives and started an initiative that is still thriving today.

Straight on view of the front of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on sunny day with bare trees in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Jane Addams Hull-House Museum via Facebook

City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower

Specializing in photography, the City Gallery at 806 Michigan Ave presents a unique way to learn about Chicago—all inside a 19th-century Gothic limestone landmark. The variety of free attractions in Chicago is limitless!

First United Methodist Church

Yes, going to church is always free. However, touring this neo-gothic church at 77 W Washington St, known as “The Chapel in the Sky,” is certainly unique as it’s one of the tallest in the world.

National Museum of Mexican Art

In the Pilsen neighborhood, specifically at 1852 W 19th St, you can attend this museum. It is dedicated to the Latino arts, from folk art to modern works on display.

Maxwell Street Market

Stroll the Maxwell Street Market along Clinton Street every Sunday for free. Take note, though. You will be tempted to buy some of the local products and produce.

DuSable Museum of African American History

This museum at 740 E 56th Pl features the “Freedom Now” mural, a wooden bas-relief depicting over 400 years of African American history. Entry is free on Sunday.

The Magnificent Mile Buildings from ground with taxis and pedestrians in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Oriental Institute Museum

Plan a visit to the Oriental Institute at 1155 E 58th St to learn about Eastern cultures. Galleries focus on artifacts from Egyptian, Persian, and Mesopotamian societies.

Magnificent Mile Window Shopping

With so many flagship stores and brands lining Michigan Ave., it’s worth walking to just window shop.

Newberry Library

In addition to perusing rare books and manuscripts at the Newberry Library, visitors can experience free exhibitions as well as public programs.

Related Post: Best Way to Get Around Chicago – A Visitors Guide

So don’t miss this often-overlooked gem at 60 W Walton St!

Free Things to Do in Chicago FAQs

The main tourist street in Chicago is none other than Michigan Avenue. This iconic stretch, especially the section known as the Magnificent Mile, is a hub of activity, featuring everything from world-class shopping and dining to historic landmarks and stunning architecture.

Whether you're window shopping, admiring the cityscape, or heading to one of the many cultural attractions along the way, Michigan Avenue offers a vibrant slice of Chicago life.

Riding CTA trains and buses is the safest bet for getting around Chicago. They've got the city covered, so you can zip from one spot to another easily and safely.

Plus, it's all lit up and monitored, keeping your rides chill and secure.

Endless Free Things to Do in Chicago

The excuse “a vacation to Chicago is expensive” is no longer valid, especially with so many free things to do in Chicago.

Pack your bags, book your hotel with Tripster, and get ready to tackle our list of free things to do in Chicago today, as well as free events in Chicago today.

Have any additional free Chicago activities to add?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Kelsi Johnson

Meet Kelsi, a Colorado-based writer and editor for Tripster. When she isn't behind the keyboard crafting engaging travel content, you'll find her hiking...

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