Also known as the Windy City, Chicago is the principal city and most populous city of Illinois. This city provides a diverse range of activities and experiences to suit all budgets and people of all ages. While there are many fantastic activities to enjoy that have a high price tag, there is also an abundance of activities that you can enjoy for free. Therefore, you have plenty of options if you have a limited budget, and this applies to both residents of the city and tourists visiting the area. Here are 20 amazing activities that you can enjoy for free in Chicago.
1. Chicago Cultural Center
No matter what time of year you visit, there will be an interesting display on at the Chicago Cultural Center. In addition to the fascinating art exhibits, there are also dance and music performances daily for extra entertainment. Each week, there are free tours of the building, which is great if you are interested in history and architecture. One of the highlights of the tour is the Preston Bradley Hall as this features the largest Tiffany stained-glass dome in the world which is a beautiful and impressive sight.
2. Millennium Park
Millennium Park is located between E. Randolph Street, Michigan Avenue, and Columbus Avenue. Admission to the park is completely free and there are numerous activities that you can enjoy during your visit. The highlight for many people is seeing Cloud Gate, which is a sculpture that produces reflections of the city. There are also two interactive video towers and the Crown Fountain. Your experience at the park will depend on the time of year that you visit. IN the winter, the McCormick Tribune Plaza becomes an ice-skating rink. During the summer months, you can enjoy music events and film screenings at the Great Lawn and the Pritzker Pavilion.
3. Lincoln Park Zoo
A great day out for people of all ages is a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo. Despite the urban setting in which you are surrounded by skyscrapers, the zoo is like an oasis. The immersive setting highlights the natural habitats of the wildlife you will see, so one minute you are in a rainforest and the next you are in the savannahs. Just some of the animals you will see during your visit include gorillas, tigers, penguins, reptiles, and lions. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the different species on display and to find out more about the zoo’s conservation program. Therefore, a day at the zoo combines fun with education.
4. Museum of Contemporary Photography
Admission to the Museum of Contemporary Photography is always free. The focus of this museum is contemporary photography. In addition to the regular displays, the museum features the work of different talented photographers throughout the year. The work displayed is a combination of both camera and digital photography. People who will enjoy this activity are those who enjoy photography or have an appreciation of art.
5. Garfield Park Conservatory
The fact that Garfield Park Conservatory remains a free attraction is astonishing as most people would gladly pay for such a wonderful experience. This attraction is possibly the most stunning conservatory in the United States and has even been described as Chicago’s landscape art under glass. It boasts two-acres of historic indoor gardens and there are a further 12-acres of seasonal outdoor gardens for you to explore. This is the perfect activity for those who enjoy getting back to nature. Throughout the year, this venue hosts various events and festivals, so you may find that there is extra entertainment when you visit. You will find Garfield Park Conservatory at North Central Park Avenue.
6. Smart Museum of Art
The Smart Museum of Art is part of the University of Chicago, which you will find on S. Greenwood Avenue. Within the museum, there are over 15,000 exhibits. These objects are divided into categories, including modern art and design, contemporary art, European art, and Asian art. The museum is open every day except Monday and there are special exhibitions and events throughout the year.
7. Chicago Botanic Garden
If you are a lover of the outdoors and nature, then you will enjoy the Chicago Botanic Garden. The gardens cover nine islands over an expanse of 385-acres, with each of the 27 gardens having a different focus or theme. This attraction is like a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Chicago lifestyle and the sights and aromas will stimulate your senses. Chicago Botanic Garden is on Lake Cook Road and it is open daily until 5 pm.
8. Lincoln Park Conservatory
Another of the best free things to do in Chicago is to visit Lincoln Park Conservatory. This is an amazingly green and lush space within the city that is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. One of the best parts of visiting this park is the botanical garden. There you will find a vast array of flora, including palms, tropical flowers, and ferns.
9. DePaul University Art Museum
Art enthusiasts will love the DePaul University Art Museum. This is one of the best art museums in the city as it has a diverse permanent collection. Some of the exhibits include paintings, photography, and sculpture. The art museum is located on West Fullerton and it is open from Wednesday through to Sunday every week.
10. Chicago Children’s Museum
If you are in Chicago on a family vacation, then try to get to the Chicago Children’s Museum on a Thursday between 5 pm and 8 pm as the admission for families is free at this time. There is also free admission for children under the age of 15 on the first Sunday of every month. The museum is located on Navy Pier, and there are tons of interactive exhibits for all the family to enjoy. Even adults will enjoy this museum. However, if you are an adults-only party, you may prefer the Oriental Institute Museum, the DuSable Museum of African Art, or the National Museum of Mexican Art. Each of these museums is also a free attraction.
11. Navy Pier
Navy Pier is one of the most iconic landmarks in Chicago and you will find it on East Grand Avenue. Admission to the pier is free, as are many of the attractions you will find there. Some of these include walking down the pier to admire the views, have some fun at the 50-acre playground, or take a free tour of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. There are plenty more attractions to enjoy if you are willing to pay a small fee. The best times to visit the pier are Wednesday and Saturday evenings as there is a spectacular firework show on these days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you have a little money to spend, there are fairground rides and boat trips you can enjoy.
12. Lakefront Trail
Starting at the lake’s North Side on Ardmore Street, the Lakefront Trail stretches for 18-miles to the South Side at 71st Street. This is one of the best ways to view the beautiful lake, the cityscape, and the surrounding area. There is the option to either walk the trail or cycle. This is a full-day activity due to the distance but the trail is flat and not too challenging.
13. Humboldt Park
Humboldt Park is a neighborhood and designated community area in Chicago where there are plenty of free things to enjoy. The neighborhood covers 219-acres, so you can spend a full day exploring the area. Some of the things that you can enjoy in Humboldt Park include a historic fieldhouse, a lagoon, and an island beach. There is also a fitness center and gymnasium, but there is a fee to use those facilities. While you are visiting Humboldt Park, grab a bite to eat because there are some excellent restaurants and cafes offering a variety of cuisine.
14. Promontory Point
While you are in Chicago, you should the cityscape from different perspectives. One of the best places where you can enjoy spectacular city views for free is Promontory Point as this gives some of the best views of Downtown Chicago. This is a fantastic photo opportunity to commemorate your stay. Promontory Point is also a great place to enjoy a bike ride.
15. Hull House
If history and architecture are things that interest you, then one of the best landmarks to visit is Hull House, which was once a settlement house. Now, this historic building is a memorial to Jane Addams, who was the first female American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She received this prestigious award because of her innovative work in creating programs for immigrants to improve their lives. Her initiative continues to thrive to this day, so she is one of the most notable people from Chicago.
16. Milton Lee Olive Park/ Ohio Street Beach
Just off Navy Pier is Milton Lee Olive Park, which is a manmade peninsula. Part of the park is Ohio Street Beach, which is an excellent place to cool off during warmer weather. The park has five magnificent fountains and some interesting memorial statues. This park is adjacent to Addams Park, so you can visit both on the same day.
17. City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower
The Historic Water Tower is one of the most notable historic landmarks in Chicago and it is located on North Michigan Avenue. Now, it is home to the City Gallery. The gallery hosts exhibitions of the work of photographers from Chicago.
18. Revolution Brewery
Revolution Brewery is one of the best-known producers of craft beers in Chicago. The brewery holds tours for members of the public who are the age of 21 on a first come first served basis. The tours are capped at 30 people, so it makes sense to get there early to avoid disappointment. From Wednesday to Friday, there are two daily tours, but there are four on a Saturday and three on Sundays. Each tour lasts for 30 minutes and includes a tasting. Although the tours are free, you will need to pay if you want to enjoy a beer during your visit or buy something from the brewery’s shop.
19. Maxwell Street Market
Maxwell Street Market is open every Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm and admission to the market is completely free. You can wander around the market enjoying the vibe and listen to the street bands that play each week at Maxwell Street Market. Although it is free, it is wise to take some money in case you are tempted to buy some of the handmade crafts for sale on the stalls or the delicious smells of the freshly prepared street food tempt you to grab a bite to eat.
20. Chicago Greeter Program
One of the best ways to see the sights of Chicago is to take a guided tour as this gives you the benefit of an expert who knows all about the history of the city and can show you the most interesting features. The Chicago Greeter Program offer either two or four-hour tours of the city. All the guides are local, and they will give you a Chicago residents’ insight into the Windy City. It is both fun and educational, and you will have plenty of photo opportunities along the way.