If you’re planning on visiting Chicago anytime soon, then this is one list you don’t want to miss.
Chicago is full of amazing shopping, entertainment, restaurants and more. But all those options doesn’t mean you have to splurge on a visit here. To help you stay on budget, we’ve rounded up a list of 15 free things to do in Chicago anytime of year!
From hidden gems to local favorites to must-see attractions, this list is all about wallet-friendly ways to make your next Chicago visit the best one yet. And who knows, maybe the money you save could even help you extend your stay.
So add these free Chicago spots to your itinerary and get exploring!
This downtown destination is home to the iconic Chicago bean sculpture as well as the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and a long list of free events. Depending on when you visit, you could go on a picnic, catch a free concert or see a free movie screening.
Right by Millennium Park, you’ll find the Chicago Cultural Museum. This historic building not only boasts beautiful architecture—just take a look at the ceiling of the ballroom on the top floor—it also hosts free art exhibits, shows, concerts and more throughout the year.
Chicago’s Navy Pier is a must-see for anyone visiting. While not all of the attractions are free, like the Children’s Museum and giant Ferris Wheel, you can still tour the pier and take in one of the most-visited spots in Chicago. Plus, they host a free fireworks show every Wednesday and Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
This neighborhood zoo is one of the few free zoos in North America, making it a rare find. It’s home to a Polar bear, gorillas, seals, otters, snakes and more. Plus, families can fill their day with the nearby petting zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory. Or, you can head over to Halsted Street and Armitage Avenue for some shopping and brunch.
With around 120,000 plants, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest botanical conservations in the country. Referred to as “landscape art under glass” when it opened in 1908, this urban oasis is a lush and tropical escape for Chicagoans and visitors alike. Plus, it’s completely free to stop and smell the greenery.
Located in the South Loop, this historic library boasts nine floors with activities, rooms and books to entertain anyone. There’s a newly renovated Children’s Library, an award-winning Maker’s Lab and workshop, music rooms, visual art throughout the library and so much more.
Spanning from downtown to the North Side, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is a path that runs along Lake Michigan. Mainly used by Chicagoans for recreation or commuting, it’s the perfect way to get lake and city views while getting active. Rent bikes, go for a leisurely stroll or stop by any of the beaches that dot the entire path.
While maybe not a top destination over the winter, Chicago’s beaches come alive over warmer seasons. Watch volleyball competitions, take a dip in Lake Michigan or grab a bite and people watch.
Located just outside the city limits, the Chicago Botanic Garden is another free spot to visit (other than parking) for the nature lovers. This suburban oasis’ lets you stroll through 27 picturesque gardens sprawling over 380 acres with over 2 million plants. It truly is a natural beauty.
This park has a climbing wall, mini golf, picnic groves, play gardens, an ice skating ribbon and so much more covering 20-acres of downtown Chicago. While completely free to visit, you do have to pay for some of the activities and attractions.
Another recreational path in Chicago, this elevated trail spans 2.7 miles and connects some of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. Hop on the path for a stroll, take in the art installations and then hit up the delicious restaurants and shopping in Wicker Park.
If you’re into interior design, then stop by the Restoration Hardware store in Gold Coast. Featuring 3 floors of staged rooms, the store feels more like an art gallery and experience for visitors. You’ll find people downstairs in the 3 Arts Club Cafe, upstairs in the rooftop courtyard and sitting in rooms throughout the space.
Head to Pilsen and stop by the National Museum of Mexican Art. Learn about Mexican history and check out the beautiful folk art, sculptures, textiles and drawing—there’s over 10,000 pieces in the permanent collection. Depending on when you visit, you may even catch a live performance or their Day of the Dead display. And after the museum, grab some tacos at any of the delicious spots around the Pilsen neighborhood!
Have you ever heard of Chicago’s underground tunnel system? While maybe not a featured attraction on everyone’s list, the Chicago Pedestrian Walkway System (or Pedway) lets you travel beneath the city and connects almost 50 buildings downtown—one of which is Chicago’s free cultural museum.