15 Free Things To Do In Chicago This Year

March 01, 2021

The windy city has a huge amount to offer for free from parks to free galleries, museums and brewery tours. We've curated the best the city has to offer.

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is a 35-acre zoo located in Lincoln Park, Chicago. The zoo has been free to visit since it opened in 1868 and is one of the last free zoos in America. The zoo is home to quite a range of animals, including gorillas, monkeys, poplar bears and penguins. Birds of prey, antelope, zebra, seals, apes, and elephants. Although the zoo is free, you will need to book in advance.

2. Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Millennium park is a 25-acre public park, and the most popular open space in Chicago, with the Jay Pritzker Pavilion taking central billing, and hosting several free concerts and festivals throughout the year including the Chicago Blues Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Grant Park Music Festival. You can stroll through Laurie Garden, the secret garden in the park or dine at the Park Grill. The park features art installations, including Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, a reflective sculpture known as ‘the bean’ and Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain featuring images of local people, squirting water in the summer. There’s also a number of every changing exhibitions on Chase Promenades. Millennium park is a great place to spend a day relaxing.

3. Museum of Contemporary Photography

Museum of Contemporary Photography

The Museum of Contemporary Photography includes 16,000 works by over 1,500 contributors. The collection began in 1976 and began collecting works in the early 1980’s. The museum features international works, as well as highlighting works from photographers from in and around Illinois in the Midwest Photographers Project. The museum itself is free, but you will need to book in advance.

4. Smart Museum of Art

Founded by brothers, David and Alfred Smart the Smart Museum of Art features sculptures by Degas, Matisse, and Rodin among it’s 15,000 works. For families there are hands on programs, and symposia and lectures series for adults. The outdoor sculpture garden is great in the summer, and features works by word renowned artists, including Arnaldo Pomodoro and Scott Burton.

5. Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory was designed by Jens Jensen and opened in 1906. It is one of the words largest indoor gardens, which a huge collection of flora and fauna. The tropical Palm House and Desert House are popular places to escape the winter chill. Kids will love the french fry plant in the children’s garden. The conservatory is free to visit but you will need to make reservations in advance.

6. Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden is home to almost 3 million plants, spread across the 285-acre park. As well as exploring the varying habitats, visitors can buy plants at the sales held throughout the year. If driving, you will need to pay to park, but the gardens are just a short walk from Braeside Metro Station.

7. Navy Pier

Navy Pier

The Navy Pier offer some of the best view of the Chicago skyline, and out across Lake Michigan, making it a great place to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon. In the summer you can enjoy free screenings of family friendly movies, and the ‘Water Colors Jazz Series’, which includes a tribute to the Blues Brothers by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

8. Chicago Children’s Museum

Families are welcome free of charge at the Chicago Children’s Museum on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm, and under 15’s are free on the first Sunday of every month. The mission of the children’s museum is to improve children’s lives by creating a community where play and learning connect, and over the last 3 decades it has hosted over 11 million children. You’ll find the children’s museum at the Navy Pier.

9. Lakefront Trail

Lakefront Trail

The lakefront trail is a 19-mile path that stretches right across the city from north to south. The path is great for cycling, with separate lanes for bikes and pedestrians, and the trail passes by some of the must-see monuments in the city, including Navy Pier, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Lincoln Park Zoo You can join at various points along the track.

10. Maxwell Street Market

Maxwell Street Market

The Maxwell Street Market is a Chicago institution, with a whole range of crafts and clothing, as well as homewares, entertainment, and the best street food in the city. The market has been going for over 100 years, Head to 800 S. Desplaines St. on Sundays from 7am to 3pm

11. Magnificent Mile Window Shopping

Magnificent Mile Window Shopping

Head to North Michigan Avenue for the best shopping in Chicago. Spend a few hours window shopping and taking in the entertainment without spending a cent. There’s a huge range of flagship stores including Macy’s, Burberry and Kiehl’s.

12. Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk

Head to Lake Street to start the walk over to Lake Shore Drive. The Riverwalk is packed with bars and restaurants, s well as several open spaces and seating and public art dotted along the walk, making it great idea for part of your free day out in Chicago.

13. Free Brewery Tours

Free Brewery Tours

Lagunitas offer 100% free brewery tours every day. You’ll need to check the website for times as these can changes. You can also enjoy a post tour beer or a bite to eat in the on-site taproom. You can also head to Revolution Brewery who offer free tours of the largest craft brewery in Illinois.

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