With plenty of free things to do in Chicago, you can always plan to make your next trip to the city fun and budget-friendly. It is a city with something new and unexpected at every corner and plenty of history and unique culture. Whether you are driving out from the suburbs or visiting the city for the first time, these are seven free things to do in Chicago throughout the year you should definitely check out!
Located right in the middle of the city, Millenium Park serves as the heart of the city. The 24.5-acre park serves as a natural oasis in between the hustle and bustle of the city and Lake Michigan, offering the best of both worlds. Millennium Park is home to plenty of artwork, most notably the Bean. Call it a tourist trap, but the Bean is guaranteed to be flooded with people eager to snap a selfie from the mirrored surface. Honestly, your trip to Chicago isn’t really complete without one. If you’re looking for free music, the Pritzker Pavillion will most likely have an orchestra playing for anyone who passes by. Take a seat and enjoy the free soundtrack for the city. During the summer is when Millenium Park really comes alive. This outdoor amphitheater also hosts free weekly movies in the summer. Pack a picnic and watch a classic movie as the sun sets over the skyline. You can also cool off at Crown Fountain where water rushes out of two fountains forming a giant puddle to splash in. These fountains also have screens with faces that will spit out a waterfall. It sounds much cooler in person, trust me.
Taste of Chicago
Speaking of Millenium Park, one of the best showcases of Chicago cuisine takes place only one block away. The Taste of Chicago takes place every summer during a weekend in July in Grant Park where both Jackson and Columbus street are shut down and people are free to roam around and see what the city has to offer. The Taste of Chicago also provides stages for local and global musicians to perform. Food and live music, what more do you need?
The iconic Centennial Ferris wheel located right by Lake Michigan makes Navy Pier one of the best free things to do in Chicago. Navy Pier has pretty much anything you would ever want all within one place with plenty of shops, restaurants, and attractions that are both indoor and outdoor. No matter what season it is, Navy Pier has plenty for all to enjoy. The indoor Crystal Gardens offer towering palm trees and water jumping from fountain to fountain. If you want to take things easy, the outdoor seating areas will give you the chance to view the unbeatable Chicago skyline or the vastness of one of the great lakes. A visit to Navy Pier is perfect for your itinerary since you can see all there is and still have plenty of time to explore Chicago further.
Along the coast of Lake Michigan are plenty of beaches to choose from that are perfect for a free summer day out. Located right by Navy Pier are Ohio Street Beach and North Avenue Beach which are two of the most popular beaches to visit during the summer. Try to get there early if you can to secure your spot! No matter how crowded it gets, there will be plenty of space on the sand to lie out and get a tan. No matter how cold the water is, you won’t regret jumping right in to cool off. These beaches also offer restaurants and bars to enjoy with a view of the skyline.
Lincoln Park Zoo
You might be surprised that this is on this list, but it’s true! Lincoln Park Zoo is free for everyone and has always been free, living up to their slogan of being everyone’s zoo regardless if you live in the city or how old you are. This is definitely a great value with all the things that there is to see within the 35-acre zoo. No matter how old you are, the Lincoln Park Zoo always provides something fun for everyone to see from tropical birds to exotic fish. Surrounding the zoo is Lincoln Park where you’ll find the Nature Boardwalk. Take a stroll by the pond while surrounded by the natural gardens of northern Chicago and once again get an unbeatable view of the John Hancock building and the rest of the skyline. During the holidays, you can see the zoo light up the night as the Nature Boardwalk is lit up for a festive celebration.
Chicago Cultural Center
Located right on Michigan Avenue across from Millenium Park is the Chicago Cultural Center. As part of the Affordable Chicago Initiative, the Cultural Center serves the people of the city as well as anyone who wants to visit by providing more access to art and culture. Within the five floors of this building are various exhibits that display local artwork and ones from artists around the world. The diverse array of artists really represents the city of Chicago as a melting pot of cultures. Each one is certain to keep you engaged as you walk from each one. In addition, the Art Institute of Chicago provides a free day for Illinois residents every Wednesday evening. Having the chance to see incredible artwork is one of the best free things to do in Chicago.
Just go for a walk
Chicago is one of those cities where you could just walk and still have a great time. The amazing architecture that is balanced with nature makes for a great place to just take everything in. Luckily, there are paths that stretch across Lake Michigan where you’ll find others walking, jogging or riding a bike as they too take in the city. You’ll be surprised how far you could walk while admiring the city. The Chicago River also makes for a great body of water to walk along while you gaze up at the skyscrapers from below.