If you have decided to head to Chicago for a vacation, you probably already have a lot of things that you want to do and see on your list. You might have planned to see museums and art exhibits, or maybe you have some fine dining experiences on your list of things to try out. Chicago is a really lovely city full of amazing things to do, but it can get very expensive to plan a trip to the Windy City.
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best museums in the world, and admission is always free for Illinois residents. With over 300,000 works of art, there is something for everyone at this incredible museum. If you love nature, take a stroll through one of Chicago’s many beautiful parks. Lincoln Park and Millennium Park are two of the most popular parks in the city, and they are both free to enter. If you enjoy live music, there are plenty of free concerts taking place throughout the city during the summer months.
This guide will help you to make the most of your budget in Chicago, no matter what your budget is for your trip. There are actually lots of free things to do in Chicago, and you can save a lot of money during your trip by taking advantage of them.
The first thing that you need to do when you arrive in Chicago is to get your luggage into secure storage. You can trust a Bounce luggage locker in Chicago to keep everything safe. Once your bags are stored properly, you will be ready to take advantage of everything that the Windy City has to offer!
Top Free Things to Do in Chicago
If you have arrived via Union Station or have come into town using some other method of travel, you are probably eager to start exploring the city. Remember that the Chicago skyline is always free to see if you can get a good viewpoint, and you might want to take care of this bit of your trip first.
The Chicago Park District is also a great first stop during the early part of your trip, and you can get affordable street food here too. Finding free admission locations in Chicago is easier than you might think, and you can save a lot of money during your trip with these locations mixed into your plans.
Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center offers free admission year-round, and you will have a great time here enjoying the exhibits that are on display as well as the performances and other kinds of interactive experiences that are offered. Kids and adults alike can have fun here, and even the building is amazing. Check out the world's largest Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center as well, and consider this just one major perk of coming to this free location to learn about Chicago.
The Chicago River is featured in many of the parades and cultural events that go on during the year in Chicago. You might see it dyed green during St. Patrick's Day or Christmas time, and there are often events that are free to watch that take place on the river itself. You can also walk along the Chicago River if you want to enjoy some of the more interesting parts of the city on foot. The Chicago Riverwalk, with views of the Chicago skyline, is one of the best hikes in Chicago, so don't miss out on this one.
Millennium Park offers access to the Navy Pier Trolley, which is free during the summer. Some free family festivals take place in Millennium Park during the warmer parts of the year. The Millennium Park area is also a great place for food trucks and affordable meals when you are heading from one event to another. This is one of the cultural centers of the city, and it is a great place to head for affordable adventures during your stay.
Lake Michigan offers you free access to public beaches, and there are often free fireworks shows here during the Fourth of July. The Maggie Daley Park area is a great place to visit if you have kids with you, and there are fireworks twice a week at the park near Lake Michigan itself. Maggie Daley Park is 20 acres in size, and there are lots of playground areas as well as a climbing wall and skating offered here. Things like the climbing wall and mini golf are not free, but there are many other things to do in the park that will not cost you a penny.
The Lincoln Park Zoo actually offers free admission, and you can have a ton of fun on a family trip here. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the best things to do with kids in Chicago and offers access to lions, tigers, gorillas, and much more. There are many different exhibition areas within the zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo itself can keep you busy for most of the day, and the Navy Pier is nearby, which is also free.
Wander along the boardwalk when you are done at the Lincoln Park Zoo and check out the street performers who sometimes gather here. The Ferris Wheel in Lincoln Park is not free, but lots of other free events crop up in the park each month. Lincoln Park is also sometimes the site for free showings of movies in the park during the summer.
As mentioned before, the Navy Pier trolley is free in the summer. This is a location that offers access to festivals just like some of the other park areas nearby, and you can wander along the pier checking out free street performances and more. There is a free walking tour of the Chicago River that leaves from Navy Pier as well if you are interested in this bit of cultural immersion. Sometimes, there's nothing like learning from a local!
The Art Institute of Chicago
This location is free for kids year-round, and it is also free for members of the institute and Illinois residents. The exhibits here are really intriguing, and if you love art, you will want to make a stop here. The Art Institute of Chicago is also really close to the Shedd Aquarium, which is a popular stop for those with kids. The aquarium is not free, but you can check for discount days for a visit here if you are looking to take your kids and want to save some money.
If you love nature, this lovely park is a great place to visit. You will be able to check out the light show at the Buckingham Fountain at night here, and there are miles of walking trails that you can enjoy within the park if you are here during the day. Humboldt Park is nearby, and you will be treated to 219 acres of beautiful parkland here. There is a fieldhouse, a fitness center, and a free gym here as well. This is one of the biggest park areas in the city, and it can be a good option if you need a break from city streets and crowds.
City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower
This is a very old building along The Magnificent Mile that has been turned into a museum. The historic water tower was built in the 1800s, and it has been carefully preserved to look much as it did when it was new. The art exhibits here rotate, so you will see something new every time you visit.
Hyde Park Art Center
This art museum offers free museum days throughout the year. This is a contemporary art collection that is constantly updated to keep it fresh and relevant. There is a lot to see here, and you can spend hours here, which is really nice for a place that offers free admission.
The Smart Museum
The Smart Museum of Art is another free location that never charges for entry. This exhibit is made up of 15,000 objects that are sourced from all over the world. This is an extensive and thoroughly cared-for museum that will offer you access to really amazing art and artifacts that you would normally have to pay a lot to see. It's easy to locate on the University of Chicago campus.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
The Lincoln Park Conservatory is a really amazing section of the park. You can see ferns, tropical flowers, palms, and other flowers that would not be able to grow without the help of the conservatory. This location offers you access to warm conditions and tropical flowers even during the harsh Chicago winter.
National Museum of Mexican Art
Another free location, this lovely museum offers you access to Mexican, Latino, and Chicano art and culture. There are not nearly enough museums dedicated to Mexican Art in the US, and this is one of the few places where you can learn about and enjoy access to information about the art and culture of Mexico. The exhibits at the National Museum of Mexican Art rotate as well, which can be really nice if you are a frequent visitor to the city.
Chicago Children's Museum
This spot offers free admission every Thursday evening. Children can enjoy access to all kinds of interactive exhibits here. They will learn to sail their own boat, learn about the science of the human body, and enjoy access to all kinds of fun projects and artistic things to do. This is a great option for those traveling with kids in the Windy City, and you will not regret making time for this museum during your trip. Just try to get here on a Thursday night.
One of the hippest and most unique locations in the city, just coming to Logan Square without the intention of shopping or dining can be enjoyable. This is a place where you can come to just wander and take in the atmosphere before you decide to spend a little money buying a souvenir or sitting down to eat. Just poking around in the quaint little shops along the square can be really fun.
Free Audio Tour
There are many free audio tours that you can take in various parts of Chicago. You will be able to select from a variety of these opportunities if you check out the many cultural center locations in the city. You will be given the free things needed to support your audio tour, like a map, and be guided toward the right part of the city to wander and check out. This can be a great way to take a self-paced tour of various of the most important parts of the city.
Chicago Public Library
This main branch of the Chicago Public Library offers nine floors of books as well as computer labs and more. If you love that really delightful old book smell, this is where you need to head to have fun in Chicago. The 9th floor is where the exhibits about Chicago reside, and some amazing skylights enclose the Winter Garden at this level of the library.
First United Methodist Church
This church is always free, and you can head here to see the church that is known as "The Chapel in the Sky." This is one of the tallest churches in the world, and its unique design makes it really remarkable. The church's interior is positively beautiful, and you will not want to miss out on this free location when you are in Chicago.
If you have been worried about the cost of your upcoming trip to Chicago, you can rest easy. There are so many really amazing free things to do and see here. You can stay busy for hours enjoying all the free things to do in Chicago. Even if you are traveling with a large group, you can afford to see some of the best things in the city because they are free of charge. Make sure that you also look into free admissions days in the city that can save you a lot of money on some of the locations that are not usually free.
Although you may not have thought it was possible to give your wallet a break here, these activities will definitely help with that. And, make sure you shell out the nominal fee to check your bags with Bounce before you embark on your Chicago adventure.