Free Things to Do in Chicago

The Windy City has plenty to offer whether you’re into art, culture, parks or beaches.

Written by Kristen Kuchar / June 15, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Whether you love photography, Mexican art, contemporary art or anything in between, there are free options throughout the city.
  • Love the beach? You have 25 to choose from along Chicago’s lakefront.
  • If festivals are your thing, check out the blues, gospel, jazz festivals and more.

If Chicago is on your travel itinerary, you’re in for a treat: Many of the city’s museums, parks and beaches are free, and there are a host of festivals to choose from.

We’ve rounded up some top picks for you to consider. But be sure to check the city’s official events site, Choose Chicago, for more information.

Enjoy the lakeshore

Navy Pier is one of the most iconic Chicago attractions. While there are plenty of opportunities to spend money here on rides and games, shopping and food and drink, there are also some budget-friendly options. Admission here is free, as well as public art, a 1.5-mile fitness trail, access to Polk Bros Park and firework shows.

Over 312 acres, Grant Park, also known as Chicago’s Front Yard. It’s home to Millennium Park, which features the Cloud Gate statue (more commonly known as The Bean), interactive fountains and the Lurie Garden. You can even partake on a 45-minute free public walking tour or do a self-guided tour.

Other no-cost highlights located within Grant Park are Maggie Daley Park, Buckingham Fountain and The Skate Park.

Take a stroll on Chicago’s 18-mile multi-use Lakefront Trail.

Chicago Area Runners Association hosts free runs (walking and jogging as well), 5K and one-mile runs at local parks throughout Chicago

Art & culture scene

Chicago Cultural Center showcases both regional and international artists at rotating exhibitions, along with free gallery talks and lectures. There are also no-cost tours of the center, a variety of free events and an interactive learning lab.

The Newberry is home to 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps and 5 million manuscript pages. Here you can find free tours, exhibitions and programs and events for life-long learners.

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The Poetry Foundation has a 30,000-volume poetry library, free public events and an exhibition gallery.

Below is a list of museums that are totally free:

The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry and Chicago History Museum all host specific free days throughout the year for Illinois residents.

In addition to 1.2 million books, Harold Washington Library Center also has visual artists, a music practice room and other events.

Many of the Windy City’s big festivals and events have no admission fees. Some of these include:

  • Chicago Air and Water Show

  • Grant Park Music Festival

  • Chicago Blues Festival

  • Chicago Jazz Festival

  • Chicago Gospel Music Festival

Get outside

The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest botanical conservatories in the nation, also offering a variety of free lectures, self-guided tours and family-friendly events.

Lincoln Park Conservatory is also a conservatory, showcasing thousands of plants.

The 606 is part trail (2.7 miles of multi-use connecting neighborhoods) but also offers art exhibits, opportunities for stargazing and other free events.

Also, the North Park Village Nature Center is a scenic spot that is totally free.

There are more than 25 beaches along Chicago’s lakefront, including some dog-friendly beaches, all completely free.

About the Author

Kristen Kuchar

Kristen Kuchar

Kristen Kuchar is a journalist, covering money, travel and the beverage industry. Kristen has previously contributed personal finance and business content to Money.com, Money Under 30, The Simple Dollar, Saving for College, Credible, The Brad’s Deals Blog, Outdoor Business Magazine and more.

Full bio

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