Chicago is such a fun place for a vacation or weekend getaway. If you’re planning a trip to Chicago Illinois, check out this list of 31 free things to do in Chicago.
31 Free Things to Do in Chicago Illinois
Chicago is one of the best destination cities in the Midwest! It’s one of our favorite places to go for a quick weekend getaway. You’ll never run out of things to do year-round. If you’re vacationing on a budget or just looking for some fun, local activities, here’s a list of free or mostly free activities taking place all over the city! Due to the current status of our country, be sure to check the location for updates on safety and hours. You can also check out our popular update list of over 50 things to do for free in the Chicago, Illinois area.
Free Things To Do in Chicago
- If you’re looking for a good walk with lots to see, take a stroll on the Magnificent Mile! You’ll see historic landmarks in the 13 blocks of North Michigan Ave as well as the Starbucks Reserve Roastery – the world’s largest Starbucks at four stories and 43,000 square feet, where they offer interactive tours.
- The Museum of Science and Industry offers free days throughout the year! Check HERE for the dates and if you’re visiting in December, Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights are included with the museum entry.
- Check HERE for free days for the Field Museum of Natural History.
- The Chicago Riverwalk hosts a plethora of sights and activities – from Centennial Fountain to the Floating Gardens, to one of the largest Vietnam War Memorials outside Washington DC (which has a waterfall and a 14 jet fountain, for the kids to enjoy!), you’ll be able to fill an entire afternoon with free fun. There’s often live entertainment and you can fish (with a license, of course).
- Also along the Chicago Riverwalk is the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum. It’s free for kids under 5 and everyone on Sundays. Plan for one of the 40 bridge moving days by checking the schedule HERE.
- The University of Chicago hosts the Smart Museum of Art, which is free to the public. For current exhibitions and upcoming events, check HERE.
- Hyde Park is home to the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry but also hosts Jackson Park and Promontory Park, a great place for picnics and swimming that offers beautiful views of the downtown Chicago Skyline.
- The city hosts many parks and splash pads, a few of which are Mary Bartelme Park, River Park, and Fosco Park Community Center.
- The Interactive Crown Fountain in Millennium Park operates May through October and is a must-see, especially in hot weather!
- The largest free blues festival in the world is the Chicago Blues Festival! Enjoy three days of music across four stages during the early summer in Millennium Park. Check HERE for dates and information.*
- The Chicago Cultural Center in Millennium Park hosts a late summer free Jazz Festival. They host the greatest jazz musicians from Chicago and around the world.
- Travel the globe without leaving Chicago with the free World Music Festival! It’s the largest and longest-running festival of international music in the United States and it takes place in late summer.
- Enjoy a beloved summertime tradition with the Grant Park Music Festival! Be sure to check for the venue, seating information, and opening times, as this festival runs all summer long.
- Millennium Park hosts Saturday Morning Workouts on the lawn of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, offering Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba all for free!*
- Take a free guided or self-guided tour of Lurie Garden in Millennium Park from May through September.
- The Belmont Sheffield Music Festival takes place at the busy Lakeview Intersection over Memorial Day Weekend. For just $5, you can help kick off the summer festival season!
- At the end of May, the Do Division Street Fest and Sidewalk Sale takes place in West Town Chicago. Enjoy two live music stages, local vendors and food, a family fun area, and a fashion show for a suggested $10 donation!
- The Wells Street Art Festival takes place on the second full weekend of June. Enjoy artist booths, entertainment, children’s play area, food and drink along with the estimated 50,000 estimated people who attend annually! A donation may be requested to attend.
- Over sixteen restaurants participate in the Taste of Randolph, which takes place in mid-June. Enjoy two stages plus a DJ stage as well. A $10 suggested donation may be requested.
- Keep an eye on the Pilsen Taco Fest Facebook page to find out when you can enjoy amazing food, local art, merchandise vendors, kids’ activities, and much more for free!
- If you love a Craft Beer Festival, check out Ravenswood On Tap (for a measly $5 suggested donation) in late June. This is a two-day outdoor event featuring local brews, some of Chicago’s favorite restaurants and food trucks, as well as an amazing lineup of live music and handmade goods from local artists and vendors.
- A great lineup of music, food, and local craft vendors can be found at the Logan Square Arts Festival!
- In mid-July, some of Chicago’s finest burger emporiums and restaurants are showcased at the Roscoe Village Burger Fest. In addition to amazing burgers, enjoy music on two stages, a Kids’ Zone activity area, arts and craft vendors, and more.
- Artisans, neighborhood cuisine, activities for families and children, and music are just a few of the things you can enjoy in July at the Chinatown Summer Fair. (Currently not available due to COVID19).
- Chicago’s historic Edgewater neighborhood boasts flavorful cuisine, incredible entertainment, and family fun during EdgeFest in August.
- The Christkindlmarket is a must-visit during the Christmas season – an always free and family-friendly event.
- Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place from 8 am-11 am on State Street from Ida B. Wells Drive to Randolph.
- Grant Park offers a free event at the annual Chicago SummerDance Festival in June. Come on out for free lessons from a pro or sit back and enjoy the music.
- Site of the 1893 World’s Fair, Jackson Park hosts Japanese gardens, the Statue of The Republic, woodland trails, playing fields, a beach, a golf course, and a boat harbor.
- Visit Washington Park to enjoy the lagoon, an aquatic center, three playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, athletic fields, and the Fountain of Time sculpture.
- A formal industrial rail line, The 606 is now a 2.7 elevated park and trail equipped with biking and running paths, an observatory, street-level parks, public art, and scenic lookout points.
These are just a few of the free or extremely cheap ways to enjoy Chicago! Visit websites such as Choose Chicago to see more options available year-round.
*Keep in mind there are several things on this list that may not be available to check out due to COVID19. Be sure you call the location to check for the latest updates.
What are some other free things to do in Chicago, Illinois? Leave us a comment and let us know.
Natalie Ann Redman says
Can’t wait to visit Chicago!