10 Free Things to Do in Chicago
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.
A bustling Midwestern city on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is among the United States’ most populous cities, and it’s one of the country’s best city destinations. The Windy City is known for its incredible architecture, countless museums and attractions, amazing public art, and of course, deep-dish pizza. It’s also home to luxury hotels, designer stores, and high-end restaurants, but thankfully for travelers on a budget, there are plenty of free things to do in Chicago.
From fascinating museums to peaceful botanic gardens, here are 10 of the best things to do in Chicago without spending a penny.
Related: More budget travel tips
1. See Animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Founded in 1868, this historic zoo welcomes millions of visitors each year — and you can admire its animals and stroll through the garden for free. That’s right, there’s no cost to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo, making it one of the only free zoos in the U.S. The zoo is home to almost 200 animal species and over 1,200 plant species, so there’s plenty to see when you visit.
2. Stroll Through Millennium Park
One of the city’s most popular attractions, Millennium Park offers lots of outdoor green space in the heart of the city. The park typically hosts free events throughout the year, and although many of these have been canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, be sure to check the website for any upcoming free concerts, movie screenings, and fitness classes. Nevertheless, this is a great place to go for a walk, and don’t miss the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture by Sir Anish Kapoor.
3. Learn About the City From a Chicago Greeter
Take a free guided tour of the city with a Chicago Greeter. Register at least 10 business days in advance to take a customizable two- to four-hour tour with a local and learn all about the city’s history and culture.
4. Relax in Garfield Park Conservatory
Take a stroll through the beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory to admire lush gardens and see countless plant species. The scenic City Garden is the perfect place to relax during a day of sightseeing.
5. Bike the 606
An abandoned elevated rail line was transformed into the Bloomingdale Trail in 2015, adding 2.7 miles of trail and green space to the city. Go for a bike ride, run, or leisurely stroll and check out the public art along this route.
6. Admire Art at the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Chicago has several incredible museums offering free admission, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago. View the collection and check out the ever-changing exhibitions for a dose of art and culture during your trip to the Windy City.
7. Explore Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park is a huge public park located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Within the park, you’ll find beaches, the zoo, museums, and more. One of the most peaceful spots to visit is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, created by the landscape architect in the 1930s.
8. Hear Stories From Statues
Statue Stories Chicago brings some of the city’s public art to life. Through December 2020, you can “talk” to 30 statues using your smartphone and learn all about the city’s history and culture. There’s no cost to enjoy this fascinating self-guided tour, other than standard network charges.
9. Stop and Smell the Flowers at Chicago Botanic Garden
From Lincoln Park to the 606, Chicago has plenty of public green spaces to choose from. The 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden is yet another beautiful place to escape the chaos of the city. Admission is free, but there is a fee for parking.
10. Visit Navy Pier
One of the most iconic attractions in Chicago, Navy Pier is a must-visit for many who come to the Windy City. Although many of the pier’s attractions do charge a fee, you can explore the area for free. Plus, Navy Pier offers lots of free events and programs.