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the BEST 5 FREE things to do in Chicago

Sep 6, 2023

One of the top requests I get is for things to do in Chicago that are affordable, especially for families! Well, what’s better than affordable? FREE! Chicago is home to many free attractions that offer visitors and residents alike the chance to experience the city without breaking the bank.


Millennium Park:

What’s not to love about Millennium Park. This iconic park in the heart of downtown Chicago is home to the famous “Bean” sculpture, properly called Cloud Gate, as well as the beautiful Lurie Gardens, multiple outdoor art installations, and public concerts and events. Millennium Park is also connected to Maggie Daley Park, which is home to one of the largest play areas in the city. It’s also next to Grant Park where many of the cities biggest festivals are held and is the home of Chicago’s iconic Buckingham Fountain. You could spend an entire day exploring and adventuring within the park. There are several underground garages in the immediate area that are convenient when visiting.

Navy Pier:

One of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, Navy Pier offers a range of free activities including select free Family Days at the Chicago Children’s Museum, countless shops and popular Chicago restaurants like Harry Caray’s and Giordano’s, live music and performances in the beer garden, and fireworks displays throughout the year! It’s the perfect spot for families, especially in the summer with a fountain area for kids to play in. You can also purchase tickets for amusement rides like the iconic Centennial Wheel. Don’t forget to grab an Original Rainbow Cone while you’re there!

Lincoln Park Zoo & South Pond:

The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest and most popular zoos in the country, and admission is always free. Within the Zoo, you’ll find a wide array of exhibits and enclosures, as well as activities like a carousel and train rides. They offer special events throughout the year for families and for adults only— our family favorites are Boo at the Zoo and Zoolights. Directly south of the zoo is the South Pond area, home to an iconic Chicago skyline view and Lincoln Park’s beloved honeycomb structure. Definitely check out the Patio at Cafe Brauer while you’re there for a delicious meal with a spectacular view.

The Magnificent Mile:

This famous stretch of Michigan Avenue is home to some of the city’s most iconic buildings like the building formerly known as the John Hancock building, home to 360 Chicago, and offers great shopping, dining, and people-watching. The Mag Mile is home to Chicago’s iconic tulips each spring, stunning lights during the holidays, and other popular tourist spots like the Starbucks Reserve. Some of my fondest memories as a teenager during my first visit to Chicago are of walking along Michigan Ave.

Chicago Riverwalk:

This scenic promenade along the Chicago River offers stunning views of the city’s iconic architecture and is home to many free events and activities throughout the year. Taking a walk along the Riverwalk is one of my top activities to do when family and friends come to visit the city. There are so many exciting activities that you can do along the river— two of my favorites being an architecture tour or renting a kayak! You’ll also want to check out all the restaurants along the river like Pizzeria Portofino, River Roast, City Winery, and Tiny Tapp & Cafe.

Please note: Admission to these spaces is free or they are public areas. Each location has activities available for additional costs.

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the BEST 5 FREE things to do in Chicago

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