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Best free things to do in Chicago?

I'm going to be in Chicago next month and will be on a pretty tight budget. I'm looking for the best free and inexpensive things to check out! I love the outdoors, art, museums, you name it. Thanks!

8 Answers

top answer by
Kyle from Chicago

The museum culture in Chicago is amazing. I'd suggest checking out The Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. The Museum of Science and Industry is also a really dope one. The aquarium, depending on your budget, might be superfluous. Since you'll be here in the midst of Summer, most of the farmer's markets should be open and there is quite literally one in almost every neighborhood, which is a really special thing I haven't seen in many other cities. Additionally, there's a free festival of some kind happening in multiple nabe's almost every weekend. Navy Pier is a huge tourist destination, but it has a ferris wheel and offers amazing views of The Loop. Additionally, you can also take the Architecture Boat Tour from there, which, even though it is completely a "tourist-y thing", is so fascinating and really helps to frame the history of the city really well. There's also a ton of park land in the city so Lincoln Park is definitely a place you should check out if you like the outdoors. It's massive and the Lincoln Park Zoo is there. Humboldt Park is another really nice one that's also fairly large and it's further west. 

I'm a native New Yorker who moved here just last year and I am really happy with the decision. Chicago's a world class city. Hope you enjoy your time here!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Art Institute of Chicago (attraction)
  2. Shedd Aquarium (attraction)
  3. Museum of Science and Industry (attraction)
  4. Navy Pier (attraction)
  5. Lincoln Park (attraction)
  6. Lincoln Park Zoo (attraction)
  7. Humboldt Park (attraction)
6 thanks

answered by
Lauren from Chicago

On a nice day spend some time in Millennium Park and check out The BeanJay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, and Maggie Daley Park - totally free and a beautiful spot near the lake to walk around for hours. Stop by the Chicago Cultural Center for a free view of the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome.

Nearby is the The Art Institute of Chicago - $23 for visitors, $18 for Chicago residents, and $20 for Illinois residents - a gorgeous museum that is well worth the cost.

For great views of the city, head up to the The Signature Lounge in the Hancock Building - spend your money on a pricey drink rather than a pricey elevator trip and relax at a table while you enjoy views of the city. 

Navy Pier is definitely a tourist trap, but you can catch an impressive free fireworks display here every Wednesday (9:30pm) and Saturday (10:15pm) from May 23-September 5. 

Head north to Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach for a day at the beach or just stroll along the lakefront path and take in the beautiful views of Lake Michigan. On Wednesdays and Saturdays you can shop the Green City Market farmers' market followed by a stop at the (free) Lincoln Park Zoo

If you're into beer, stop by Lagunitas Brewing Company for a free brewery tour and a bite to eat in their brewpub. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Millennium Park (attraction)
  2. Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (attraction)
  3. Maggie Daley Park (attraction)
  4. Chicago Cultural Center (attraction)
  5. The Art Institute of Chicago (attraction)
  6. The Signature Lounge (attraction)
  7. Hancock Building (attraction)
  8. Navy Pier (attraction)
  9. Oak Street Beach (attraction)
  10. North Avenue Beach (attraction)
  11. Green City Market (attraction)
  12. Lincoln Park Zoo (attraction)
  13. Lagunitas Brewing Company (restaurant)
  14. The Bean (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Katherine from Grand Rapids, Michigan

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art admission is $5. Definitely check out Millennium Park, which is also free. Lincoln Park Zoo admission is also free. Lincoln Park

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (attraction)
  2. Millennium Park (attraction)
  3. Lincoln Park Zoo (attraction)
  4. Lincoln Park (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Sandy from Clinton, Iowa

Lincoln Park ZooNavy Pier and Millennium Park are all free. It's fun to go to the Pedway which is the city under the city. Chicago Riverwalk is free and fun.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Lincoln Park Zoo (attraction)
  2. Navy Pier (attraction)
  3. Millennium Park (attraction)
  4. Chicago Riverwalk (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Johnny from Las Vegas

Downtown is a great place to of the great 20th century wonders with so many tall buildings.  The "EL" is fairly cheap and gives a great tour of the Chicago Loop area.  The architecture is amazing.  You can walk around the Navy Pier and enjoy the sights as well.  Chicago is known for several foods but the more economical ones are the "chicago dogs" and the italian beef sandwiches.  Give either a try.  The deep dish pizza isn't as economical but worth the price.  Check Groupon for Chicago to find some deals...

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Chicago Loop (attraction)
  2. Navy Pier (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by

National Museum of Mexican Art

Walking around Lincoln Park, walking around Millennium Park, the Buckingham Fountain, and The Bean (the bean).

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. National Museum of Mexican Art (attraction)
  2. Lincoln Park (attraction)
  3. Millennium Park (attraction)
  4. Buckingham Fountain (restaurant)
  5. The Bean (attraction)
comments (1)

answered by
Dabs from Chicago

Since you enjoy art, you can do a self guided tour of the outdoor art pieces including a Chagall, Miro and a Picasso

The Shedd Aquarium is not inexpensive but you can see part of the aquarium that is general admission for $8, the huge Caribbean reef tank in the lobby is my favorite part of the aquarium.

Instead of an expensive river tour, you can take a water taxi all the way to Chinatown Chicago, an all day pass is $8, you can travel for less with a single ride.

The Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory and Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool are all free to visit and in the same general neighborhood.

You can get a free Greeter tour, must be reserved in advance except for the instagreeter service

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Shedd Aquarium (attraction)
  2. Chinatown Chicago (attraction)
  3. Lincoln Park Zoo (attraction)
  4. Lincoln Park Conservatory (restaurant)
  5. Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (attraction)

answered by
warren from Chicago

Try the The Signature Room at the 95th on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. It's a bar, so not free exactly if you want to hang around, but its free to get to (rather than the $15 entry fee for the observatory on the floor below) and IMO offers the best views in town. Go there just before sunset so you get the day & night views in one trip!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Signature Room at the 95th (restaurant)

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