Visitors to Chicago can enjoy some of its premier cultural attractions for free with a bit of research and planning. Thankfully we’ve made that easy for you today with this list of free things to do in Chicago!
As the weather warms, Chicago becomes a much more enticing destination for tourists, and “Paris on the Prairie,” as the city is sometimes known, has it all: great food, great shopping, great public spaces, and great cultural attractions.
Visiting some or all of these Chicago sights, though, can be expensive. Travelers to Chicago can take advantage of its cultural attractions for free and thus save big. Here are some of our favorites.
Free Things to do in Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, and More!
Consider The Art Institute of Chicago, which houses a mammoth collection of art, including a trove of impressionist masterpieces. Regular admission for an adult costs $18, but currently, every Thursday from 5 pm to 8 pm, admission is free thanks to their largest corporate donor Target. Similarly, the Chicago History Museum, which chronicles the city’s multicultural past and present, offers free admission on Mondays, netting a savings of $14 per adult.
Even the grand dame of Chicago’s museums, The Field Museum, has certain, designated free days, as does the nearby Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. For all of these museums, it is best to either call ahead or verify on their individual websites which days free admission is offered and what, if any, conditions may apply, e.g., certain special exhibits may be off-limits, or pre-registration may be required for large groups.
Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Graceland Cemetery
If the weather is great, Chicago has numerous free outdoor attractions as well. Take Millennium Park for example – this free public space, filled with sophisticated gardens and sculptures, including Anish Kapoor’s popular Cloud Gate, which resembles a gargantuan, metallic jelly bean, also features the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Lincoln Park Zoo is another outdoor alternative. A compact zoo located in the yuppie neighborhood of the same name, the zoo holds a bevy of animals from a tiger to sea lions to Western lowland African gorillas. Admission is free year-round, and the zoo has the added benefit of being located near Clark Street, the commercial artery of Lincoln Park packed with restaurants and shops.
The beloved Navy Pier can not be missed on this list of Chicago attraction favorites. While there is no fee to walk around this 3,300-foot shoreline attraction, some areas within the Navy Pier may charge a fee.
Rounding out the list of free things to do in Chicago, but geared to a narrower demographic, Graceland Cemetery in the Lakeview neighborhood is a beautifully maintained resting place for Chicago’s gilded age luminaries and is open and free to the public. Stroll around the manicured grounds, gaze at the ornate mausoleums and grave markers, and note the famous names on some of the headstones: Field, Pinkerton, Armour, Palmer, and Pullman, to name but a few.
In fact, it is many of these self-made businessmen, and their spouses and heirs, whose fortunes and personal collections form the bedrock of Chicago’s world-class, cultural infrastructure that tourists still enjoy today – thanks to the continued generosity of corporate and individual donors. It’s highly recommended to call or visit the website of each institution beforehand to confirm dates/hours that free admission may be offered.
We hope you enjoyed this list of free things to do in Chicago!