Sitting on the edge of Lake Michigan, the city of Chicago is well known for its bold architecture, impressive art scene, culture, and financial activity. Like many cities in North America, entertainment in Chicago is abundant.
Touring Chicago can easily be overwhelming, especially with so many places to visit and things to do in the city. And, like in any city, it can become expensive to tick off all the attractions on your list.
Luckily, we’ve got all the information to help you tour Chicago on a budget. As part of our guides to touring the Americas, we’ve made a list of the best places to visit in Chicago for free.
Free Places to Go in Chicago
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A few days in the city can work up quite the bill. Finding affordable things to do and free places to visit in Chicago can be difficult without a guide to help you. Here are a few of our favourite places to visit in Chicago that won’t dent your wallet.
Sometimes, the best way to experience a city is by doing as the locals do. The Chicago Riverwalk is an excellent opportunity to do some sightseeing in Chicago. The walk covers 2 kilometres and is a regular route for locals moving around the city.
You can take in the skyscraper-filled skyline of Chicago while wandering alongside the Chicago River. The city is a canvas for some of the best artists in the world. Along the Riverwalk, there’s a variety of permanent and rotating artworks.
In the form of sculptures and murals, these pieces celebrate the city and its history. Strolling the Riverwalk is something you can do all year round. In spite of the weather, it’s perfect if you’re looking for free things to do in Chicago today.
Bonus: Chicago’s art installations will make the perfect addition to your Instagram feed.
The Chicago Cultural Centre
Tour Chicago’s Cultural Centre for free and stand beneath the Tiffany Dome – the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. The cultural centre is home to a wide range of magnificent art pieces and exhibitions.
Contemporary culture is also a focus of the centre. Chicago’s cultural centre hosts regular free events like theatre and dance performances, musical concerts, film screenings, and more.
The building was originally Chicago’s public library, however it was re-established as the city’s cultural centre in the 90s. The Chicago Cultural Centre is North America’s first free municipal and cultural venue. It is open to locals and tourists every day, from 10 am to 5 pm.
Garfield Park Conservatory
This stunning 12-acre space is a collection of 6 greenhouses. The Garfield Park Conservatory is the 3rd largest glass-covered garden in the world and one of the most spectacular places to visit in Chicago for free. Beneath the glass, it houses hundreds of exotic and native plant species.
This green space brings the world to Chicago. It boasts several botanical collections, such as the Desert Room (which holds species of cacti and succulents) and the Fern room (which was designed to resemble Chicago’s prehistoric landscape).
You can wander through the 10-acre outdoor garden if you’re after some open space. Here visitors can learn about community-based and organic gardening in the Demonstration Garden or take in the sights, smells, and sounds of the Sensory Garden.
Although admission to the park is free, visitors are advised to make a reservation to ensure entrance to the Conservatory. During the summer months, the free stuff in Chicago can get a little crowded.
Garfield Park Conservatory is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday.
Lincoln Park Zoo
The goal of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is to connect people with nature. They do this by offering free entrance to a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience for the whole family. The zoo is committed to encouraging conservation and animal care in the community of Chicago.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo, you’ll find a team of more than 40 scientists committed to their research, conservation, and rehabilitation roles. Chicago’s zoo is populated by almost 200 species of wildlife from all over the world, cared for by the park’s experts.
Finding free activities in Chicago to keep the kids busy can be difficult. Luckily programs such as the Edible Gardens activities at the Lincoln Park Zoo allow even the youngest family members to get their hands dirty by practising planting and harvesting in the garden.
Grant Park is the perfect way to experience Chicago free of charge. It is a central hub of activity that hosts some of the city’s biggest free events. Besides the free events, you can’t go to Grant Park without visiting the Buckingham fountain.
The Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest in the world, and it was created to resemble one of the magnificent fountains of Versailles. The fountain presents an impressive water, music, and light display every hour.
Both budget-friendly and beautiful, Millennium Park is a highlight on our list of free things to do in downtown Chicago. The park boasts the iconic Cloud Gate statue, affectionately known as “The Bean,” created by British artist Anish Kapoor.
The park hosts many of the free events in Chicago, like dance and drama expositions throughout the year. Locals and tourists frequent the park’s impressive green spaces and enjoy engaging with the interactive public art on display.
Located right in the heart of Chicago, within the greater Grant Park, Millennium Park is hard to miss. It’s open every day from 8 am – 9 pm, and it’s a great spot to end a long day of touring the city.
A Summary of Free Things to Do in Chicago
Touring the city can get expensive. But, there’s an array of things to do for free in Chicago. This city has something for everyone, from a stroll along the Chicago River to exploring the world’s botanical life at the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Hopefully, our list of free stuff to do in Chicago has inspired you to experience this beautiful city, even if you’re travelling on a budget.
For more tips on budget-friendly travelling, check out our guide to saving money on your next road trip.