Free Things To Do in Chicago

Chicago Architecture Center

It’s no doubt Chicago is filled with tons of tasty food, astounding attractions, and breathtaking city views. Thankfully, if you’re planning a budget-friendly vacation, there’s a number of  free things to do in Chicago such as popular outdoor attractions, parks, rooftop lounges and even Chicago museums. If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago but don’t want to blow through your budget, we’ve got you covered with a list of 11 free things to do once everything starts to ease up and go back to “normal”. 

Lincoln Park Zoo 

With the weather warming up, a great place to enjoy the outdoors is the Lincoln Park Zoo.  This 35 acre attraction is a great last minute destination where you can see over 1,000 animals. With no entrance fee, you can stroll right in to see polar bears, big cats, gorillas and many more furry friends!  

Chicago Cultural Center 

Come check out this beautiful historic landmark.  Stretching an entire city block, the country’s top architects used many materials such as rare imported marbles, polished brass, fine hardwoods all to create this wonderland.  The Chicago Cultural Center also offers complimentary art exhibits, music and dance performances.  Don’t forget to check out the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome made with 30,000 pieces of glass.

The Chicago Cultural Center is closed to the public. All events, programs and tours are canceled through May 30.

Garfield Park Conservatory 

Believing in the power of nature, the Garfield Park Conservatory grows exotic plants and acquires new specimens and creates new hybrids for people to enjoy.  It attracts many visitors whether they come to learn more about plants or just come for the beauty.  This city gem has open spaces and a variety of plants and flowers within its multi-acre indoor and outdoor gardens.  Take in the fresh scents of the plants and flowers and enjoy this free admission attraction.  

All public programs and events have been cancelled, postponed or going virtual through May 31. 

Chicago Riverwalk 

Take a stroll down the beautiful Riverwalk bustling with bars, restaurants and infinite views.  Choose from diverse food and beverage options from City Winery, Beatnik on the River and Tiny Tapp while enjoying a cocktail or snack outside on the waterfront.  Visitors can also take in the incredible skyline of the towering architecture that surrounds the river.  Other things to check out along the Riverwalk include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, offering visitors a chance to learn more about the  Chicago River. Not to mention the endless opportunities for Instagrammable photos!

Navy Pier 

Your perfect day starts at Navy Pier.  With many fun things to choose from, visitors can splash in the Polk Bros. Park fountain or play indoors at the Chicago Children’s museum.  Take a stroll through the boardwalk and experience unbeatable views of both the Chicago skyline and the waters of Lake Michigan. Navy Pier is a Streeterville hub full of fun for all ages with no admission fee. 

Museum of Contemporary Photography 

Devoted to photography, the Museum of Contemporary Photography helps people have a better understanding of the artistic, cultural and political roles of photography in our world today.  Founded in 1976 by Columbia College Chicago, this is a great place for people to gather ideas and discuss how  impactful photography can be.  

The museum is currently closed. They will reopen for Temporal: Puerto Rican Resistance at a later date. Please stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, please explore the MoCP’s digital offerings. 

Chicago Architecture Center 

The Chicago Architecture Center inspires people to discover why design matters. This organization is devoted to celebrating and promoting all of Chicago’s architectural buildings and encourages people to participate in the building of vibrant communities.  Visitors can discover world-famous tours, programs, and exciting, new interactive exhibits that reveal the story behind the city’s architectural marvels and breathtaking skyscrapers that surround you everywhere you look.  

Please visit this page for more information about CAC activities cancelled, postponed or otherwise affected, as it includes the latest updates.

LondonHouse Rooftop 

Why settle for one level of views when you can have three?  There’s no better place to find sweeping views overlooking both the Chicago River and the Magnificent Mile while being at eye level with some of the most striking, architecturally significant Chicago buildings.  LondonHouse offers both indoor and outdoor rooftop lounges for people to enjoy from at their tri-level rooftop venue. There’s no better place to spend a summer day than lounging outdoor 21 levels up from the ground floor.  

Headquarters Beercade 

Headquarters Beercade is a vintage arcade bar located in River North.  This traditional bar setting takes it to the next level offering a low key night but with high energy entertainment. Believe it or not all games are free to play, no quarters are needed.  Just grab yourself a drink to keep you quenched throughout the night!  

Signature Room on the 95th 

For a view like no other, take a ride up 95 floors through the John Hancock building and step right in to the Signature Lounge. Here you can get up close and personal with the city with a 360  view of Chicago. Since you made the trip all the way up there, why not grab a drink or two to complete your experience.  

It is with deepest regrets to share The Signature Room at the 95th and The Signature Lounge at the 96th will be closed until further notice. 

Millenium Park 

A Chicago classic without a doubt is Millenium Park! Whether it’s to grab a selfie in front of the infamous Bean, walk around the gardens, or to catch a movie in the park it makes for the perfect place to spend an entire day outdoors.  The art and skyline views is just another perk, so make sure to take it all in!  

In response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Chicago has joined the State of Illinois in issuing a Stay at Home order effective Saturday, March 21st at 5pm CT. In addition, City of Chicago facilities are closed to the public. Staff are prioritizing essential services to protect the health and safety of our residents and employees. As such, we may be delayed in responding to non-essential inquiries and service requests. To stay up to date on the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 response, please visit the City Coronavirus Response Center site.” (City Coronavirus Response Center, 2020)

NOTE: * As these attractions are still slowly opening back up, please make sure to check their  websites for the most up to date information due to COVID-19.*

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