If you are looking for free things to do in Chicago – check out some of the free attractions in the Chicago area – First, head to downtown Chicago to see Chicago’s Navy Pier, one of the great Chicago attractions not to be missed. This 50-acre playground offers myriad attractions, including a Ferris wheel, a winter ice-skating rink, and two children’s museums. Although most of the indoor attractions charge a fee, some offer free admission, including the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Many people enjoy walking around the pier, which doesn’t cost a thing. Also, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors can watch a free fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday night.
Then make your way to downtown Chicago to the Harold Washington Library. As one of the largest public libraries in the world, the Harold Washington Library encompasses close to a million square feet filling a whole city block and houses more than 13 million published works. Enjoy a look at the architecture — giant owls perch from the roof, Roman goddess of grain Ceres on the facade, the sunny 9th floor Winter Garden — or explore the art collection of over 50 artists, both local and internationally known, displayed throughout the halls and reading rooms.
Then head down to Grant Park so see a free water display every hour at the Buckingham Fountain from mid-April to mid-October. The best time to go is between dusk and 10 p.m., when the fountain’s 133 spouting jets are accompanied by a music and light display.
Then make your way to the Chicago Cultural Center, a renowned Chicago historical landmark that hosts hundreds of free programs year-round. The building has two unbelievable stained-glass domes, which you can see on your own or on a free building tour. The many halls regularly hosts free events, from weekly classical music concerts to blues, jazz and more. Also look on the daily Chicago Cultural Center schedule for free dance performances, film screenings, seminars and theater events.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo, head to the underwater viewing area to catch a glimpse of sea lions; see King, the first black rhino to be born at the zoo in 25 years; or take a guided tour of the hundreds of species on view. Admission to the zoo is free seven days a week.
Millennium Park incorporates art, music, architecture, and landscape design. This 24.5-acre public space in downtown Chicago boasts the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion for outdoor concerts; the Crown Fountain, an interactive video sculpture made up of 50-foot glass-block towers bookending a shallow reflecting pool; and British artist Anish Kapoor’s elliptical arch, Cloud Gate—or the Bean, as Chicagoans call it—which reflects and distorts the skyline. Free programs, such as Music Without Borders and Made in Chicago: Home Cooked Jazz, are held in the park throughout the year. From May to October, Millennium Park greeters offer free 45-minute tours of the art and architecture within the park, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily, starting at the Welcome Center.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring people to discover why design matters. In addition to their popular architecture river boat cruises and docent-led tours, CAF pursues this mission through free exhibitions, special events and youth/adult education programs. Visit their Loop headquarters to see their impressive 3D model of the city, try to catch a lunchtime seminar, or plan your trip around their marquee event Open House Chicago each September.
The Chicago Greeter program pairs knowledgeable locals with Chicago visitors for an informal, insider’s orientation of the city and its many, vibrant neighborhoods. Through customized, guided walks you can sightsee all across the city based on interest topics of your choice, from public art and architecture to food to films.
Chicago has hundreds of free public parks that cover over 8,000 acres of Chicago. Many feature wildlife havens like Northerly Island and North Pond Nature Sanctuary; incredible landscape designs such as Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool and Jackson Park’s Osaka Garden; and athletic facilities such as the kayak boat house in Ping Tom Memorial Park. Hit the Lakefront Trail for some free outdoor recreation with a view or spend the day at one of the free public beaches, open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The Newberry Library contains more than 1.5 million published works and often features special exhibitions.