Chicago is one of the best cities in the world and even know I’m a Chicago resident, I know I’m not being biased. Chicago is full of great things to see and do regardless of the time of year. It’s a beautiful city with a great vibe and you can find yourself finding something new everywhere you go.
One of the great things about Chicago is that you can still really enjoy yourself without spending tons of money to see some really cool things. So, I’ve put together a list of some really great free and cheap things you can see and do in Chicago all while keeping on a budget.
1. Millennium Park
One of my favorite and most relaxing places I like to go summer or winter is Millennium Park. Grab a coffee and enjoy people watching, strolling the gardens, listening to FREE music in the summer, and watching ice skaters in the winter. It’s a must see place in the city.
2. Free Music in the Park
Beginning in June and throughout the summer, Millennium Park offers FREE classical music concerts featuring the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy the show.
3. Ice Skating in the Park
November through March grab your ice skates and enjoy FREE skating in the park. Out of town or don’t have skates, you can rent a pair for $10!
4. Caroling at Cloud Gate
Get into the holiday spirit and enjoy listening to carolers on Friday nights at 6pm from late November to late December.
One of the things that Chicago is known for is the lakefront. Summer or winter you can enjoy access to the lakefront path and beaches. Here’s a list of all the beaches in Chicago. To see beautiful views of the city start at Navy Pier and walk to Oak Street Beach.
6. Art Institute Chicago
If you are an Illinois resident you can visit the Art Institute for FREE the 1st and 2nd Wednesday of every month.
7. Museum of Contemporary Art
For Illinois residents this museum is FREE on Tuesdays. If you can’t make it on a Tuesday, the museum only asks for a suggested donation of $12.
8. Free Museum Days
If you’re an Illinois resident plan your Chicago visit around some of the coming up FREE Museum Days at some of the most popular museums in Chicago. Some of the museums include The Shedd Aquarium, The Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science and Industry, and Chicago History Museum.
9. Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is FREE everyday and open 365 days a year. With over 1,200 animals this zoo will not disappoint and is located right in the middle of the beautiful Lincoln Park.
10. Zoo Lights
Starting in late November through the beginning January plan a night to go to Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Grab a hot chocolate and enjoy the dazzling light displays.
11. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
For Illinois residents enjoy the Nature Museum in Lincoln Park for FREE on Thursdays. If you can’t make the free day, it’s only $9 for a ticket any other time.
12. Navy Pier
There’s so much to see and do at Navy Pier, the pier is FREE to enter, so it’s a great place to people watch, view the sites, and watch the boats. You can browse shops, enjoy great attractions for the whole family, visit the stained glass windows, and even see a movie in IMAX. During the summer you can enjoy fireworks at 9:30pm on Wednesdays and 10:15pm on Saturdays.
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13. Chicago Children’s Museum
Great fun for the whole family at the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, especially with FREE admission on the first Sunday of each month and on Thursday evenings from 5pm to 8pm.
14. The Neighborhoods
One of my things about Chicago is visiting the neighborhoods, they are all so different and are great for exploring. My favorite neighborhoods are Wicker Park (great for boutique shopping), Lincoln Square (which has a German feel, with great restaurants and cobbled streets), and Lincoln Park ( at Armitage and Halsted, for chic boutique shopping and a cozy feel.)
15. Get a Free Neighborhood Tour
Sign up to get a FREE tour of one of 25 neighborhoods in Chicago. You can learn everything from riding the L to the learning the history of a neighborhood. Up to 6 people can join the tour.
Take the water taxi and head to Chinatown. This is such a fun and cheap activity to do on a summer day while your visiting. You can catch the water taxi at Navy Pier, Trump Tower, and Union Station. Once you’re there try some great chinese at Lao Sze Chuan and don’t forget to try a bubble tea!
18. Free Wine Tasting
Many places all over the city do wine tastings but this little spot Vino 100 in the Bucktown neighborhood does FREE wine tastings after 5pm and starting at Noon on Saturday until the bottles run out.
19. Movies in the Park
If you are in Chicago for a few days during the summer you must make the time to do Movies in the Park, it’s always FREE to go and you can enjoy some great classic movies from all eras while enjoying summer nights in Chicago.
20. Shakespeare Project of Chicago
Enjoy your favorite Shakespeare performances in four locations around the city for FREE. Join their mailing list to find out when the next performance will be.
21. Cheap Comedy
If you are interested in seeing some inexpensive comedy in Chicago. I’ve got two places that are worth checking out. The first is The Playground Theater on the north side which offers shows Tuesday – Saturday from $5 to $10 depending on the show. Or head to Gorilla Tango Theatre for $2 improv on Tuesday nights.
During the summer and into the fall you can usually find a festival to go to every weekend in Chicago, from the Rib Fest on Lincoln Ave to the Apple Fest in Lincoln Square. It’s a great way to explore the neighborhoods and check out the best restaurants and bars.
23. Christkindlmarket Chicago
From late November to Christmas Eve one of the best holiday FREE events to go to is the Christkindlmarket at the Daley Plaza. Wrap up warm, get some hot apple cider and enjoy some great German food and shop local vendors for Holiday goodies.
24. Michigan Avenue
Of course Michigan Avenue is great for shopping but it’s also a beautiful 1.5 mile walk from Millennium Park to Water Tower, where you can check out the FREE Water Tower Museum. Grab a coffee along the way and check out the sites of the city. At night or when it’s snowing you can grab a drink a 676 restaurant and enjoy the lights on Michigan Avenue.
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25. Macy’s on State Street
Ok it’s not Marshall Fields anymore but it’s a great landmark to visit, especially during the holidays. You can walk around the outside of the beautiful building to look at the famous holiday window displays or browse the 1st and 6th floors to see all the holiday goodies.
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