10 free things to do in Chicago today: embrace the Windy City without breaking the bank

Esther Plant


Chicago, a vibrant city nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, offers many attractions for visitors from around the globe. From iconic architecture to world-class museums, there’s something for everyone in the Windy City. However, exploring Chicago doesn’t have to dent your wallet. Here are 10 free things to do in Chicago today to make the most of your visit without breaking the bank:

1. Millennium Park

Kick off your Chicago adventure with a visit to Millennium Park. This sprawling urban oasis is renowned for its iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as “The Bean.” Marvel at its reflective surface and snap some Instagram-worthy photos. Then explore the park’s beautiful gardens, outdoor art installations, and free concerts during the summer months.

The Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "The Bean"

2. Lincoln Park Zoo

Get up close and personal with wildlife at the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest in the United States. Home to a diverse array of animals from around the world, including lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!), this zoo offers free admission year-round, making it an undoubtedly perfect destination if you’re searching for free things to do in Chicago with kids or animal lovers alike.

3. Chicago Cultural Center

Immerse yourself in culture and history at the Chicago Cultural Center, a majestic landmark known for its stunning architecture well worth a visit during your trip. Explore rotating art exhibitions, catch a live performance, or simply admire the intricate Tiffany glass dome that graces the building’s grand Preston Bradley Hall.

4. Lakefront Trail

Lace up your sneakers and hit the Lakefront Trail, a scenic pathway that stretches for 18 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. Whether you’re walking, jogging, or cycling, this picturesque route offers stunning views of the city skyline, sandy beaches, and lush greenery, providing the perfect backdrop for outdoor recreation and relaxation.

5. Garfield Park Conservatory

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in nature at the Garfield Park Conservatory. This botanical oasis boasts thousands of plant species housed within its historic glass houses, offering visitors a serene sanctuary to explore and unwind, free of charge.

Flowering lily pads in the Garfield Park Conservatory

6. Chicago Riverwalk

Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk and soak up the city’s architectural wonders from a different perspective. Take in the sights of iconic skyscrapers, historic bridges, and bustling boat traffic while you meander along this scenic promenade. You’ll see public art installations, waterfront cafes, and vibrant green spaces.

7. Grant Park

Discover Chicago’s “front yard” at Grant Park, a sprawling green space that encompasses iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Fountain and the Museum Campus. Pack a picnic, relax on the grassy lawns, and enjoy stunning views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline against the backdrop of towering skyscrapers.

8. National Museum of Mexican Art

Delve into the cultural heritage of Mexico at the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the vibrant Pilsen neighbourhood. Featuring an extensive collection of folk art, paintings, and sculptures, this museum offers free admission year-round. Stop by and experience a captivating glimpse into Mexican culture and history.

9. Chicago Greeter Tours

Explore the city like a local with Chicago Greeter during your stay, a free guided tour programme offered by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Connect with knowledgeable volunteers who are passionate about sharing their love for the city and uncover hidden gems, off-the-beaten-path neighbourhoods, and insider tips that you won’t find in guidebooks.

Chicago buildings with cars passing by

10. Street Art Tour

Lastly, embark on a self-guided street art tour and discover Chicago’s vibrant urban art scene. From colourful murals adorning building facades to striking graffiti pieces hidden in alleyways, the city is a canvas for local and international artists alike. Grab a map, wander through eclectic neighbourhoods like Pilsen and Wicker Park, and let the streets be your gallery.

In conclusion, there are a wealth of free things to do in Chicago that allow visitors to experience the city’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty without spending a pound. Whether you’re exploring world-class museums, strolling along the lakefront, or admiring iconic landmarks, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the Windy City on a budget. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure in one of America’s most dynamic cities — all without breaking the bank.

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