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10 Free Things to Do in Chicago, Illinois

Whether you’re in the Windy City for the day, the week, or you even live there, chances are you haven’t realized how many great things there are to do for free. Vacations and day trips can be expensive in the city, especially if you’re a newbie with little knowledge of where to get the best deals. Today we’re talking about the top 10 free things you can do in Chicago and why you should do them.

Tour the City With a Chicago Greeter

touring the city

Did you know you can get a tour of the city with a Chicago Greeter? If you’re interested in the city’s culture, architecture or history, this is definitely a must. You’ll find spots you’d never even dreamed existed when you take a trip through the city with a knowledgeable local.

Tours are absolutely free (although tipping your greeter for their time would be much appreciated), and they’ll take you anywhere you want to see – or give you the great tour and teach you a thing or two about this glorious city on their own favorite route!

Grab your tour the whole year round, come rain or shine. Just make sure you book in advance so you don’t miss out on your preferred date!

Book your very own Chicago Greeter here. They’re back up and running right now, with social distancing rules applying to every tour for your safety.

Find a Slice of Tropical Heaven in Garfield Park Conservatory

If you’re looking to get away from the cityscape, and love a bit of greenery, the Garfield Park Conservatory is completely free, which is pretty impressive given that it’s home to 2 acres of indoor gardens, as well as an astounding 12 acres of outdoor gardens that change with the seasons.

This is the perfect spot for a little peace and quiet amongst the hustle and bustle of the big city, and you’ll love the exotic, tropical feel that the conservatory exudes.

The conservatory often puts on events and free programs for kids and teens to enjoy too, so there’s plenty to get to grips with, even if you’re there with your littles. The conservatory also has revolving themes throughout the year, with exhibits changing throughout the months to offer something new each time you visit.

Want to find out more information? Check out their website here for all the details.

Covid tip: the indoor conservatory is currently closed until further notice, but the 12 acres of outdoor greenery has begun to open in phases, meaning there’s still plenty to see.

Roam Through the Greenery of Chicago ‘s Botanic Garden


If there’s just not enough space for you at Garfiled Park Conservatory, you may fancy a trip to Chicago’s Botanic Garden instead. With over 26 gardens to wander through, over 385 acres of land, you can get lost in a paradise just outside the city walls.

There’s plenty to see and do for kids and adults alike, with the Model Railroad Garden and the Nature Play Garden being a favorite amongst kids, and the Rose Garden and Waterfall Garden being hits for adults. With so much choice though, you’re bound to while away a few hours just taking it all in and exploring the stunning nature that’s cultivated here so lovingly.

Not up to walking through 385 acres of land, or got kids whose legs get tired easily? The garden offers a tram service that’ll take you on a sweeping tour of the landscape so you don’t miss out on all the fun.

Find out everything you need to know about the garden here.

Whilst the Botanic Garden is open again for visitors, it’s mandatory to make a reservation before you head there, so don’t forget to snap up your spot to avoid disappointment.

Discover the Animals at Lincoln Park Zoo

With over 200 unique species of animal, and over 2,000 plants in this 49-acre space, there’s plenty to see and do at Lincoln Park Zoo. Even better, it’s completely free to enter and roam around at your own pace.

This slice of nature deep in an urban jungle is a surprising and intriguing spot to visit, especially with youngsters by your side. Discover lions, gorillas and rhinoceroses that reside here (amongst many, many others), and learn how the zookeepers here at the zoo make the animals lives not only safer, but how they help to keep their animal instincts alive and intact.

The zoo is open 365 days a year between 10am and 5pm, so you’ll never miss your chance. During the Covid outbreak, reservations are a must, so do plan your trip wisely and book your tickets in advance so you don’t miss out!

Discover more about the zoo here!

Take a Stroll Around Chicago’s Riverwalk

chicago river walk

Another totally free activity in the heart of Chicago, the Riverwalk is a vast canyon of urban skyline that’ll keep you in awe throughout your stay.

With 6 coves found at each intersection, you can join the Riverwalk at any point and drop by all of its fantastic districts that have their own set of activities. There’s The Riverbank, The Jetty, The Water Plaza, The Cove, The Marina and The River Theater to choose from – and you’ll discover a completely new vibe and feel to each one of them. For adults with littles tagging along, we’d suggest heading to The Water Plaza for the most fun!

Why’s the Riverwalk so cool? Because the landscape is a stunning mixture of urban skyscrapers, and the long train of water known as the Lawrence River Divide, where you’ll catch boats passing throughout the day. There are so many cafes and restaurants to choose from as you wander too, that you’re more than likely to find a spot where you can sit and people watch for hours.

Head to Millennium Park

the bean millenium park

Head to one of the most famous free spots in Chicago to snap a selfie with The Bean, the giant mirrored sculpture created by British artist Anish Kapoor. We know you’ve seen it on photos everywhere, but to see it with your own eyes is more spectacular. You won’t believe its actual size!

Millennium Park is home to performing arts throughout the year, and capturing a glimpse of a show would be awe-inspiring to say the least. This public park is popular, and spans a generous 24 and a half acres of space to get lost in. With plenty of spots to uncover, you can spend plenty of time nosing around and discovering the unique sides of Chicago. There’s even the Crown Fountain, where you’ll see the faces of Chicago’s residents in full view, with a stunning water fountain erupting from the images giving an optical illusion of water coming out of the residents’ mouths. It’s a sight to behold.

One more tip: in winter, you’ll find a FREE ice rink in the park – as long as you bring your own skates, you’re more than welcome to hop on and show off your skills!

See a Spectacular Show at the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain

The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is one of the largest in the world, and one of the finest fountains in North America. If you fancy seeing a spectacular water show that runs for a whole 20 minutes, this is the place to be. Once an hour, the Buckingham Fountain produces a whole song and dance with its incredible water jets, and it’s a sight to see for sure.

For the best water shows, going just before or just after sundown makes the dancing water even more beautiful – so don’t miss out on this absolute treat!

Take a Hike or Take a Bike Along the Lakefront Trail

A popular spot for residents of Chicago, the Lakefront Trail is a whopping 18 mile straight with a perfect view over the lake and cityscape of the Windy City itself.

Of course, being a public space, this is a completely free trail, where you can run, walk, bike, or just sit and watch the world go by. It’s stunning during good weather, and certainly not one to miss if you need to get your steps in for the day or simply want a more peaceful alternative to the busy Chicago streets.

Take a Dip at Ohio Street Beach

Chicago with beach

Yes, you heard correctly, there’s a beach in downtown Chicago that’s totally free to use, where you can cool off in that blisteringly hot summer sunshine.

The beach is accessible for all, as it has a walkway leading right up to the sand’s edge. Plus, there are often lifeguards on guard for your safety. Always make sure you follow the rules of the beach; don’t swim when there’s no lifeguard, and don’t leave your trash behind. You should know that dogs aren’t allowed on the beach either, making it a clean and safe environment for everyone.

Window Shop Down Magnificent Mile

Our final free activity in Chicago is a little bit of a cheeky one given just how tempting it is to head into any of the shops that line Magnificent Mile, but the giveaway is in the name. It would be remiss to miss out on taking in the flagship stores on this luxurious shopping street.

Wander through impressive architecture and take in the stunning views that surround you. You could even stop at one of its many restaurants that line the Mile, rest your feet and decide whether you really need to spend that amount of money on that stunning sweater you just laid eyes on.

With so many museums and exhibition centers still being shut due to the Covid-19 outbreak, this list of 10 free things to do in Chicago looks a little different that we’d imagined. That’s no bother, because there’s still plenty of free activities to sink your teeth into in the Windy City, and we can definitely update this list once the museum and exhibitions are open again. For now, enjoy your trip to Chicago, and don’t forget to stay safe and wear your face mask in all public areas.

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