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Free Stuff To Do In Chicago

Stroll Through A Chicago Neighborhood

Our Top 10 free things to do in Chicago (Tips from two locals to first time visitors in 2021)

Many tourist attractions are centralized in the Loop, but you’ll learn more about Chicago by visiting one of its neighborhoods like Wicker Park.

You can take one of our neighborhood tours, like a tour of Lincoln Park that focuses on its Gangster history. Baseball fans need to check out our Wrigleyville Guide.

If you like to explore new places through their restaurants, take one of our self-guided food tours as a way to learn about the history of and try a few food samples as you go:

For Art And History Lovers

Immerse yourself in culture and knowledge with free admission to the many Chicago museums and galleries.

7. Chicago Cultural Center

This cultural hub is located in one of Chicagos landmark buildings. Take a free tour of the Chicago Cultural Center and check out the art exhibits and the stunning stained-glass domes. The center also hosts free movies, lectures, musical shows and dance performances.

8. Smart Museum

The Smart Museum, named after Esquire magazine founders David and Alfred Smart, is an art museum with a focus on complex issues and diverse ideas. It is part of the University of Chicago and is located on the north edge of the campus in Hyde Park. Admission is always free to the public. The Smart Museum is open Thursdays through Sundays.

9. National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art showcases Mexican art and culture from folk art to modern works. The museum is located in Chicagos Pilsen neighborhood, which is the heart of the citys Mexican community. It is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free for all.

10. DePaul Art Museum

The DePaul Art Museum is located in Lincoln Park on the campus of DePaul University. The museum features a permanent collection of over 3,500 pieces of art and welcomes four to nine temporary exhibitions each year.

11. Oriental Institute Museum

12. Wabash Arts Corridor

13. 16th Street Murals

14. Hyde Park Art Center

15. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

16. Design Museum of Chicago

Rescheduled: St Alphonsus Oktoberfest

Admission: $5 before 5pm, $10 after 5pm.

This German tradition continues for another year in the Windy City.

Grab some cold beer, bratwurst, and pretzels as you enjoy the authentic German bands and culture as the festival season and month of September draws to a close.

UNDETERMINED: Lincoln Park Zoo: Adults Night Out

Tickets: $15 /$20 at the door if tickets remain

Enjoy this night out, away from the kids, as you can visit the animals after hours! Explore the zoo with animal chats, live entertainment, and cash bars scattered throughout. Must be 18+ to attend.

NOTE: Although they have not yet announced 2021 dates for this event, the zoo will be open and you can save money on tickets using a Chicago tourist pass!

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Read A Book At Harold Washington Library

Located in the South Loop, the Harold Washington Library Center is home to a wide range of exhibits and a 385-seat theater. The building, which is the Chicago Public Librarys main branch, opened in 1991 and was designed by Thomas Beeby. It has a grand lobby with marble floors and elaborate ceiling designs, but the real stunner is the Winter Gardenknown as the buildings architectural centerpiecewhich has a 53-foot glass-paneled dome and marble floor. Go to take in the scenery, read one of the more than two million books, or admire the centers public art collection.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodors Chicago Travel Guide

Hit Up Some Of The Seasons Finest Events

10 Free Things to Do in Chicago

Event season certainly isnt as predictable as it once was, but there are still a few fall classics you can count on. From the annual Halloween spectacle that is Arts in the Dark and the family-friendly Chicago Thanksgiving Parade to the cosplay-drenched C2E2 and the drunk-before-noon TBOX Christmas bar crawl, theres something for every kind of reveler.

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Celebrate The Holidays Chicago Style

Its barely November when Chicago decides its ready to get into the holiday spirit which is good, because its already cold!

Here are some of the best ways to celebrate:

  • See the holiday sights: This three-hour holiday walking tour takes you through Millennium Park and other iconic locations in The Loop to see its dazzling Christmas tree and ice-skating rink. Along the way, youll also be enjoying brownies, hot apple cider, and some Chicago classics: pizza and hot dogs!
  • Admire twinkling holiday lights: You know what gets me hyped for Christmas? Heading to Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo! From mid-November through New Years you can visit this dazzling experience on the zoos grounds. Were talking rainbow tunnels, giant trees made out of dazzling lights, and thousands of twinkling holiday cheer everywhere. Youll also be able to snack on some holiday treats and even sip wine as you make your way through the festivities.
  • Shop : Shopping districts like the Magnificent Mile and along State Street are decked out in elaborate light displays and window decorations. The famous Macys windows have a different theme each year which theyve been doing since 1870 and their Walnut Roomthe first-ever restaurant in a department storefeatures an impressively large Christmas tree.

Travel Tip: Make sure to take public transportation during the holidays you might catch one of the CTAs special Santa-driven trains and festive buses!

Catch A Performance Of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra

As the Chicago Symphony Orchestra edges its way toward 13 decades of captivating performances, it solidifies its reputation as one of the worlds best.

With brass, percussion, string, and woodwind instruments, coordinated by renowned Italian conductor, Riccardo Muti, its quite literally music to our ears.

Performances regularly take place at the Symphony Center in the Loop area.

Also Check: What Are The Dates For The Taste Of Chicago 2021

Tour Two Brothers And Lagunitas Breweries

There are plenty of options if you want a behind-the-scenes look at some of Chicagos most talked-about breweries. Take a trip to Two Brothers Brewery in Warrenville for a 45-minute free tour at select times on Saturdays and Sundaysno reservation required. Lagunitas Brewing Company, the citys largest brewery, gives free tours at their Douglas Park location, with tasting tours offered at various times Monday through Friday, and hourly tours on the weekends. Revolution Brewings Kedzie Production Brewery offers tours of their 60-barrel brewhouse on Wednesdays through Saturdays. Its tours often reach capacity on weekends, so be sure to get there early to ensure a spot.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodors Chicago Travel Guide

Go On The Ultimate Chicago Outdoor Mural Crawl

BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO | 10 Fun Free Things to Do in Chicago During Winter

One thing the pandemic cant stop is the citys thriving street art scene, which can best be enjoyed IRL via an urban mural crawl. Start your excursion in Pilsen, where dozens of vibrant works turn the neighborhoods streets and alleys into an outdoor feast for the senses. Trackdown standouts like the Hector Duarte Studio at 1900 W. Cullerton before making your way to Logan Square to marvel at the famous Robin Williams mural outside Concord Music Hall and the nearby Greetings From Chicago mural at 2226 N. Milwaukee. Finish the crawl with a trip up to Rogers Park, where you can see a mile-long stretch of wall art along the Red Line path as well as the brightly colored seawall of murals off the lake at Tobey Prinz Beach Park.

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Learn About Latin Culture At The National Museum Of Mexican Art

Nestled within Chicagos Pilsen neighborhood, this free museum provides an exciting, educational insight into Mexican and Latin American culture.

With a collection covering some 9,000 pieces of art spanning from ancient Mexico to present modern times, the National Museum of Mexican Art proudly showcases one of the countrys largest Mexican art collections.

Celebrate The Season At Christkindlmarket

This festive German marketplace is the perfect location to soak up some holiday spirit. Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, the Chicago version of the festival dates back to 1996. From November through December, visitors can admire the handmade crafts , take pictures by the giant Christmas tree in Daley Plaza, watch the lantern parade on St. Martins Day, and listen to live music.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodors Chicago Travel Guide

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Take A Chicago Greeter Neighborhood Tour

Chicago has a reputation for Midwestern politeness, and the Chicago Greeter neighborhood tours are a perfect example of that. These operate in over 25 districts local guides give you a complete rundown of the neighborhoods history, culture, and unique gastronomy. The guides are volunteers who genuinely want to show the best of their neighborhoods.

Tours are completely free, but you must make a reservation 10 business days in advance on Chicago Greeters website. Youll be able to choose the neighborhood you want to see tours takes between 2 and 4 hours.

Chicago Air & Water Show

Favorite Free Things to Do in Chicago with Kids

To round the whole thing off, heres another big event that the city lays on for free.

The Chicago Air & Water Show goes back to 1959 and remains the citys second favourite festival, as well as the largest free show of its kind in the United States.

Across a weekend in mid-August more than two million people line Lake Michigan, particularly the North Avenue Beach, for an exhibition of supersonic jets, formation flying, sky-diving and skywriting.

These are normally Army and Air Force groups, like the Golden Knights parachute team and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Theres no better time to visit 360 Chicago, the Skydeck or take a cruise on the lake, while shore-side restaurants and bars put on viewing parties, though tickets will sell out months in advance.

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Visit The Lincoln Park Zoo

With free admission every day of the year, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a beloved Chicago institution. Theres a lot to see in the 35-acre park, so on a nice day, you can see it all by strolling from the bear habitat on the northern end, to the swan pond, to the nature boardwalk, stopping to spot giraffes, jaguars, gorillas, and pythons along the way. Be sure to visit in the winter months as well, when the Lincoln Park Zoo hosts ZooLights in the evenings . While you can still spot some animals throughout the park, the real spectacle is the collection of more than two million lights that are part of this 20-year tradition.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodors Chicago Travel Guide

Order A Slice At Vito & Nicks Pizzeria

Contrary to Chicagos deep-dish pizza reputation, Vito & Nicks Pizzeria has been dishing up Cracker Thin Crust Pizza since the 1950s, and theyve yet put a foot wrong.

A visit to this adored eaterie and youll feel like youve stepped back in time into an old-world Chicago dive restaurant.

This isnt luxury nor sophistication, its just darn good pizza.

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Check Out The Hyde Park Art Center

The Hyde Park Art Center is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of Chicagos brightest creative minds. It commits itself to showcasing diverse voices and challenging artistic norms with its groundbreaking exhibitions. The center hosts a plethora of events that are free to the public and feature Black artists, especially those from the neighborhood.

The center has sporadic hours, which you can check here.

Catch A Summer Street Festival

Fun Free Things To Do In Chicago

Chicago becomes the land of festivals in the summertime. Each neighborhood has its own lineup, on a wide variety of themes. The citys diversity shines at these festivals, as many of them showcase music, food, and art from different countries and cultural backgrounds.

A full schedule of Chicagos free street festivals can be found here. Even if you visit during the spring, fall, or winter, you can still find a festival somewhere in the city.

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Window Shop On The Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile , is an upscale section of Michigan Avenue, running from Oak Street to the Chicago River. Although some of the stores on Michigan Avenue are pricey, it is totally free to window shop. Landmarks on the Mag Mile include the 360 Observation Deck, the historic Chicago Water Tower and the Tribune Tower.

Feel The Thrills Of Indoor Skydiving

If youve always dreamed of skydiving but could never muster up the courage to freefall from a plane, iFLY Chicago has the perfect solution.

Nestled in Chicago-Lincoln Park, this adrenaline-pumping activity delivers that wind-in-your-face feeling without all the nerves.

Its significantly cheaper than traditional skydiving, and the ideal stepping stone to the real thing.

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Embrace Your Inner Homer Simpson On An Original Donut Walking Tour

Chicagoans have long adored the donut. Taste the very best the city has to offer with a dedicated desert tour, stopping into a hand-picked selection of the Chicago Loops top donut shops.

The tastings are all included , while vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free options are also available.

For anyone with a sweet tooth, this tour should headline your bucket list of things to do in Chicago.

Be Dazzled By Zoolights

35 Free Things To Do In Chicago

More than one million lights make up the mesmerizing displays at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. This years family-friendly holiday event, set in the citys historic lakefront zoo, include brand new light shows, an 18-foot tree, and live entertainment. Tickets are $5 online, but admission is free every Monday and Tuesday in November and December. ZooLights begins on Nov. 19.

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Park It At A Local Drive

One positive byproduct of this annoyingly resilient pandemic has been the re-emergence of the drive-in theater, with al fresco flicks screening on a regular basis at ChiTown Movies in Pilsen. And if youre masked and vaxxed, local movie theatres like the historic Music Box Theatre should also not be overlooked. Ever.

More Event This Month

Chicago Greek Festival: Greektoberfest takes over Lincoln Square for Greek cuisine, live music, and more.

St. Benedicts Oktoberfest : Celebrate all things Germany at the beloved Oktoberfest in North Center, featuring carnival rides, food, drink, music, games, and more.

WingOut Chicago : A Chicago wing block party? You heard it here first. Enjoy all-you-can-eat wings from various city vendors outside St. Michaels in Old Town.

Lincoln Square Apple Fest : Fall food, drinks, and family fun await in Lincoln Square for the 34th annual Apple Fest.

The Publicans Oktoberfest Dinners: Head to The Publican in the West Loop for an eight-course, family-style Oktoberfest dinner featuring Bavarian pretzels, housemade sausage, pork schnitzel, and more.

Lincoln Park Wine Fest: Theres no better place to an afternoon of wine tasting than scenic Jonquil Park with food vendors, entertainment, and more.

Haunted Dining in the Dark: Surprise your senses and test your taste buds at Hubbard Inn in River North during a one-of-a-kind dining experience with a haunted twist.

Maxwell Street Market: Homemade crafts, live music, food, drinks, and fun make up this specialty outdoor market on Maxwell Street in the South Loop.

South Side Pie Challenge: Bakers and pie fanatics should head to Nichols Park for an in-person pie challenge full of treats and surprises.

Bronzeville Art District Art Tour : Take a self-guided walking tour of Bronzevilles rich art scene during this open gallery night.

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