Best Free Things To Do In Chicago

Chicago can be expensive but fortunately many of the best things to do and see in Chicago are cheap or totally free! Here are my top picks for the best free things to do in Chicago.

10 Best Free Things To Do In Chicago

1) Visit Millennium Park and The Bean

what to do in chicago

If you have seen photos of Chicago on instagram or facebook, chances are you have seen photos of Cloud Gate (nicknamed The Bean), the mirrored sculpture in Millenium Park. Millennium Park is a portion of the Grant Park, and includes Cloud Gate, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Crown Fountain sculpture and Lurie Garden. The Bean is one of the most instaworthy spots in Chicago if you want to take some selfies to remember your trip to Chicago.

2) Maggie Daley Park

If you are traveling with children, check out Maggie Daley Park, a large public park located between Millennium Park and Lake Michigan and connected to Millennium Park by the BP Pedestrian Bridge.  Features include a fieldhouse, climbing wall, an ice-skating ribbon in the winter, mini-golf and several different play areas for kids.

3) Chicago Riverwalk

best things to do chicago travel blog

An alternative to a pricey river cruise is to take a walk along the Chicago Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is one of the best spots in Chicago for people watching and there are also restaurants, shops and places to sit along the way.

4) Hang out at Navy Pier

Update: Navy Pier has temporarily closed to the public starting September 8, 2020 and will reopen spring of 2021.

Navy Pier is free although you have to pay for the attractions and restaurants.  There are fun attractions at Navy Pier including a Ferris wheel, restaurants, shops, an IMAX theatre, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  Navy Pier is also the starting point for various sightseeing tours and cruises.

If visiting in the summer, there are free fireworks at Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday night and select holidays.

5) Explore the Lakefront and Beaches

48 hours in Chicago itinerary

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is an great way to see Chicago and enjoy incredible views. Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is a paved path on a 18-mile-long stretch along Lake Michigan and it is a great spot to people watch and get some exercise.  In the summer and weekends, the lakefront is packed with locals and visitors walking, running and riding bikes.

Most people don’t think of Chicago as a beach destination but Chicago has many beaches along the lake.  The most popular beaches are located downtown (Oak Street and North Avenue) but they are also the busiest.  Two of the best beaches for more of a local feel include Kathy Osterman Beach and Foster Avenue Beach which are both located north of downtown.

6) Lincoln Park

Another free attraction, Lincoln Park lies along the lakefront. Lincoln Park is large but first time visitors should focus on the section adjacent to the Lincoln Park neighborhood which contains the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Theatre on the Lake, a rowing canal, the Chicago History Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool and the North Pond Nature Sanctuary.  The  Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in North America and one of the only zoos in the US with free admission.

7) Window Shop on the Magnificent Mile

Although some of the stores on Michigan Avenue are pricey, it is totally free to window shop. Join the throngs of visitors and locals shopping on Michigan Avenue.

8) Take a Free Personalized Tour with A Chicago Greeter

If you enjoy tours, you can take a free tour with a Chicago Greeter.  This website matches visitors with volunteers for 2-4 hour guided visits of Chicago. Best of all these visits are customized based on your interests.

9) Go to a Festival

There is almost always one or more festivals or events going on each weekend.  Some Chicago festivals are very well known and attract tons of visitors, but there are many festivals and events in Chicago where you will mostly see locals. For great food, music and people watching, check to see if there are any festivals or events going on while you are in town.  Many of the festivals are free including the Chicago Air and Water Show, Taste of Chicago among others.

10) Walk The 606

The 606 is Chicago’s version of The Highline in NYC, an elevated trail goes through 2.7 miles of the city’s northwest side neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square.  It is a bit off the beaten tourist path but it great place to walk, run or bike.  There are several access points so you can get off the trail to explore the various neighborhoods.

There are many more free things to do in Chicago but these are my top free attractions for first time visitors.

Looking for more things to do in Chicago? Check out my other Chicago guides and itineraries:



  1. Chicago is on my bucket list for a long time now, I would like to go there. My favorite part are festivals I would like to attend them there and definitely I would like to do the walk 66 😀

  2. I would love to visit Chicago, It’s always been a city I’ve been drawn to and when I eventually do my USA road trip it will be one of the first places I visit and you’ve written a great list for me to start with. I can just see myself tucking into a pizza pie while sitting at the Riverwalk, listening to some Derick Carter (Chicago house DJ) and taking a wander around the city and I’ll definitely be taking in as many festivals as I can 😀

  3. I need to get myself to Chicago soon! I have friends who live there and an open invitation to visit them anytime! The bean is so iconic, you relate chicago to it, so its a must visit for me. Also, I would love the river walk, it’s the kind of thing I enjoy. Also, Chicago’s lakefront trail looks pretty appealing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.