This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks! As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.
The Windy City!
Chicago is such a great city! There is SO much to do there and there is a lot that you can do for FREE!
Before you travel request a FREE Chicago Visitor’s Guide so you can plan what you want to do.
I recommend staying in the downtown area so that you are close to all that there is to do. If you are driving, let it be known that parking in downtown Chicago is EXPENSIVE! As much as $60 per night. Some hotels, like the
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on Water Street, may offer deals with FREE Parking that can save you big bucks.
Keep in mind this is a BIG CITY and everything has a BIG PRICE to match. So, you might spend a little more on the lodging and food. Therefore you will want to take advantage of these FREE activities and offers in Chicago, Illinois.
1 ► FREE Zoo & Conservatory in Chicago
The Lincoln Park Zoo is just a short ride (car, train or cab) north of downtown Chicago. Admission is FREE and they are open every day of the year, even holidays. This is a sizable zoo with plenty of animals including bears, ostriches, zebras, camels, monkeys, seals, birds, reptiles and more!
There is a children’s zoo as well as a petting zoo with farm animals within Lincoln Park Zoo. The zoo also hosts awesome feeding and training demonstrations that you can attend for FREE!
Just outside of the zoo is the Lincoln Park Conservatory, also FREE. This is a huge tropical greenhouse that nutures plants for the parks throughout Chicago. No matter the time of year, Lincoln Park Conservatory is always green and lush. Even when it’s below zero in the Windy City!
2 ► FREE Parks in Chicago, Illinois
I love that Chicago’s lakefront is lined with parks! My favorite is Grant Park featuring a huge expanse of green space with incredible views of Lake Michigan. The park contains performance venues, gardens, art work, fountains, sporting, and harbor facilities. It hosts public gatherings, and several large annual events.
Within Grant Park you will find the following FREE Attractions:
- Buckingham Fountain (photo below) – one of the largest fountains in the world with water, light and sound displays
- Millennium Park (northwest corner of Grant Park)
- Jay Pritzker Pavilion
- The Crown Fountain
- The Lurie Gardens
- Cloud Gate – a.k.a. The Bean (photo below) – one of Chicago’s most recognizable sculptures and a great place for a FREE photo opp
- The Petrillo Music Shell
- The Bowman and the Spearman – Large Bronze Statues
- Hutchinson Field with baseball diamonds
- Walking Trails
- Park Benches
- A million places to relax and enjoy lunch
Other notable FREE parks in Chicago Downtown area –
- Lincoln Park – including Lincoln Park Zoo (see above) and beaches!
- Jackson Park – golf, Japanese styled Osaka Garden, extensive sporting facilities
- 12th Street Beach
- Burnham Park – bird and nature sanctuaries, skate park
FREE Chicago Parks Map
Many of the parks offer FREE Activities including FREE Movie Nights, FREE Sporting Events/Activities, FREE Nature Activities and FREE Picnic Facilities/Shelters.
3 ► FREE Navy Pier – Chicago
Historic Navy Pier is Chicago’s lakefront playground and admission is FREE! Navy Pier is always bustling with energy and excitement! Although many of the attractions do charge a fee there is still quite a bit you can do for FREE on Navy Pier.
- FREE Fireworks Display – seasonally
- FREE Views – you can actually get some great views of the Chicago skyline from the far end of the pier as well as incredible views of Lake Michigan – take a FREE Stroll along the Pier
- FREE Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows – features 150 stained glass windows
- FREE Entertainment – shows, concerts and special events for all ages featuring jugglers, magicians, marching bands, as well as cultural groups performing music and dance from around the globe
- FREE Photo Kiosk – take an instant pic of yourself and email to anyone – FUN! Several locations on the pier
- FREE Trolley – between State Street and Navy Pier (seasonal) FREE Trolley Route Map
- FREE Samples – be sure to stop by Ben & Jerry’s for FREE Ice Cream Samples, Garrett’s for FREE Popcorn Samples and FREE cinnamon almond samples at the cart just outside the food court.
- FREE Light Shows – at McDonald’s The Future
- FREE Food at Restaurants – see below
My favorite thing to do here is people watch! Sit on a bench and just take it all in. It doesn’t cost a dime. It’s FREE!
4 ► FREE Museums in Chicago
Although many of the large museums charge admission there are quite a few that are FREE. Be sure to check out some of these FREE Museums when you are in town.
- Federal Reserve Money Museum (above) – interactive + see $1,000,000!
- The Oriental Institute Museum – history, art, and archaeology of the ancient Near East
- Museum of Contemporary Photography – Columbia College Chicago
- National Museum of Mexican Art – authentic Mexican art and culture
- Smart Museum of Art – academic art museum – University of Chicago
- City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower – showcasing the work of local photographers and artists
- Chicago Architecture Foundation (below) – Chicago Model City
- Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows – Navy Pier
FREE viewing of public sculptures and art in the City of Chicago
5 ► FREE Walks in Chicago
Plus, there is a combined 18+ miles of lake front trails that you can enjoy throughout the many parks. It’s called the Chicago Lakefront Trail or LFT. This trail is also perfect for runners and bicyclists.
Take advantage of a FREE Walking Tour from The Chicago Greeter Program. Some tours must be reserved 10 days in advance. Let a friendly, knowledgeable local give you an insider’s orientation to Chicago!
In addition, you can create your own FREE architectural or cultural tour through the inner city areas. You can find self guided tours in many travel books or just Google it!
6 ► FREE Concerts & Entertainment in Chicago
- Jay Pritzker Pavilion (photo below) – FREE Outdoor Concerts and Performances
- The Shakespeare Project of Chicago – FREE theatrical readings (October through April) of William Shakespeare and other classic dramatists
- Chicago Cultural Center – FREE music, dance and theater events, films, lectures, art exhibitions and family events – Schedule
In addition, many of the hotels, restaurants and shopping centers offer FREE entertainment and music. For example, the Drake Hotel on Michigan Ave. hosts a Jazz series that is FREE.
7 ► FREE Magnificent Mile
You have to spend a little time on Chicago’s iconic, world-renowned Magnificent Mile! Just because it’s a shopping mecca doesn’t mean you have to spend any money. You can window shop :) That’s what I did.
You can view some of Chicago’s tallest buildings and landmarks along the Magnificent Mile for FREE, including Trump Tower, the Chicago Water Tower and the John Hancock Building. Oprah also has a place in Water Tower Place!
If you are hungry while on the Magnificent Mile I have a suggestion for you. You are already going to spend some money of food so eat in the John Hancock building’s The Signature Room at the 95th (floor) or The Signature Lounge (96th floor). The menu is not cheap in the restaurant, but the lounge isn’t too over the top. Dining here you can avoid the $18+ per person fee to go to the observation deck and enjoy the view for FREE! Buy a $20 sandwich with a FREE view! Don’t forget to ask for a table next to the window. The FREE view (above) is INCREDIBLE!
Check out the Hershey Store on Michigan Ave too – kids LOVE it and it’s FREE to get in!
By the Chicago Tribune Building (South End) there is a FREE Photo Kiosk too! Kiosks are also at Navy Pier.
8 ► FREE Eats in Chicago, Illinois
- California Pizza Kitchen (Shops at Northbridge – Michigan Ave.) – Sign up for Pizza Dough and get a FREE Small Plate
- Chili’s (State St.) – FREE Chips & Queso with purchase of any entree
- Corner Bakery Cafe – FREE Cookie when You Sign up for the Corner eCafe
- Dunkin’ Donuts – FREE Medium Drink when you register for DD Perks
- Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant – FREE milk duds for the ladies
- Maggiano’s Little Italy (Grand Ave.) – FREE $10 OFF your next visit with E-Club registration
- Orange Julius (Wabash Ave.) – BOGO FREE when you sign up for the Julius League
- Pinkberry (River North, Old Town) – FREE Small Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt when you register for Pinkcard
- Pizza Hut – FREE Stuffed Pizza Rollers with e-mail sign up
- SmashBurger – BOGO FREE Burger when you join the Smash Club
- TGI Friday’s (Erie St. @ Michigan Ave.) – FREE Appetizer or Dessert when you register for Give Me More Stripes
As with any other tourist are or large city, be on the look out for tourism brochure stands and magazines. They are typically great places to find FREE coupons for restaurants and local attractions. Quite often you can find Buy One, Get One FREE coupons. You’ll also ALWAYS find FREE maps close by.
Get blown away by all the FREE Activities in the Windy City!
► FREE Chicago Smartphone Apps
PLUS check Groupon for 2-for-1 show tickets and 2-for-1 and discounted dining certificates.
See what’s available on Groupon-Chicago ► Find Today’s Daily Deal on the Best in Chicago!
► FREE Illinois Travel Guide + FREE Illinois Map
► FREE Travel Stuff
► FREE Travel Apps for iPhone
We may earn a commission from affiliate links in this post.