Chicago, like most big cities, has an overabundance of pricey tourist attractions. After booking those flights to Chicago, we’re sure you’re looking for some affordable attractions to put on that agenda of yours. That’s where we come in! Did you know that Chicago has a long list of year-round freebies? Put on a pair of comfy shoes and check out some of Chicago’s free perks.
Listen and Watch at Historic Navy Pier
While most of Navy Pier’s attractions have hefty admission fees, there are a few free gems. The Miller Lite Beer Garden offers live summer music on Wednesdays and Sundays. Better yet, don’t wait for New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July to view fireworks. Navy Pier lights up the summer skyline on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Shhh… a well-kept secret is the Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass where you can view an assortment of Tiffany glass windows.
Attend Chicago’s Festival Season
If you happened to book flights to Chicago in the summer season, you’re in for a treat! We recommend the Chicago Air & Water Show (spring), the Chicago Blues Festival (Summer), or the Chicago SummerDance. Here for the fall or winter? Check out Chicago’s calendar of events that has a long list of top-notch free festivals like the Chicago Jazz Festival (Fall) or the Chicago World Music Festival (Fall)!
Visit Millennium Park and Participate in a Class or Listen to a Concert
Have you heard of the “The Bean?” It’s that shiny stainless steel structure that distorts reflections of the nearby skyline. If you’re admiring this contemporary piece of art, don’t forget the rest of the park.
Music lovers can attend the Millennium Park Summer Music Series and/or the Grant Park Music Festival concerts. Gardeners should scurry over to the southeast corner (Lurie Garden) for tours, lectures, and hands-on workshops. Fitness buffs can jump into a free workout class on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Art enthusiasts can meander through the outdoor Boeing Galleries. Before leaving park take off your shoes and splash in the Crown Fountain.
Related: Need some more affordable attractions to add to your Chi-Town visit? Check out our list of thrift shops in Chicago!
Step Inside the Chicago Cultural Center
When the weather conditions don’t cooperate, the Chicago Cultural Center is a sure bet for free indoors activities. Check the website calendar for music, dance, theater, film, lecture, and art listings.
Head Indoors to these Unique Exhibits
If you’re an Illinois resident, you’re in luck. You’re eligible for free visits to the major museums on designated days. Out-of-towners should consider smaller places that don’t charge admission. They’re free, but encourage donations. Here’s a sampling:
The Newberry — This independent research library has tours of its 19th century building, genealogy orientations, lectures and special events.
City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower — If you’re walking along the Magnificent Mile visit this landmark and take a look at the revolving art show.
Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum — Who doesn’t want to learn more about money?
Museum of Contemporary Photography — Photo buffs will appreciate the innovative exhibits that focus on contemporary image-makers.
National Museum of Mexican Art — Come visit one of the largest Mexican art collections.
The Oriental Institute — Showcases heavy-duty artifacts from the ancient Near East.
The Smart Museum of Art — Focuses on “thought-provoking exhibits.”
Can you add a “must do” Chicago freebie that we missed?