Free Things to Do in Chicago

Picture by Trey Ratcliff

While many wish that each family vacation could take place on a lush Caribbean island, a trip closer to home can be fun too.  Chicago is a place with a great vibe and tons of fun activities for families, many of which are free.

Go to the Zoo

Just off the lakeshore in the city’s north side is the Lincoln Park Zoo. The zoo houses animals ranging from chickens to jungle cats, and admission is free, all year round. Families can see cows and goats at the Farm in the Zoo area, then head over to see the giraffe and black rhinoceros in the African Journey building. There are polar bears, meerkats, lions, jaguars, monkeys and much more. To cool down on a hot day at the zoo, skip the outdoors snack stands and head to the Park Place Café, which is indoors and air-conditioned.

Head to Millennium Park

Located on Michigan Avenue next to the Art Institute, this free park has several activities to keep families entertained. There is the giant metallic sculpture, officially named Cloud Gate, but more commonly referred to by Chicagoans as “the bean” due to its shape. In summer, families can bring a picnic basket and a blanket to spread on the grass in front of the Pritzker Pavilion, where they can enjoy a free concert. In winter there is a free ice rink located at Millennium park, and in summer there is the wading pool, where kids can splash around in ankle deep water between two walls where videos of people’s faces are played. Every five minutes or so, the faces pucker their lips and water shoots out of the wall. Bring a towel.

See a Museum

Several of the museums offer free admission one night a week, especially in the cooler months. For example, the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago both offer free admission on Thursday nights between 5 and 8 o’clock. Do a little online research to learn if the museum you’d most like to visit has a free night too.

Ride a Trolley

Getting around town by taxi and even bus can get pricey. In summertime, take advantage of the tourist trolley provided by the City of Chicago that operates between State Street along Illinois and Grand out to Navy Pier, where you’ll find the Children’s Museum, shops and a huge ferris wheel.

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