55 Free Things to Do in Chicago and Surrounding Areas

55 Free Things to Do in Chicago & Suburbs #Free #Chicago

FREE, FREE, FREE! There’s no better price.

Use this list to plan a single afternoon, a day full of activities, or an entire vacation. I’ve tried to include a lot of variety – indoor and outdoor, city and suburbs, and activities that are appropriate for toddlers, older kids, and adults. Any suggestions for additions to the list? I’d love to hear them!

1. Millennium Park
Check out your reflection(s) in Cloudgate and splash around in the Crown Fountain. Stroll the Lurie Garden, picnic on the lawn of the Pritzker Pavillion, and get a great view of the city from the Nichols Bridgeway.

2. Tour Millennium Park or the Lurie Garden
Take a free tour of Millennium Park or the Lurie Garden. No registration is required. See the City of Chicago: Millennium Park website for days, times, and more details.

3. Garfield Park Conservatory
Experience a variety of environments and their plants, trees, and flowers.

4. Lincoln Park Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! See them all (and lots more).

5. Lincoln Park Conservatory
It’s green and lush (and free!) year-round at the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

6. Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond
Take a walk or just sit and enjoy the beautiful landscape.

7. Oz Park
Don your ruby slippers and take a trip to the merry old land of Oz Park, where you can pose with statues of your favorite Wizard of Oz characters and play in “Dorothy’s Playlot”.

8. Chic-A-Go-Go
Dance your butt off during a taping of Chic-A-Go-Go, the cable access, all-ages dance party show, then watch yourself on cable channel 19 Tuesdays at 8:30 pm and Wednesdays at 3:30 pm.

9. Big Monster Door
Meet a monster! You can’t go in, but this is a great spot for taking some fun photos.

10. Pedway
Get down. Literally. Travel the underground Pedway which covers 5 miles and connects 50 buildings.

11. Promontory Point
Get an amazing view of the skyline at Promontory Point in Burnham Park.

12. Foster Beach
Head east for a splash in the lake at any of Chicago’s beaches. Foster Beach is particularly family-friendly with restrooms, showers, and concessions available.

13. Visit Chicago filming sites
Many great films were filmed in Chicago and the suburbs. Take a day to visit some of the filming sites for movies like The Breakfast Club; Home Alone; Blues Brothers; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Backdraft; The Dark Knight; Groundhog Day; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Sixteen Candles; and Uncle Buck.

14. Chicago Greeter Tour
Take a free custom tour with a Chicago Greeter volunteer to one of 25 different Chicago neighborhoods, or see lots of sites in the city in your area of interest (such as family-friendly, art & architecture, or foodie spots).

15. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Museum
Find out what a million dollars looks like and take home a special souvenir.

16. National Museum of Mexican Art
Explore Mexican art and culture.

17. Oak Park Conservatory
Get back to nature in Oak Park.

18. Free Museum Days
Chicago is full of great museums and zoos, and if you’re an Illinois resident, you can take advantage of Free Museum Days.

19. The 606
Stretch your legs with a walk or ride along the trails at this new park and trail system in Logan Square.

20. City Gallery at the History Water Tower
Step inside the Historic Water Tower to check out the current exhibit. Charlie Trotter: Chef, Artist, Thinker is the current exhibit and will remain until September 2015.

21. Tour Obama’s neighborhood
President Barack Obama spent many years living in Chicago and has adopted Chicago as his hometown. See where it all began with this guide of Obama’s neighborhood and see places of significance to the first family.

22. DePaul University Art Museum
Put art appreciation on your agenda with a visit to this museum in Lincoln Park. Check their calendar for family friendly events.

23. Museum of Contemporary Photography
Bored of Instagrammed photos of food? See something a little different.

24. Navy Pier
Sure, it’s touristy, but it is a nice place to walk along the water and see some free fireworks in the summer.

25. Buckingham Fountain
This is a fun stop in the evening with the music and light display happening every 20 minutes beginning at dusk.

26. Oriental Institute Museum
Learn about Near Eastern civilizations. Check their calendar for family programs and workshops.

27. Chicago Public Libraries
I could make an entire list of all the free activities they offer to residents. Check out your local city (or suburban) library for events or take a trip to the mother of all Chicago area libraries – Harold Washington Library.

28. Chicago Architecture Foundation
See the city from above – kinda. The Chicago Architecture Foundation has the largest, most complete replica of the downtown Loop area in the world.

29. The Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center offers visitor information, free tours, and a variety of free music, dance, theater, and family events.

30. North Park Village Nature Center
There’s more skyscrapers in Chicago – like 46 acres of nature preserve including woodland, wetland, prairie, savanna, and educational center.

31. Palmisano Park
Walk, hike, fish, or just take in the view at one of the city’s most interesting green spaces in Chicago, located in the Bridgeport neighborhood.

32. StoryCorps
Everyone has a story to tell. Play the interviewer (or interviewee) and record it to be archived and possibly aired on WBEZ 91.5 FM.

33. Emily Oaks Nature Center
This nature center in Skokie for trails, wildflowers, and a chance to see urban wildlife like Great Blue Herons, Coyotes, and Cooper’s Hawks.

34. Green City Market
Get some fresh air and fresh fruits, veggies, and flowers, or just enjoy some people watching.

35. Crabtree Nature Center
This nature center in Barrington Hills has over 1,000 acres of woodland, wetland, and prairie.

36. Skokie Lagoons
Skokie Lagoons covers 894 acres and offers fishing, hiking, and picnicking. Have your own kayak, canoe, sailboat, or rowboat? They can be launched here. (Rentals are available for a fee too.)

37. Phillips Park Zoo
This zoo, located in Aurora, has over 100 animals representing 41 different species. Download a scavenger hunt list on their website before you go.

38. Hidden Oaks Nature Center
Hidden Oaks is a hands-on nature center in Bolingbrook with a rooftop garden.

39. Tribune Tower
Stones from 120 famous landmarks are embedded in the Tribune Tower. Can you find them all?

40. Jackson Park
This Woodlawn park has Japanese style Osaka Garden and other fun features.

41. Naperville Riverwalk
Enjoy the beautiful scenery and landmarks along the Naperville Riverwalk, which is also close to shopping and a library.

42. Spring Valley & Volkening Heritage Farm
Schaumburg’s Spring Valley has handicapped-accessible hiking trails, a nature center, and Volkening Heritage Farm – an 1880’s living history farm.

43. Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
You’ll love the scenery and nature center at Lake Katherine. (And keep it in mind in March for the Dyeing of the Waterfall!)

44. Kidical Mass
Kidical Mass organizes family-friendly bike rides through Chicago neighborhoods.

45. Juicebox
Kid-friendly music, theater, and dance performances take place at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Garfield Park Conservatory.

46. Kline Creek Farm
Step back in time to the 1890’s and spend a day on the farm in West Chicago.

47. Bowen Park
This Waukegan park is pretty extraordinary with a slashpad, tunnel slides, spider climber, and lots more.

48. Heller Nature Center
The Heller Nature Center in Highland Park offers indoor and outdoor activities for all members of the family.

49. Fermilab
Fermilab offers public tours every Wednesday, Ask-a-Scientist once a month, and special events. Visitors are also welcome to explore the ground, first, and 15th floors of Wilson Hall and the Lederman Science Center.

51. American Science & Surplus
American Science & Surplus is not your ordinary store; they specialize in industrial, military, and educational items, but have a little bit of everything from test tubes to glow-in-the-dark toys to Mr. Potato Head. Spend an afternoon browsing at their Chicago or Geneva location.

52. Theater Workshop at the Free Street Theater
Get dramatic on the second Saturday of each month.

53. Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
Walk the trails outside, or get involved in interactive activities and see some animals inside the nature center in Willow Springs.

54. Appreciate Chicago art
There’s no need to step into a museum – there’s art all around in Chicago. The Chicago Public Art Guide information about each piece; take a trek around the city to find your favorites.

55. Maggie Daley Park 
It’s brand new and not to be missed. Not only are there epic bridges, slides, and play structures, but there’s plenty of green space and gardens to enjoy too.

What did I miss?? Please let me know. I’d love to add to this list!


  1. Knoch Knolls Nature Center, 320 Knoch Knolls, Naperville!

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