Last updated on December 31st, 2019 at 11:45 pm
Looking for some fun and frugal travel options this year? If you’ll be in the Chicago area, check out five of our top picks for fun and free things to do!
Chicago makes for an expensive vacation destination, especially when it’s a one-time trip and you want to pack as much of the city in as possible. When you know where to look and are open to seeing more of Chicago than just the obvious attractions, you can actually save a lot of money. There are plenty of free things to do in Chicago every day, all-year round. I think a lot of them will make for some new and interesting experiences.
Here are five of the best free things to do in Chicago during your next trip to the city.
Lincoln Park Zoo is a full-scale zoo right in the heart of the city. Located just north of the downtown area in Lincoln Park, the zoo sits between the park and the beach and is home to hundreds of animals. You’ll enjoy spending the day visiting the big cat house, primate house, watching penguins and seals, and walking around the African savannah area. It is easy to fill a day here at the zoo, but if you want to explore some more, the Lincoln Park Conservatory is also free, and Lily Garden is right at the entrance and is worth a visit too.
The new heart of Chicago, Millennium Park is a must-see anytime time of year. From unique and entertaining sculptures to the ice rink to the new children’s garden that connects to the park via a sculptural bridge, there is so much to experience. In the summer, kids and adults let loose near the Crown Fountains, rotating art exhibits are meant to be interactive, The Bean sculpture (technically, named Cloud Gate) begs for photos to be taken, and there are always concerts and shows on the lawn of Pritzker Pavilion.
The old water tower sits proudly along Michigan Avenue and across from the pump station that just finished a major renovation. Not only are the old water tower and pump architectural gems, but they are historical buildings that are known in Chicago for being some of the only structures to survive the great Chicago Fire. If you have some time, the small room inside the tower hosts rotating photography exhibits that feature Chicago artists and themes.
One of the best things about Chicago is the many neighborhoods where generations of immigrant families have set up cultural hives of activity, food, and museums. In the Pilsen neighborhood, you’ll find the nationally acclaimed National Museum of Mexican Art, where exhibits from around the world are displayed alongside community contributions. Special guests and events are often ticketed and require an admission fee, but even many of those are free and open to the public.
The Field Museum has a new exhibit featuring the art and culture of China, and the Art Institute of Chicago also has an impressive display, but both come with a hefty admission ticket. Instead, head out to the University of Chicago campus where you will find the Oriental Institute Museum. This free, donations accepted museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from Egyptian, Persian, and Mesopotamian civilizations. The size and collections make for a manageable and truly interesting time, with the rest of the campus open to exploring.
These are just five ideas for free things to do in Chicago. Do you have others? Leave a comment below.
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