There are enough free things to do in Chicago to keep locals and visitors busy for years, so there is no need to be flush with cash to get endless hours of enjoyment. Here are 10 fantastic and free activities that anybody staying in this glorious city should not miss out on. 

1. Explore the expansive park system

The Chicago Park District is one of America’s largest park systems, boasting over 600 parks and stretching out over 8100 acres. Best of all, they are totally free!

The following are some of the more well-known options:

  • Lincoln Park
  • Grant Park
  • Humboldt Park
  • Jackson Park
  • Millennium Park


2. Head out on the 606 Urban Hiking Trail

The 606 Urban Hiking Trail was inspired by New York’s famous High Line Trail and stretches between Ashland and Ridgeway along Bloomingdale Trail.  Blueground offers fully-furnished, equipped and serviced apartments in some of the world's most sought after cities.This innovative elevated pathway that has been built along a stretch of former railway line provides a birds-eye view of the neighborhoods below and is hands down one of the best free things to do in Chicago.  

3. Hit the beach

The fact that the city offers no less than 26 free beaches running along the shores of Lake Michigan can make living here feel more like an exotic getaway than a megacity metropolis. Some beaches even offer their visitors free WiFi. 

Some of our top picks:

  • North Avenue Beach – 1600 N Lake Shore Drive
  • Oak Street Beach – 1000 N Lake Shore Drive
  • 12th Street Beach – 200 S Linn White Drive


4. Check out a free museum or gallery

Good news! Chicago has tons of free museums, cultural centers, and galleries so you can always enjoy endless afternoons of learning and adventure. 

a look at the large golden and marble interior of the chicago culture center

Check out some of the top-rated recommendations below.

Best free art and design

  • Museum of Contemporary Photography – 600 S Michigan Avenue
  • INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art – 756 N Milwaukee Avenue
  • Hyde Park Art Center – 5020 S Cornell Avenue
  • Ed Paschke Art Center – 5415 W Higgins Avenue
  • City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower – 806 N Michigan Avenue
  • Chicago Design Museum – Block 37, 108 N State Street, 3rd Floor, Loop
  • Smart Museum of Art – 5550 S Greenwood Avenue

Best free historical museums

  • Jane Addams Hull-House Museum – 800 S Halsted Street
  • Clarke House Museum – 1827 S Indiana Avenue

Best free cultural centers

  • National Museum of Mexican Art – 1852 W 19th Street
  • National Veterans Art Museum – 4041 N Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Floor
  • National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture – 3015 W Division Street
  • Chicago Architecture Center – 224 S Michigan Avenue, Loop
  • Chicago Cultural Center – 77 E Randolph Street, LOOP
  • The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago – 5811 S Ellis Avenue
  • The Oriental Institute Museum – 1155 E 59th Street

Best free conservatories and botanical gardens

  • Lincoln Park Conservatory – 2391 N Stockton Drive
  • Garfield Park Conservatory – 300 N Central Park Avenue


5. Take a tour of a random neighborhood

The Chicago Greeter Program is an organization that specializes in arranging free neighborhood tours that are generously put-on by knowledgeable local volunteers. 

This is a great way to get insider knowledge about the streets of Chicago. At the same time, it’s also a fun way to make new friends!

6. Go on a river walk

The award-winning Chicago Riverwalk Promenade runs all the way from downtown Lake Street to Lake Michigan, and visitors can even stop by the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum for free during a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll.

7. Lakefront leisure

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is a walking, running, biking, rollerblading and even Segway path that stretches 18 miles all the way from 5800 N Sheridan Road to 7100 S South Shore Drive. It is flanked by classic lake views on one side and peaceful parkland on the other. 

Hop on the trail at any point to enjoy a fun way to get fit and take in the true Chicago culture. What’s more, the trail is open year-round for residents to enjoy the epic lakefront views that define the city, rain or shine

8. Bury your nose in a book

Looking for something fun to do on a rainy day? Hit up one of Chicago’s free libraries! Bookworms won’t want to miss a chance to explore the endless stacks at any of these gorgeous and free institutions. 

The Newberry Library at 60 W Walton Street boasts a fantastic collection of no less than 1.5 million works as well as a variety of scheduled events and exhibitions.

The Harold Washington Library Center located at 400 S State Street isn’t hard to find. The massive institution actually takes up a whole city block and features stunning architectural details end to end. As a bonus, the library also contains a full art collection that is on display inside its numerous reading rooms.

Poetry lovers have an especially awesome treat to look forward to. The Poetry Foundation located at 61 W Superior Street hosts an extensive collection of work, dedicated exclusively to poetry. The 30,000 volume library, public garden and exhibition gallery are all totally free to endlessly peruse, and there’s a busy schedule of weekly events to take in as well. 

9. Fun in the sun at the Navy Pier

The Navy Pier, located at 600 E Grand Avenue is a famous attraction synonymous with the city and is one of the best free things to do in Chicago. 

A view of tall, modern buildings and high rises through a large white ferris wheel

On any given day, visitors can enjoy and a full amusement park, an IMAX theater and a three-story children’s museum complete with a waterpark. The iconic Centennial Wheel offers up some fantastic views of the city front and waterway alike. The Pier is the take-off point for many local tours by bus, bike or helicopter.

It even offers free concerts and firework displays on Wednesday and Sunday evenings and is one of the best places in the city to catch cultural events. 

10. Go to the zoo

Chicago is one of the few cities in America allows residents and visitors to enjoy its 35-acre zoo totally free of charge. 

The Lincoln Park Zoo at 2200 N Cannon Drive also features an on-site farm and boardwalk, not to mention a once in a lifetime opportunity to get close to over 250 fascinating species of animals

Now that you’ve got your budget-friendly itinerary all set, it’s time to finalize your Chicago accommodation. Blueground provides fully-furnished, completely equipped apartments in the most sought-after neighborhoods. Book your move-in ready home for one month, one year or even longer. The flexible lease terms mean that you can experience various apartments all around the city during your stay. All you have to do is show up and start living, everything else is taken care of. 

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