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Free Things to Do in Chicago

One of the best things about spending your vacation in a major city is the wide variety of things to do for free. You may think of expensive plays, restaurants and museums when you consider a visit to Chicago. While there are certainly plenty of options in these categories, Chicago actually has an incredible amount of free things for visitors to do as well. Check out these top Chicago attractions without spending a dime.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Unlike most other major cities, Chicago’s zoo is completely free to visitors. It features over 230 species of animals, including gorillas, lions, rhinos, polar bears and tigers. The 35-acre zoo is also beautiful to walk through and features lovely skyline views of downtown from certain areas. At certain times of the year, the zoo hosts exciting events, particularly their Zoo Lights holiday light spectacle in November and December.

Millennium Park
Chicago’s most distinctive park is located right in the heart of downtown. Millennium Park features some of the most memorable and massive public artwork in the city, particularly Cloud Gate (also known as “The Bean”) and Crown Fountain. Tons of free performances are held in the park’s pavilion when the weather warms up. Plus, you can explore the beautiful Lurie Garden, which covers 5-acre and is host to a number of free workshops, lectures and tours throughout the year.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier is one of the must-see landmarks for first-time visitors to Chicago. It features some of the best views of the lakefront and the skyline. Plus, you can stroll the pier’s boardwalk and enjoy concerts in the LandShark Beer Garden for free. The pier also hosts some paid attractions, including a huge ferris wheel, mini golf and a children’s museum.

Garfield Park Conservatory
This huge conservatory includes two large exhibition halls and six separate greenhouses, many of which feature some of the nation’s premier displays of rare plant species. You can tour these green exhibits at any time of the year for free. In addition, a number of seasonal events with free admission are held throughout the year.

Lincoln Park Conservatory
If you need another dose of green during your Chicago visit, head to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which also offers free admission. You’ll love the stunning flowers and rare plants that can be viewed in this lush space not far from Chicago’s lakefront.

Harold Washington Library Center
The Harold Washington Library is one of the largest public libraries in the world. It fills nearly one million square feet in the heart of downtown Chicago. The architecture alone is reason enough to visit this urban library, which features massive owl sculptures on the exterior and a Winter Garden on the 9th floor. You can also view the library’s collection of art from international and local artists for free. Plus, over 13 million published works can be perused on site.

Chicago Lakefront Trail
A winding trail is featured along almost the entirety of Chicago’s lakefront. Walk, skate or cycle this 18-mile trail to get some of the most beautiful outdoor views in the city. Along the way, you’ll come across McCormick Pace, the Museum Campus, the Waveland Clock Tower, Belmont Harbor and other city attractions. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop at one of the many beaches along the way for the opportunity to rest and relax in the sun and sand.

Museum of Contemporary Photography
Most of Chicago’s most famous museums are quite pricey, but the Museum of Contemporary Photography offers free admission. The museum has programs which have led to the discovery of some of the greatest photographers of the modern age. Works by famous photographers like Ansel Adams, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange can be found in the collection, which features more than 10,000 photographs.

Chicago Cultural Center
This beautiful landmark building in downtown Chicago is one of the few Chicago architectural gems that’s completely free to tour. Check out the stained-glass domes and art exhibitions in this building. If you plan ahead, it’s usually easy to catch a free classical music concert, dance performance, film screening or theater event here as well.

Chicago Greeter Neighborhood Tours
This unique program pairs visitors with knowledgeable Chicago residents who provide tours of some of the city’s unique neighborhoods. You’ll learn all about the area you’re visiting, including architectural sights public artwork, the best local bites and more.

Chicago Botanic Garden
This beautiful attraction features 24 landscapes, including a Japanese Garden and a fruit and vegetable garden. Explore trails that lead you through all kinds of natural scenery, including woods, prairies and rivers.

Free Museum Days
Each of the city’s main museum offers special free admission days throughout the year. Check the websites for the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and other top Chicago museums to find out about upcoming free admission days.

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