Chicago, IL is one of the most well-known cities in the midwestern United States. One of the largest cities in the US, Chicago is home to a number of world-famous museums and attractions. If you’re a local then you know that it’s also well known for something else, being an expensive place to work or live. If you do your research though, you’ll find there are a number of super fun family activities that are free or relatively inexpensive for you to enjoy all year long.
Chicago’s best known attractions are three mega museums; The Shedd Aquarium, The Chicago Art Museum and The Field (History) Museum. These are expensive museums rich with history and full of cool sea creatures but they have a steep entry price. Residents of Illinois can benefit from several “admission free days” throughout each year. Tourists can get discounted packages deals through hotels and other travel services.
Aside from these major attractions, there are also plenty of free or cheap things for families to do in Chicago besides these famous spots. You can easily fill every weekend with a fun new adventure for parents and kids of all ages. No matter if you call Chicago home or are simply visiting on a summer vacation, there is always plenty of fun to be had.
Parks and Gardens
Chicago has so many parks and gardens it would be difficult to list them all here. Here is a summary of five of the top parks and conservatories in Chicago. These are all great free Chicago attractions to visit in the summer and spring.
1) Lincoln Park Conservatory
This large conservatory greenhouse has oxygen-rich air and fragrant flowers all around. It has ancient plants, colorful flowers and several different greenhouses full of plants.
2) Millennium Park
This concrete jungle is a mashup of a business and shopping district with statues and sculptures such as The Cloud Gate (also known as the big silver bean) and the Crowne Fountain. This is one of the most iconic areas of modern Chicago. In the winter this area transforms into a beautiful ice skating rink.
3) Garfield Park
Home to 14 acres of indoor and outdoor greenhouses and plant conservatories. This is a great place to go as a family to walk around, eat a packed lunch and just spend time together outdoors.
4) The Chicago Botanic Garden
The botanic houses over 27 gardens spread out over 385-acres across nine islands. That more plants and gardens than you can see in one day! This is a must for nature lovers and garden enthusiasts.
5) Humboldt Park
Hike through the 219-acres of Humboldt Park. Your exploration will take you to a historic fieldhouse, a free outdoor fitness center, an island beach, lagoon, Boathouse Café and more.
Chicago is known for being racially diverse and inclusive. There are several minority and foreign culture museums to visit and explore. Your children can explore the world from another culture’s point of view at the Mexican History Museum or The Oriental Institute. You’ll find these two and many more if you look around the city. You can also shop downtown “China Town” to find awesome food and gifts.
The Lincoln Park Zoo
One of the oldest free Zoos in the United States, built in 1868. Along with the usual 35 acres of exotic animals on display, there is a “farm in the zoo” section with plenty of midwestern farmer charm. You can explore a real working farm right in Chicago. There are over 1,200 animals to see at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Make sure to wave to the lions for me when you visit! In the winter you can ice skate at the zoo or enjoy a festival of lights. This is a historic zoo, so if you are an animal lover, it’s a spot not to be missed! It’s for sure going to land on the bucket list of any US traveler.
The historic Navy Pier is often depicted in movies set in the city of Chicago. It is a historic landmark that has enjoyed worldwide fame. Filled with entertainment, food, games, rides, statues, shopping and gardens, there is something to be found at Navy Pier for everyone.
Buckingham Fountain Water Display
Buckingham Memorial Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, puts on a fantastic water, light and sound show both day and night. The 20 minute show starts over every hour. A center jet shoots water up 150 feet. You can catch the show all day but the best viewing happens at night so that the lights really shine and add something magical to the performance.
Chicago Cultural Center
Often called “the people’s museum” this structure is as wide as an entire city block and was built back in 1897. This is a place for residents and tourist alike to experience breathtaking art and beautiful architecture without spending a dime. While visiting, you might stumble upon a free classical concert being performed, a new art exhibition on display. You’ll find yourself marveling at the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome. Free and open to the public, this is one of the finest free centers for promotion of the cultural arts.
Free Summer Music Festivals
Downtown Chicago rocks out and boogies down all summer long with a slew of free concerts from jazz to rock. Chicago has a long musical history and has contributed greatly to the world’s music scene. Sometimes several bands will come together for a unique festival. A few of these festival concerts are:
- Grant Park Music Festival
- Chicago Blues Festival
- Chicago Jazz Festival
- Grant Park Music Festival
- Chicago Air and Water Show
Chicago is a beautiful and culture-rich city filled with great food, fun entertainment and tons of opportunities to appreciate art and music. For families looking for free fun things to do, this city should be at the top of your list.