Chicago – Free Activities

Visitors flock to Chicago to enjoy a sprawling city filled with food, music, entertainment, and more. There’s so much to see and do, and a lot of it doesn’t cost a dime.

Before visiting Chi-Town, take a look at this guide of free activities to fill your itinerary without emptying your wallet.


Chicago Riverwalk

ChicagoTaking a stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk is one of the main must-do’s for all visitors. The sparkling Chicago River runs right through the center of the city and goes on for 156 miles.

The Riverwalk treats visitors to amazing views of the towering skyscrapers, local businesses, public art, and restaurants dotting the path. There are many options if you want to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a drink, but it’s also a great place for a picnic.

All the while, there are impressive photo ops around every corner. The area is so picturesque that while you take your walk, you’ll likely be taking plenty of pictures as well.


Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Its regal exterior features large windows and stone columns, but the inside is what’s most impressive.

There are two expansive, stained-glass domes on the ceilings of the building with intricate and colorful designs. They’re made of Tiffany glass and are the largest Tiffany domes in the world. These colorful masterpieces are surrounded by a beautifully painted ceiling, making the entire interior a beautiful sight to see.

The Chicago Cultural Center regularly hosts important visitors like presidents, royalty, diplomats, and more. It was also the country’s first free municipal cultural center, meaning it has been hosting free events and art exhibitions for more than a century. This is one of the many reasons it’s such a popular destination for visitors. Free tours take place four times a week, providing plenty of opportunities for visitors to see every part of this amazing building.


Palmer House Lobby

ChicagoIt may seem odd to include the lobby of a hotel as a tourist destination, but once you step foot into the Palmer House, you’ll be happy you did. The lobby is a sight to behold. It looks more like a museum than a hotel, with regal columns, a painted ceiling, a grand staircase, and over a dozen glowing chandeliers.

Take a seat in one of their plush couches and admire the view. You’ll feel like you’re in the lap of luxury just by stopping in.


Millennium Park

A visit to Millennium Park is a must while in Chicago, no matter the weather. This enormous plot of land features numerous points of interest. The most notable of these is the art installment Cloud Gate, more commonly known as “The Bean.” You can’t visit Chicago without seeing the bean. It’s almost always surrounded by people, which goes to show what an attractive and iconic structure it is.

In addition to Cloud Gate, there are other public art installments throughout the park. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is simultaneously a performance venue and an art installation itself. This large, metal structure is made of swooping pieces that point in every direction, reflecting the sun all over the park. Curved, metal poles above the seating area serve as the lighting and sound system. Jay Pritzker Pavilion is an impressive piece of architecture, right inside Millennium Park.

Also in Millennium Park is Lurie Garden, a free greenspace featuring plants year-round. There are more than 200 plant species in the garden, divided into 10 sections. It’s a peaceful place tucked away in the park that’s perfect for a relaxing stroll.


Buckingham Fountain

Adjacent to Millennium Park is the beautiful Buckingham Fountain, which was built in 1927. This incredible structure sits right along the river and is one of the largest fountains in the world. The Latona Fountain in Versailles inspired the extravagant design of Buckingham Fountain. In the warmer months, it’s the site of water and light shows for all to enjoy.


Greetings from Chicago Mural

ChicagoThe Greetings from Chicago mural may be a bit out of the way from downtown, but it’s worth a visit. The colorful mural is in the style of a retro postcard, with bold letters spelling out “Chicago.” Within the letters, you can see slices of deep-dish pizza, Cloud Gate, Sears Tower, and various local sports team logos.

Greetings from Chicago was unveiled in 2015 and has been the site of endless Instagram snaps since. It may seem familiar because the artists who created it have painted colorful, city-specific murals throughout the country. This public art piece is a fantastic homage to Chi-Town and one of the best photo ops in the city.


North Avenue Beach

ChicagoAfter exploring the streets of Chicago, you may be in the mood for a beach trip. Chicago sits right along Lake Michigan, a gorgeous body of water so large that it can pass for the ocean.

North Avenue Beach is one of the most popular waterfront locations to visit, as it’s located in an easily accessible and beautiful area. When a lifeguard is present, you can splash around in the water and cool off on a hot day.

One of the most unique parts of North Avenue Beach is the platform that extends in a hook shape out into the water. You can walk down this platform and get an unbeatable view of the city skyline.


Garfield Park Conservatory

On Chicago’s West Side is an escape from city life. Garfield Park is a 184-acre getaway and one of the oldest parks in the city. It’s home to the Garfield Park Conservatory, which consists of two acres under a beautiful glass greenhouse. The glass building has been referred to as “landscape art under glass” and is filled with a variety of plant species. These include tropical plants in the Palm House, lush ferns in the Fern Room, succulents and cacti in the Desert House, and gorgeous flowers in the Show House.

In addition to permanent exhibits, Garfield Park Conservatory holds special events like Wild Wednesday, where kids are invited to explore nature, get their hands dirty, interact with animals, and learn about plants. Even if there’s no event going on at Garfield Conservatory, you’ll still enjoy a walk through a beautifully kept, natural world.


Smart Museum of Art

Smart Museum of Art is a free museum owned and operated by the University of Chicago. Their permanent collection consists of 15,000 items and features rotating exhibits that cater to all tastes. One of these exhibits was by Tara Donovan, who took everyday materials like straws, index cards, and rubber bands to create incredible, three-dimensional art. Smart Museum of Art also has a permanent, outdoor sculpture garden, which is perfect to explore on a sunny day. The museum is conveniently located across from Millennium Park, making it easily accessible for visitors.

The Smart Museum of Art is a small attraction and takes less than an hour to go through. You can easily add it to your itinerary and make time to appreciate some art.