Planning A Budget Trip? Here Are Free Things to Do in Chicago

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Often dubbed as ‘Windy City’, Chicago, on Lake Michigan, is one of the country’s largest cities. It is home to towering skyscrapers, world-class museums, vibrant art scenes, 77 neighborhoods, sprawling waterfront, green spaces, and a robust line-up of festivals. It is easy to get caught-up in its seemingly endless attractions. Moreover, visitors have plenty of free things to do in Chicago.

Chicago, in the smack-dab of America’s heartland, is widely known for its 20th century art and architecture. Its skyline is adorned with highrises and glass towers. It has a wide and long stretch of beaches that attract a large number of sun seekers. It is also home to many free museums, parks, and open-space entertainment venues, which wouldn’t give you a hard time managing your budget.

While it could be overwhelming to start with, here we have carved out some of the best free things to do in the city of Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Popular among adults and young visitors, Lincoln Park Zoo is home to over 200 species of wild animals from around the world. It has 16 exhibits showcasing different species, who live in the replicas of their natural habitats. Here you can spot cute otters, seals, African apes, polar bears, big cats, monkeys, reptiles, and more. The zoo is located in Lincoln Park, two miles of the loop on the north side.

One of the most popular exhibits in the zoo is the award-winning Regenstein Center for African Apes, where you get to see the gorillas or visit the Kovler Sea Pool to see the seals. This 35-acre zoo also houses zebras, giraffes, beavers, penguins, parrots, hippos, and rhinos. If luck favors you, you can even see a new born baby resident in the zoo. Basically, visiting the zoo is one of the best free things to do in Chicago with kids.

Chicago Riverwalk & Lakefront Trail

If you are visiting the Windy City during summer, then there’s nothing better than taking a stroll along the lakeshore and feeling the cool breeze on your face. Moreover, there are movable bridges over the Chicago river. In two miles, you can spot 18 bridges over it. For a long stroll in the afternoon or evening, there is a 1.25 mile pedestrian walkway on the south bank.

You can also rent a boat and cruise the river yourself. Nearby is a fully-paved Lakefront Trail that offers uninterrupted views of Lake Michigan. The trail is lined by parks, recreation areas, beaches, and gardens. Among the most notable attractions is the Navy Pier. Apart from ferries and boats floating away, you can also spot a drop tower and a carousel. Visiting the Navy Pier is one of the free things to do in Chicago.

Millennium Park

Ok, let’s be on the same side. No trip to Chicago is complete without walking through Millennium Park and admiring the iconic Cloud Gate. The park is located in the loop, north of the Art Institute of Chicago. The park is sprawling over 25-acres and proudly flaunts cutting-edge art, landscaping, and architecture. It also hosts numerous performances, festivals, and concerts all year round.

The park is part of the largest Grant Park and its centerpiece is Cloud Gate, a giant 110-ton sculpture. The iconic Cloud Gate is one of the most significant landmarks in Chicago. It was designed by Indian British sculptor Anish Kapoor. Its polished, mirror-like stainless steel reflects the surroundings. Visiting the park and taking a picture with the Cloud Gate or The Bean is one of the free things to do in Chicago.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush oasis in Chicago. It is also one of the biggest botanical conservations in the United States. Often dubbed as ‘Landscape Art Under Glass’, the conservatory bursts with eight indoor gardens and ten acres of outdoor gardens. While it was founded in the 1880s, the present structure was constructed in 1907. While it is free to visit, prior reservation is required.

If houseplants fascinate you, visit the Aroid House. It also displays sculptures by popular artist Dale Chihuly. The park also has a Desert Exhibit, which features a variety of its namesake, such as cacti. The Fern House is a sight to behold. It arranges ferns around a lagoon. The largest exhibit in the conservatory is the Palm House that showcases more than 70 palm trees that recreates a tropical landscape.

Magnificent Mile

One of the best free things to do in Chicago is to explore the Magnificent Mile and stroll on Michigan Avenue. The entire area is filled with highrises and impressive buildings, so it has plenty to offer to architecture buffs. Instead of booking a walking tour with the Chicago Architecture Center, explore the area on your own. Michigan Avenue, north of the Chicago River, is one of the most attractive boulevards in America.

It is filled with numerous art galleries, boutiques, and luxury shops. There are more than 450 retailers here and all of them are within walking distance. Apart from shops, it also features a wide array of top-notch eateries and hotels. While it remains packed with locals and tourists all day long, the real buzz begins after sundown.

Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park is a whimsical garden, inspired by classic tales of children. This expansive 20-acre park, located east of Millennium Park, was opened to the public in 2014. It features a mini lighthouse, climbing walls, suspension bridge, life-sized ships, and more. Apart from its impressive views, the park offers several activities for both kids and adults.

One can climb a wall or play in the mini golf area, or ice skate during the winters. On a sunny summer day, you can rent a roller blade as well. However, you may have to pay to enjoy all these activities. You can also find a few restaurants here. But most popular is the Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe, which is highly popular for its brunch menu.

Bottom Line

Chicago in Illinois is one of the largest cities in the US. It is not just home to towering skyscrapers and stunning architecture, the vibrant art galleries, museums, plenty of green spaces, and waterfront areas make it a destination worth a visit. Most of its attractions are free for the public. So, even if you are on a limited budget, you don’t have to worry about exploring the city. There are plenty of free things to do in Chicago and most of its restaurants and hotels are highly affordable.

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