100 Free Things to Do in Chicago This Summer

Summer in Chicago does not have to be expensive, or even slightly expensive. Every weekend, and day, there is something free to do in the city of Chicago, from parades to neighborhood festivals to free concerts.

Here are 100 free activities and events all around the City of Chicago to entertain and let you keep your money at the same time.

Number 1: Head to the Beach
Chicago is home to miles of wide, sandy public beaches. Check out this list of the top five beaches in Chicago to enjoy the sand and sun this summer.

Number 2: Hang with the Monkeys at Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is just a few minutes North of the Downtown area and free to the public all year round.

Number 3: Smell the Roses at the Lincoln Park Conservatory
After a nice trip to the zoo, pop into the Lincoln Park Conservatory and enjoy the lush sounds and smells of the flowers in the Tropical House.

Number 4: Check out the Grosse Point Lighthouse
Grosse Point Lighthouse was built in 1873 to let ships know they have reached Chicago. A tour of the lighthouse museum is not free but you can visit the grounds and check out the lighthouse for yourself for free. The lighthouse is located at the intersections of Central Street and Sheridan Road in Evanston, just past Northwestern Illinois University.

Number 5: Visit the Jane Addams Hull House Museum
Jane Addams is known throughout the world for her work and writings, Hull House is where it all started. Admission to the museum and many of its programs and exhibitions are free. 800 South Halsted, Chicago

Number 6: Visit the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum
Before heading into the Tribune Tower crane your neck skyward and check out one of Chicago’s architectural gems. The Tribune Freedom Museum contains exhibits that look at our five freedoms and what they mean to us. Admission is free every Wednesday after six throughout summer, but to view the collection of stones from important buildings all over the world is free everyday.

Number 7: Relax in the Osaka Japanese Gardens
Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, the Osaka Japanese Garden was built for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. Complete with a Phoenix Temple the gardens include a waterfall, bridge and a carefully landscaped oasis. The Gardens are located within Jackson Park which is behind the Museum of Science and Industry at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive.

Number 8: Enjoy the Light Show at Buckingham Fountain
The light and water show at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park goes on every night of the summer. The fountain was built in 1927 and is one of the world’s largest. Till eleven in the evening you can watch a twenty minute water show starting at the beginning of every hour, using 820 lights and 134 jets.

Number 9: Bike the Drive
Grab your bike and set your own pace along the Lake Shore. The bike paths that runs parallel to Lake Michigan runs past several of Chicago’s best sites and offers the best view of the Lake.

Number 10: Discover the Loyola University Chicago Museum of Art
The new Loyola University Chicago Museum of Art houses the University’s main collection of Art, the Martin D’Arcy Collection, as well as visiting exhibitions that look at spiritual questions people face throughout the world. Admission is free every Tuesday.

Number 11: Check out the Cool Globes in Chicago
Public art with a purpose is the mission of Cool Globes, a Chicago project that uses public art to inspire action against global warming. 100 globes are included in the exhibit and placed in public places all over Chicago’s Lakefront. Visit coolglobes.org for a complete list of globe locations and hit the pavement.

Number 12: Walk Among Giants
Grant Park is home to a new sculpture titled Agora, a forest of 106 giants. Some people hate it, others love it, but everyone I’ve talked to feel something when they walk through it.

Number 13: Stargaze at the Dearborn Observatory
Every Friday night the Dearborn Observatory is open to the public to come in and view the heavens with a historic refraction telescope. Check the website for hours and special closings. The first hour of the night requires a reservation but the second hour welcomes walk ins.

Number 14: Go Underground in the Pedway
Most visitors, and residents, don’t know that there is a whole other city underground in Chicago. The Underground Pedway runs under the Loop and other parts of the downtown district. Explore the Pedway and find out for yourself just what is down there. You can find a great map on Mike Spiegl’s site.

Number 15: Learn about the Ancient East
The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is dedicated to the study and research of the ancient Near East. The museum is located at 1155 East 58th Street and admission is free.

Number 16: Visit Holy Name Cathedral
Chicago’s Cathedral is open during mass times and throughout the day for worshippers and to the public. To really appreciate the architecture and history of the Cathedral visit the parish website for online tour material. 735 North State Street, Chicago

Number 17: Look at the Life of a Vietnam GI
The Vietnam War Museum in Chicago documents the experiences of Vietnam War Veterans. The museum is located in a part of the city known as Little Saigon and is free to the public. 954 W. Carmen Avenue

Number 18: Hop on the El
Ok, so you can’t just hop on the el for free, but you can hop on the el for a free Loop Train Tour. The Loop Train Tour is a free ride that takes you through historic downtown every Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

Number 19: Wonder at the Elks Memorial
The Elks Veterans Memorial is everything a memorial is meant to be. Entrance to the memorial is free, take one of the free guided tours to really be able to appreciate everything there is to see. 2750 North Lakeview, Chicago

Number 20: Salsa at Viva!
Chicago hosts a two day Latin Music Festival every summer in Grant Park. This years festival takes place August 25-26th and includes just about every Latin music genre you can imagine.

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Number 21: Watch the Fireworks
You don’t have to be at Navy Pier to see the fireworks that are part of their show every Wednesday night. Till Labor Day, Navy Pier hosts a firework show that can be seen along most of Chicago’s lakefront at dusk, so grab a blanket and enjoy the show.

Number 22: Watch a Late Night Boat Parade
If you really want to see something different, come out for Venetian Night. The boats of Chicago are dressed up parade float style and lit for a parade held on the Lake at dusk. As the parade ends there is a firework show that is synchronized to music. It all takes place at 460 Lake Shore Drive, but you can watch it from anywhere in the immediate vicinity.

Number 23: Watch a Classic at the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival
Chicago celebrates classic movies and filmmaking at the annual Outdoor Film Festival held in Grant Park. Every Tuesday night at sunset there is a free movie shown in Butler Field of Grant Park on a big screen.

Number 24: Or Catch Another Movie any Night in Another Park
The Chicago Park District has expanded the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival and taken idea into the surrounding neighborhoods of Chicago with their Movie in the Park. Check out the Chicago Park Districts website for the location, selection and location of a wide variety of family friendly movies.

Number 25: Tour the Federal Money Museum
Stop by the Federal Money Museum for a tour of the Federal Reserve, you will probably never see so much money again in your life. Free tours are given Monday through Friday from 9 to 4.

Number 26: Dance at the Chicago Jazz Festival
The Chicago Jazz Festival is known worldwide for its excellence and the fact that it is free. The festival always takes place the weekend before Labor Day in Grant Park.

Number 27: Ride the Free Trolley
Chicago’s Free Trolley service is better for more than just getting around town. Hop on the trolley at one of the many stops, on any of the lines and get a great tour of the city. Some of the best trolley drivers will narrate as they drive you through the city, so the trivial information you pick up along the way is always new.

Number 28: Check out the Artist Wall
Head North to Loyola Park and check out the results of the Artist of the Wall Festival. Every year the break wall is whitewashed and local artists, groups and individuals come together to paint their own section of the wall. This years theme was Our Secret Garden.

Number 29: Follow Your Mail to the Post Office
Take a tour of one of the busiest post offices in the nation. There are three guided tours through the post office each day from Wednesday thru Friday.

Number 30: Check out Alaskan Art
During the summer the Alaska Gallery of Eskimo Art is hosting several exhibits featuring Alaskan and Canadian artists. How often do you get to see Inuit sculptures? 104 East Oak Street, Chicago

Number 31: Dance all Summer
Forget paying for your dance lessons, at Dance Chicago you can get free dance lessons all summer long. Don’t forget a free concert after every lesson! The Chicago Summer Dance is held in Grant Park every Thursday- Sunday night from now till August 26th.

Number 32: Lead Yourself Through the City
Take advantage of several free audio and guided tours that can download onto your MP3 player or printed out for free to guide you through the city. These are a few of my favorites:
– From Audio Snacks along with the Chicago Loop Alliance has four tours available; Chicago’s Art Loop Walking Tour, Chicago’s Theatre Loop Walking Tour, Chicago’s Landmark Loop Walking Tour, and MIllenium Park Self Guided Tour. Just download the audiotour from the AudioSnacks website onto your MP3 player for free.
– The Jane Addams Hull House Museum has a self guided Women’s History Tour the you can download to lead you through the city of Chicago.
– From Chicago Tour comes an audio tour of Chicago Blues narrated by Buddy Guy. www.downloadchicagotours.com

Number 38: Take a Break for the Classics
Classical Mondays offer every Chicagoan the chance to experience the best classical music performances Chicago can offer. Classical, chamber music and opera concerts take place in the Chicago Cultural Center every week at 12:45. 78 East Washington, Chicago

Number 39: Then Tour the Cultural Center
After listening to the free classical concert explore more of the Cultural Center. Every year there are hundreds of exhibitions, shows and performances held in the Center, which is a landmark on its own.

Number 40-43: Visit the Chicago Botanic Gardens & Go Back For More
The 385 acres of the Chicago Botanic Gardens are free everyday of the year and stay open until nine in the evening throughout the summer. But don’t end your visit with a stroll through the garden, stay and listen to one of the concerts that take place. The Carillon Concerts feature carillonneurs from around the world playing on the garden’s Carillon. Music on the Esplanade and Hot Summer Night Concerts feature different bands and the occasional dance lesson.

Number 44: Marvel at the Murals
Head to the Pilsen neighborhood to take a look at a neighborhood decorated in murals. Check out the blog Mono no Aware for a little peek at the artistry that awaits you.

Number 45: Go Bird watching
Grab a pair of binoculars and take to the trails in one of the many parks of Chicago. Just about every neighborhood has an active bird watching group that welcomes newcomers to early morning bird watching outings. Try Jackson Park for starters, which is a well known migratory stop along the lake.

Number 46: Stroll Through the Magnificent Miles Art Festival
The Magnificent Mile Arts Festival features everything from pottery to photography to sculpture in one of the city’s largest juried fairs. Get out there and see the work of some of the country’s best talent. July 13-15

Number 47: Leaning Tower of…..
Niles! Yes, that’s right. Add the Leaning Tower of Niles to the list, which is half the size of the original tower in Pisa. Every Thursday, through August there is a free concert in the plaza surrounding the Tower. For more information on the Leaning Tower Concert Series check out the Village of Niles Website.

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Number 48-53: Outdoor Sculpture Tour
Take a tour of your own through the city of Chicago and enjoy the free art. Chicago is dedicated to adding new sculptures and public art to the city with every new construction project. From seasoned masters to new rising ones the choices are endless, but be sure to check out:
– “Untitled” by Picasso in Daley Center Plaza
– “Chicago” by Miro, right across from the Daley Center Plaza
– “The Flamingo” by Calder in the Federal Center Plaza
– “Four Seasons” by Chagall on Dearborn
– “Monument With Standing Beast” by DuBuffet in the James R. Thompson Center
– “Cloud Gate” by Anish Kapoor in Millennium Park

Number 55: Enjoy the Chinatown Summer Fair
The 28th annual Chinatown Summer Fair takes place on July 15th and includes a full day of Asian cultural festivities. The highlight is a lion dance procession at noon. Takes place on Wentworth, from Cermak to 24th.

Number 56: Cheer on a Dragon Boat
Come out and watch teams race their decorated dragon boats down the Chicago River. The event which includes live music and entertainment all takes place at Ping Tom Memorial Park.

Number 57: Stop & Say Hi To Channel 7
The new ABC7 News Studio opens to the sidewalk and lets passerbys, television audience, and the anchors see each other. So stop by and say hi during a morning broadcast, you never know who will see you on the tube.

Number 58: Visit the Historical Conservatory
The Garfield Park Conservatory includes four and a half acres of gardens in one of the largest conservatories in the world. There are seven houses and three outdoor gardens. 300 N.Central Park Avenue, Chicago

Number 59: Learn all about Surgery
Every Tuesday is free at the International Museum of Surgical Science. Stop by to learn about the history of surgery and check out some really in depth displays. Be sure to take the guided tour Scalpels to sculptures that is free with admission. 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Number 60: Check out a Mini Castle
The Old Water Tower in Chicago has been compared to a mini castle for years. This popular Chicago Landmark is located across from the still operating water pump on Michigan Avenue and houses a visitors center and changing photography exhibits.

Number 61: Take a Tour of the Neighborhood
Chicago Greeter offers free tours of several of the neighborhoods and interest areas of Chicago. All the greeters are volunteers and very familiar with Chicago, call 312-744-8000 to set up a reservation.

Number 62: Watch a Performance by the Shakespeare Project
Every year the Shakespeare Project of Chicago puts on free performances for the public. This summer the Shakespeare Project will be putting on three performances of 50 Minute Macbeth around Chicago.

Number 63: Gather at the Bucktown Arts Festival
The Bucktown Arts Fest is a local gathering of local painters, sculptors, actors, poets, and dancers every August. This year the local talent is celebrated and explored August 25-26th.

Number 64: Learn About Chicago History
Every Monday at the Chicago History Museum is free! Come by for interactive exhibits on everything Chicago, new, rotating and traveling exhibits will have you busy for hours. 1601 North Clark Street

Number 65: Grab a chair and Head to Lincoln Square
The Lincoln Park neighborhood hosts the Lincoln Square Summer Concert Series that takes place all summer long in Giddings Plaza. Check the schedule for a jam packed schedule of talent.

Number 66: Spend Tuesday on the Terrace
If you like jazz why not enjoy the free Jazz concerts hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center on the terrace overlooking the lake every Tuesday evening.

Number 67: Head to the Pier to Play
There are two ways to visit the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier for free. Every Thursday evening from five to eight families can visit the museum for free, also on the first Monday of each month Target sponsors a free day for everyone under 15 years of age.

Number 68: Go Green at the Nature Museum
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a living, learning museum dedicated to making us examine the way we interact with nature. The nature museum is free every Thursday. 2430 North Cannon Drive, Chicago

Number 69: Visit the only Baha’i Temple in North America
There are currently only seven Baha’i Temples in the world and Wilmette, just north of Chicago is home to one of them. The majestic structure is a nine sided, white stone covered in lacelike ornamentation and topped with a dome. Visitors are welcomed year round. 100 Linden Avenue, Wilmette.

Number 70: Stroll in the Skokie Sculpture Park
The Skokie Sculpture Park contains 72 sculptures that are placed along a two mile path encouraging visitors to experience art and recreation at the same time. The Skokie Northshore Sculptural Park is located on McCormick Boulevard, between Dempster and Touhy.

Number 71: Visit one of the Most Well Known Art Museums
Throughout summer you can view an art collection spanning five thousand years right here in Chicago for free. Every Thursday and Friday evening from five to nine the Art Institute of Chicago stays open late to the general public. 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago

Number 72: Roam Chicago Museum Campus
The Chicago Museum Campus includes 57 acres of parks and attractions along the lakefront. Take the time to explore the gardens, bike the trails and watch the boats on the lake from one of Chicago’s best green spaces.

Number 73: Watch the Market at the Exchange
The visitor center at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is free and open to the public. Learn about the Exchanges history and role in our market today. 30 South Wacker Drive

Number 74: Catch a ball on Waveland
Put on a glove and stand outside of Wrigley Field during a home game with the rest of the ball hawks. Waveland is known for having a group of fans waiting for balls to come flying over the walls, so join them. 1060 West Addison

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Number 75: Head to the Contemporary Art Museum
After visiting the Art Institute head over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but on Tuesdays for the Museums free day. The museum has a collection of video, photography, painting and film. 220 East Chicago Avenue

Number 76-82: Watch a City and Neighborhood Parade
There are several parades that take place every summer in Chicago. Here are a few of the best and most unique ones in the city:
– Central American Day Parade, Sept. 9th 2007, On Montrose, from California to Kimball
– Disability Pride Parade, July 21st, from Van Buren to Dearborn, north on Dearborn to Daley Plaza
– Von Steuben Day Parade, September 8th, On Lincoln Avenue, from Irving Park Road and Lawrence Avenue
– Pilsen Mexican Independence Day Parade, September 15th, on Newberry and 18th Street, West on 18th Street to Wolcott
– Ecuador Parade, August 12th, on Montrose, from California to Kimball
– India Independence Day Parade, August 18th, on Devon, from Western to California
– Bud Biliken Parade, August 11th, Martin Luther King Drive, from 35th to 55th

Number 83: Catch Another Lunch Hour Concert
The Dame Myra Hess Concert Series features young musicians performing solo or in classical ensembles. Concerts are held every Wednesday in Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center at noon.

Number 84: Enjoy the Gardens of the Mag Mile
Every summer the gardens along the Mag Mile are designed to be bright, lush and dramatic. This year though each of the gardens has had a little twist, the gardens have been designed to show off both fashion and botanical. Walk the mile to check out each unique garden.

Number 85: Listen to Music From Around the World
The World Music Festival takes Place in Chicago September 14-20 in Grant Park. The festival features the best international groups performing during 2007.

Number 86: Sunbathe in Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park is one of the oldest parks in the city of Chicago, now it is one of the largest at over 1200 acres. Spend a day sunbathing in a quiet corner of the park, explore the statues and other oddities or bike the miles of trail.

Number 87: Look into the Lily Pool
The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is a quiet retreat in the busy city. Located at 2,000 North Racine the Garden consists of a carefully planned lily pool and garden space all within a contained wall, creating a hidden garden of sorts.

Number 88: Learn About African American History
Every Sunday the Chicago DuSable Museum of African American History is free to the public. Come and learn about African American Inventors, the role of African Americans in Chicago, and Chicago’s Black Film History among other exhibits. 740 East 56th Place, Chicago

Number 89-91: Visit an Ethnic Museum
Chicago has a wide variety of ethnic museums in several of its neighborhoods that are dedicated to research and community outreach. Here are some of the best, that also offer free admission year round or on certain free days.
– National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 West 19th Street Free Admission
– Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 South Pulaski Road Free Admission on Mondays
– Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 North Knox Free Admission but Donations Accepted

Number 92: Join in a Bagpipe Parade
There is so much to do at the annual Celtic Fest held in Chicago’s Grant Park every year. Join in a bagpipe parade, listen to a Ceili Band, watch a kilt contest, and listen to Irish Heritage singers. It all takes place September 15th and 16th in Grant Park.

Number 93: Check out Outsider Art
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is dedicated to displaying the folk art of unconventional artists. The current exhibit features sculpture by resident artist Lonnie Holley, made from recycled materials. Admission is free. 756 North Milwaukee Avenue

Number 94: Get a Picture With Your Zodiac Sign
The new Chinatown Square is filled with huge sculptures that represent the Chinese Zodiac. Find yours and determine if the personality description for your sign is even close. Cermak and Wentworth Avenue.

Number 95-96: Enjoy Classical Music with a Grammy Nominated Orchestra
-Over the course of the summer the Grant Park Music Festival will include thirty classical performances by the Grant Park Orchestra and Concert. No where but in Chicago is there a free outdoor classical music series of this caliber, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. Performances now take place in the new Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
-If you can’t make the performance rehearsals are free too! The rehearsals take place during the day and include an interactive session with park docents who will be able to give you an overview and lots of background info on the pieces played.

Number 97-99: Explore Millennium Park
– Once you download the audio tour described in Number 32-37 get out and explore Millennium Park. Relish the Lurie Gardens, cool down in the video screen, water projecting jets of Crown Fountain.
– Then check out the awesome architecture that make up the Millennium Monument and stainless steel Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
– You can even view free art in the Boeing Galleries, the current exhibition is work by Mark di Suvero.

Number 100: Set your Sight on the Air & Water Show
Had to save the best free for last. The Chicago Air and Water Show is the biggest event of its kind in the nation, and every year the crowds grow larger and larger. This years event takes place along the Lakefront, the Air Show is visible from Fullerton to Oak Street beach and the Water Show takes place at North Avenue Beach earlier in the day. August 18-19. Be sure to stake out a spot early and take plenty of water along.

Happy Summer!