Discover Chicago’s Top 10 Free Attractions in 2024

foreign [Music] the best things in life are free especial...

the best things in life are free
especially in a place like Chicago
welcome back to wonderfully lost a
travel Community for parents by parents
Chicago might have a reputation for
being a bit pricey but we plan to change
that perception today from strolling in
parks and sanctuaries to attending
special annual events that won't cost
you a dime these are the best free
things to do in Chicago stroll over to
Chicago Cultural Center if you're ever
in Chicago make sure to swing by the
awesome Chicago Cultural Center because
it's a total blast you won't believe the
cool stuff you can see there without
spending a single penny they've got free
classical concerts happening regularly
so you can enjoy some beautiful music
and mind-blowing exhibitions in their
art galleries while you're there you've
also got to check out the world's
largest stained glass called Tiffany
Dome you won't be disappointed it's
massive measuring 38 feet in diameter
with 30 000 individual glass last pains
coming together to create this
masterpiece the best part is that the
Chicago Cultural Center is totally free
and open to everyone it's housed in this
super cool building that dates back to
1897 when it used to be a public library
oh and if you're up for more fun there's
another impressive neoclassical stained
glass dome in the nearby Grand Army of
the Republic Hall skip the expensive
attractions and hit up the Chicago
Cultural Center it's an awesome spot to
appreciate art architecture and have a
blast all without spending a cent visit
the Lincoln Park Zoo you've got to check
out the Lincoln Park Zoo because it's a
real gem you won't believe it but it's
one of the few zoos left in the country
that's totally free that means you can
see over 1100 animals from apes to
zebras to flamingos without spending a
dime this place is a huge 35-acre
Wonderland that connects you with
animals from all over the world and
they've got some seriously cool events
going on throughout the year that'll
keep you you coming back for more the
animals here are the real stars of the
show they've got mammals like beavers
Lions otters and bears if you're into
Birds they even have penguins eagles and
parrots strutting their stuff and there
are snakes crocodiles and Turtles for
reptile lovers they keep adding new
members to the zoo family including
adorable baby animals like little
Japanese snow monkeys a zebra fall and a
tiny Diana monkey infant you won't be
able to handle the cuteness and if
you've got little ones with you this
place is super easy to walk around in
and if you're lucky you might even catch
some of the newest Zoo residents in
action sometimes it takes a while before
the Little Critters are out and about
but keep your eyes peeled for those
Sweet Surprises the Lincoln Park Zoo
also knows how to throw a party they've
got outdoor yoga sessions a Summer Wine
Festival craft brews at the zoo and even
sing-alongs for the kiddos there's
always something going on check out the
Chicago Riverwalk Chicago's fantastic
Riverwalk is a must visit spot with a
lot of Awesomeness packed into 1.25
miles imagine strolling along the
Waterfront surrounded by cool
restaurants hip bars and loads of
character it's the perfect place to
people watch and soak in the
mind-blowing city architecture you're in
for a real treat when you check out the
art on the Mart projections they're like
a dazzling light show that turns the
merchandise mart into a visual
Wonderland seriously it's the world's
largest permanent digital art projection
they use over 34 digital projectors to
make the 2.5 acre River facade come
alive with stunning visuals which
attracts thousands of people to the
Riverwalk every week best part it's all
free folks just head to the jetty
section of the Chicago Riverwalk on
Wacker Drive between Wells Street and
Franklin Street and you're in for an
unforgettable spectacle enjoy the sights
the food and the amazing art on the mud
projections it's a recipe for an epic
time speaking of amazing are you a 1
under it yet if not subscribe to our
travel blog at wonderfully head on over to Adler
Planetarium on a Wednesday the Adler
Planetarium in Chicago is back and
better than ever after a break they're
open again for business and they've got
some seriously cool upgrades for
starters they've got this new telescope
in the Doane Observatory and it's the
biggest public telescope in the whole
state it gives you a front row seat to
the Stars how awesome is that there's
even a new observation park that's
perfect for taking in the celestial
sites speaking of sites the
planetarium's iconic dome roof has
gotten a shiny new look with those new
copper tiles the sweetest deal for all
you Illinois residents is that every
Wednesday evening from 4 to 10 pm you
can Waltz in for free yep no entry fee
just bring something to prove you're an
Illinois local and you're good to go so
if you're up for an out of this world
Adventure the Adler Planetarium is
calling your name time watch fireworks
on Navy Pier if you're in Chicago you've
got to check out Navy Pier because it's
the bomb this place is one of the most
popular tourist attractions in the whole
us and guess what it won't cost you a
dime to have a blast there Navy Pier
sits right on the beautiful lakefront
and just strolling around is an
adventure in itself you'll be treated to
killer views of the city skyline and
Lake Michigan and you won't have to
spend a buck how cool is that but it
gets even better when summer hits
because Navy Pier cranks up the fun with
their epic program of events live music
concerts movie screenings and Fireworks
shows are all part of the action and
they're all freebies attend a summer
block party on State Street when the
pandemic was still hanging around in
2021 the Chicago Loop Alliance came up
with a genius plan to get people back to
the loop say hello to Sundays on State
this street festival was a game changer
happening every Sunday throughout the
summer they shut down State Street from
Lake to Madison and it was a total blast
the whole idea was to give the loop a
much needed boost they had it all arts
and culture active Recreation cool shops
and mouth-watering restaurants and bars
all set against the stunning backdrop of
State Street's iconic architecture the
first year was such a hit that they
brought it back the next year but this
time they went even bigger they had over
250 artists businesses workshops and
more to keep the party going if you're
in Chicago you know where the action is
grab your friends and head over to
Sundays on state for an amazing time
it's free it's fun and it's all
happening on State Street
head to the Chicago air and water show
get ready to look up because it's all
happening in the skies above Chicago the
Chicago air and water show happens every
August so you plan your trip around this
time of the year because this show is
the real deal it's the biggest free
event of its kind in the whole country
and it's gonna blow your mind people
from all over North Avenue beach and the
lakefront from Fullerton to Oak Street
rush to catch the action presented by
the city of Chicago this show is a mix
of military and civilian performances
you'll get to see planes soaring
parachutes dropping and the sky filled
with amazing stunts it's a spectacle
like no other and the best part is that
it's all free just show up find a comfy
spot and prepare to be amazed check out
the Garfield Park Conservatory have you
heard about the Garfield Park
Conservatory it's a total green Paradise
that opened its doors in 1908 and it's
like landscape art under glass the size
of this place is mind-blowing too
because it's one of the biggest
buildings of its kind anywhere in the
world once you step inside you'll find
the place packed with over 120 000
plants from 600 different species it's
like a jungle in there they've got
separate areas that are each a world of
their own you'll wander through the
desert house with its cool cacti and
succulents and then you'll find yourself
in the fern room surrounded by Lush
Greenery around a peaceful Lagoon and
don't miss the Palm House it's the
granddaddy of them all it's like being
in a tropical Paradise with over 70 palm
trees swaying in the breeze they've even
got sculptures by the famous glass
artist Dale Chorley made especially for
this spot if you need a break
Horticulture Hall is the place to chill
you can rest your feet while being
surrounded by a gorgeous variety of
flowers and plants thanks for watching
don't forget to like And subscribe

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Welcome back to Wanderfully Lost, your home for all things family vacation and adventure travel!

In today’s travel blog, we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 FREE things to do in Chicago!

Whether you’re a resident or just visiting, exploring the Windy City doesn’t have to break the bank.

From art galleries to serene parks and rowdy festivals — Chicago has got something for everyone!

Before you get lost in our blog, be sure to browse our Wanderful Storefront for all our favorite travel products, gear and must haves!

So, let’s get into it!

1- Spend a Day at the Lincoln Park Zoo

As parents ourselves, we know a thing or two about keeping kids entertained. (Click here about our journey from travellers to parents!)

We can guarantee you that by the time you leave Lincoln Park Zoo, your kids will be pleading with you to take them back.

At Lincoln Park Zoo — one of the oldest zoos in the United States — you get in touch with nature and wildlife and have a lot of fun, too!

This 35-acre zoo is home to a diverse collection of animals from around the world, including the African Penguin and the American Avocet, to name a few.

And the best part? It’s completely free!

While you stroll through the beautiful grounds, watch captivating animal exhibits, and learn about wildlife conservation efforts, you can rest assured that you’re not overspending.

Whether you’re two or sixty-two, the Lincoln Park Zoo captivates and entertains visitors of all ages and sizes with a wide array of plant and animal exhibits, which is why it’s a must-visit destination in our books.

2- Visit the Art Institute of Chicago

If you want to get in touch with your artistic side, you need to head on down to the renowned Art Institute of Chicago.

Here, you can indulge in the world of great art, breathing in works by iconic artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, and Grant Wood.

Boasting masterpieces such as Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks,’ and Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic,’ you can spend hours gazing at every little detail in these paintings.

What’s even greater than all these works of art is the fact that the Institute offers free entry for Illinois residents every Thursday evening between 5 and 8 p.m.

Not only do you get the chance to familiarise yourself with artistic excellence, but you get to do that without making a dent in your pocket!

3- Jam at a Free Music Festival!

Chicago is a city with many faces.

Out of all the cities in the US, it has perhaps the most diverse forms of entertainment to offer. Check out our detailed US city guide for more info!

Whether you’re a fan of architecture, great food, or music — Chicago has it all!

Speaking of music, it’s no wonder that the city where Blues music originated has a thriving concert and festival scene.

Each year, Chicago hosts a whopping 400 music festivals!

While music festivals are generally pretty expensive, the great news is that you can find several free festivals to enjoy.

These festivals typically include live music, and art, along with food and drinks, and can be found with a little bit of research. Some of them include:

  • Chicago Blues Festival (A three-day festival, happening in June)
  • Taste of Chicago (A month-long festival happening in July)
  • World Music Festival (An 11-day festival that occurs annually in September)

4- Learn about Local History in a Chicago Neighborhood

While most of Chicago’s main tourist attractions may be concentrated in The Loop, if you want to truly experience Chicago, we’d suggest that you stroll through some of the city’s diverse and historical neighbourhoods.

As a side note, make sure that you’ve packed the right gear because you’re going to be walking — a lot.

If you need any help with your packing, check out our super convenient travel kits here.

Once you’ve got the right gear on, tread to Wicker Park, which offers a unique and enriching experience that allows you to delve deeper into Chicago’s local culture, with a bustling food scene.

For baseball enthusiasts, a visit to Wrigleyville is a must. You can even book a dedicated ‘baseball’ tour of Wrigleyville, and learn all about the city’s baseball history.

Other historic destinations that you can check out include:

5- Book an Architecture Tour

Known for its diverse architecture — from towering skyscrapers to gilded homes and gothic houses — Chicago’s buildings are what every architect dreams of!

While you’re in the Windy City, make sure to soak up as much architecture as you can when you’re strolling through the streets.

And if that isn’t enough to quench your love for architecture, you can book a free tour. Of course, you’ll need to do your research beforehand. Alternatively, you can customise your own private tour.

Some famous buildings you have to include on your itinerary include:

6- See the Sunset at Navy Pier

Navy Pier, extending into Lake Michigan, offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and an abundance of free entertainment.

Here, the opportunities to have fun are virtually endless.

You can either take a leisurely stroll along the pier, soak in the sunsets, or enjoy the refreshing lake breeze.

In addition to that, all throughout the year, the pier hosts free events such as fireworks shows, live music, and cultural festivals.

You’ll also find Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Chicago’s Children’s Museum located here, too.

Before you decide to visit, just make sure to check out the schedule, and do some online research, for the latest events and happenings during your visit.

7- Take the Kids to Millenium Park

After indulging in a day of art and culture at the museums, it’s refreshing to have some outdoor fun and adventure in Chicago, especially for young kids.

Luckily for us, the city offers a myriad of options for exploring its stunning outdoors, from the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan to the enchanting beauty of Chicago’s beautiful parks.

One must-visit destination is Millennium Park, a true gem in the heart of downtown Chicago. The best part? It’s entirely free to roam around and explore!

The jewel of the Loop, Millennium Park, is where you’ll encounter the famous Cloud Gate, known affectionately by many as “The Bean.”

The park itself is a vibrant gathering place for both locals and visitors and is lush with flora and fauna.

Throughout the year, Millennium Park hosts an array of events, including concerts and performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

Here, you can soak up the rhythm of live, cheerful music while surrounded by the park’s beauty and striking architecture.

Trust us — a visit to Millenium Park is an experience unlike any other!

8- Bike, Jog or Walk the 606 Trail

If you’d like an adrenaline rush, away from all the noise and chaos of the city, make sure you visit the famous 606 trail.

Built on the former Bloomingdale Line railroad track, the 606 is an elevated trail and park system, perfect for those looking for an adventure rush.

This unique and rather daunting 2.7-mile trail is perfect for walking, jogging, or biking. While you trek the 606, make sure to gaze at the wonderful views around you.

You’ll get to see Chicago’s neighbourhoods and green spaces in a way that you’ve never seen before.

With several access points and art installations along the way, The 606 offers a peculiar combination of serenity, adventure, and culture — which is why you need to visit it!

9- Relax at Garfield Park Conservatory

Nestled in Chicago, Illinois, the Garfield Park Conservatory stands as a true marvel, boasting the title of one of the world’s largest and most breathtaking conservatories — and you get to visit it for free!

Often hailed as a living masterpiece, the Garfield Park Conservatory spans an impressive 12 acres, encompassing both interior and exterior spaces. It’s a true celebration of landscape art brought to life under a glass roof, creating an immersive and enchanting environment for visitors of all ages.

You and your family can enjoy a vast collection of exhibits, each boasting of horticultural brilliance. We’d suggest that you start by exploring the outdoor gardens and then make your way to the Aroid House, as well as the wonderfully green and vibrant Fern Room.

10- Explore Culture at the Magnificent Mile

If you ever want to visit a place that is the collection of the best that Chicago has to offer — make sure you visit the Magnificent Mile.

Heralded as Chicago’s premier commercial district, here, you’ll find everything from food, malls, and luxury outlets to comedy clubs and music concerts!

While we could probably make an entire YouTube video highlighting all that there is to do and see in the Magnificent Mile (keep an eye out for that here!), you can start with a visit to The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

If you have kids with you — chances are they’re obsessed with slime. In that case, make sure to visit the wonderfully eccentric Sloomoo Insitute, a celebration of all things slime and ASMR.

On that rather bizarre note, we hope you’ve found this blog helpful!

With that said, happy travels!

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