Top Free Things To Do In Chicago

Visiting Chicago on a Shoestring? The 5 Best Free Attractions in the Windy City

While many of Chicago's museums and attractions every so often have "free days," there are a number of tourist attractions offering free admission year round. Here are the top things to do in Chicago.

--edited by Audarshia Townsend

  • 01 of 06
    Buckingham Fountain
    ••• Bruce Leighty/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Opened May 26, 1927, the Buckingham Fountain is one of Chicago's most recognizable landmarks, and its free hourly water show in the summer is fun for young and old. It was donated to the city by Kate Buckingham and is Chicago's centerpiece along the Lake Michigan shore. Controlled by a computer in its underground pump room, it's a dazzling display that makes for a fantastic photo opportunity and a picture perfect background, which is why you'll inevitably see a wedding party having portraits taken there during milder weather.

  • 02 of 06

    Chicago Cultural Center

    ••• Chicago Cultural Center

    The Chicago Cultural Center lures hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with numerous free events and proximity to tourist mecca Millennium Park. Besides featuring free music, dance and theater performances, the center frequently shows films, conducts lectures, displays art exhibits and offers family events. Architecture buffs also flock to the structure because it's a landmark building; it was built in 1897 as the city's first central public library.

    The interior details are stunning as it was originally intended to be a showpiece building to build Chicago's cachet as a sophisticated city to be taken seriously--a reputation not previously afforded to it in the mid-1800s. The skilled craftsmanship is obvious with the use of imported marble, hardwoods, polished brass, glass mosaics and stone. The show stopper is the 38 foot diameter Tiffany stained glass dome located on the south side of the building. Find out about events happening at the Chicago Cultural Center right...MORE here.

  • 03 of 06
    ••• Lincoln Park Conservatory

    Located at the north end of Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory features four serene greenhouses (Orchid House, Fernery, Palm House and Show House) all displaying fantastic arrays of flora. During summer, venture outdoors to find a lush, French garden filled with a large variety of plants and flowers, and a beautiful fountain. Many Chicago residents utilize this space to sit and read, toss a football around, let their kids run freely or just take in the beauty of nature.

  • 04 of 06
    Lincoln Park Zoo
    ••• Photo © Andrew Stamm

    For its part, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest in the United States. It was established in 1868, yet has been continuously updated and is amongst the most contemporary in terms of education, recreation and conservation. The zoo is unique in that it offers an intimate setting that allows visitors a closer look at the animals than most sprawling zoo settings. It is dedicated to permanently keeping its admission policy free for everyone. The zoo, in fact, is the only free zoo in Chicagoland, and one of the last free major wildlife attractions in the country.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06
    Crown Fountain
    ••• Photo © Prescott Carlson

    There's plenty to do at Chicago's Millennium Park -- you can gaze at yours and the city's reflection in The Bean, listen to a concert at the Pritzker Pavilion, quietly reflect at the Lurie Garden, or splash around in the Crown Fountain.


  • 06 of 06

    South Shore Cultural Center

    ••• South Shore Cultural Center

    Located only a few minutes south from Hyde Park's Museum of Science & Industry, the South Shore Cultural Center has been an iconic structure in the neighborhood since 1905. Throughout the summer it focuses on rich programming that is free to all. Entertainment ranges from West African dance performances to live jazz or classical music. Check the schedule for more information right here.