Chicago's Shedd Aquarium has a number of free days throughout the year when they waive the general admission for visitors (must show a valid Illinois ID), which includes Waters of the World, Amazon Rising and the Caribbean Reef exhibits. The Stingray Touch exhibit is also free, seasonally. A package that includes the other areas of the aquarium, including Wild Reef, the Oceanarium and the Polar Play Zone, is offered at a discounted price. Also, if you buy your tickets online, you'll incur a $3 transaction fee.
But be warned. While you'll save money, the free days add to the already packed crowds at the Shedd.
1200 South Lake Shore Drive
Schedule of Shedd Aquarium Free Days:
September 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 23—25, 30; October 1—2; December 4
Visit the Shedd website for the most up-to-date scheduling of free days.
Additional Free Chicago Attractions
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.
Reconstruction of the Chicago Riverwalk started in the early 1990s and was finally completed spring 2015. The walkway is situated six blocks along the Chicago River from State Street west to Lake Street with distinctive identities, thematically named: The Marina (from State to Dearborn); The Cove (Dearborn to Clark); The River Theater (Clark to LaSalle); The Swimming Hole (LaSalle to Wells); The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) and The Boardwalk (Franklin to Lake). There are a number of restaurants and bars along the walk, but visitors may explore it on their own.
Bring lunch and settle outside and watch kayaks and architectural boat cruises float by.
Grant Park is home to Buckingham Fountain--one of the city's most famous landmarks--as well as the Grant Park Musical Festival, which offers a free summer classical concert series. Pack a picnic, then head down to the park for the late morning or afternoon rehearsals, which are free. There are also lectures before almost every performance. View the entire schedule right here.
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.
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.
Get ready for Puerto Rican pride on display at the nation's largest cultural institution dedicated to their rich history and culture. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture opened in 2001 and since then has focused on many aspects for the community, including visual art exhibitions, hands-on arts workshops, films in the park, and an annual outdoor fine arts and crafts festival. It is also the only self-standing cultural institution in the country devoted to showcasing Puerto Rican arts and historic exhibitions year-round.
An entire wing of the museum is dedicated to arts education. NMPRAC offers hands-on arts and crafts workshops, from painting, drawing and sculpting to printmaking and photography. Students of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to participate.