There's no shortage of things to do in the Windy City! One of the best parts about Chicago is that it doesn't cost much to explore and learn what the city is all about. In fact, some of Chicago's coolest tourist attractions are entirely free. If you ever make your way over there, you'll not only get the chance to see the best of what Chicago has to offer, you also won't have to break out your wallet the entire time you're there. Spend less time budgeting and saving up money so you can plan to spend your time at these free attractions instead.
The Lincoln Park Zoo brings wildlife to a metropolitan area, and the juxtaposition of seeing lions and tigers roam with skyscrapers looming in the background is super cool. Don't worry though -- the animals are properly cared for and the zoo prides itself on educating others on conservation and animal ethics. While there are an abundance of species that reside at the zoo, make sure you stop by the Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit, where you'll actually get to have hands-on experiences with some of the animals. And remember, all of this for free!
This park, which is free to roam about in, is mostly known for the iconic "Cloud Gate" sculpture that is on display there. Also referred to as "The Bean," this unique piece of art always draws a crowd. Then there's the park's Lurie Garden, which is a beautiful addition to the already delightful area. Keep in mind, there are free seasonal opportunities that take place in the park too. There are often free concerts or film screenings taking place there when the weather is warm, and in the winter the park turns their McCormick Tribune Plaza into an ice-skating rink.
If you want to experience more nature, the Garfield Park Conservatory is an absolute must-see. The garden stretches out over 12 acres outdoors, and there's also a 2 acre garden kept indoors under a beautiful glass dome.
There are 5,000 types of plants in the gardens, and many are exotic and originate from different places all over the world. The conservatory was first opened all the way back in 1908, so this attraction has had a lot of time to establish itself as a crowd-pleaser. And it's free, so why not?
Not willing to dish out the money to buy a ticket to go to the Sears Tower? The Signature Lounge in John Hancock Center has a pretty good view too. Of course, you'll have to spend money if you want to order some of the appetizing food and drinks there, but the gorgeous scenery is entirely free to observe. If your budget is tight but you still want to take in the beautiful city from a high vantage point, this is a good alternative to the options that cost money.
Get a fun and free history lesson at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. The house started as a settlement house before being transformed into a museum all about activist Jane Addams, who dedicated her life to immigration reform and social change. She eventually went on to become the first American woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She certainly has a powerful and inspiring story that is worth sharing with others! And fortunately, you can learn about her in an in-depth and immersive way for free.
The Smart Museum of Art houses the various artistic collections of the University of Chicago. It currently has over 15,000 pieces of artwork on display, some dating back to an entire 5,000 years ago. With works ranging from Asian art to European art to modern art to contemporary art, this free museum has an amazing variety to suit everyone's tastes.
Diving into some culture, history, and beauty for absolutely no money sounds like a pretty good deal, wouldn't you say? Whether you yourself are an artist or not, you're guaranteed to leave the museum feeling inspired.
If you need help finding an activity to suit your interests, good news! You can have an expert guide you in the right direction for absolutely free. The Chicago Greeter Program can pair you with a local who speaks your language as well as knows the in's and out's of the city. Just tell them what your interests are and they'll take you on a tour -- for free -- to find the attractions you'll like best. Then there's the Chicago Walking Tour, where you'll get to see the best of the city. At the end of the tour, you only have to pay what you think the tour deserved and what you're able to.
Did you know this iconic attraction is absolutely free to enter? While many of the activities inside may cost money, the view and atmosphere are free. Plus, there are a few things in there that don't cost a penny -- you just have to search them out among all the other attractions! As an added bonus, there's a free fireworks show every summer on Wednesday's and Saturday's from Memorial Day to Labor Day. No one can resist a magical fireworks show! Unfortunately, if you want to view it from the top of the Ferris wheel, you'll have to pay up.
The Chicago Cultural Center is large, stretching all the way from Washington to Randolph Streets, and Michigan Avenue to Garland Court. You can get a 45 minute tour of this historic and intricately designed building for absolutely free, but that's not all that's offered there. There's some sort of free event -- whether it be an art exhibit, performance, lecture, or film screening -- every day of the week. Look up a calendar online to see what events are coming to the center on the days that you are there. You can attend one every day if you want!
The photographs on display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography are always breathtaking. Showcasing local photographers, this museum always seems to have a cool exhibition going on that present pictures communicating the heart of Chicago and its locals. And -- you guessed it -- admission is entirely free. The museum prides itself on displaying photos that start a dialogue among attendees. To see the city in a whole new way, make sure you check this museum out. After all, what better way to tell the story of Chicago than photographs from the people who live there?