You know how the saying goes: the best things in life are free. Well, some of those things are in the city of Chicago. Festivals, shows, activities, all on offer for not even a dime. So if you’re on a budget but fancy taking a trip soon, Chicago is a great option.

Here’s our top picks of the free things to do in Chicago:

Mill around Millennium Park

A stroll through Millennium Park ticks off futuristic architecture spotting, making a splash in an epic fountain and enjoying some entertainment on the Great Lawn. That’s a lot of free. The main attraction in Millennium Park is the Cloud Gate, also known as ‘The Bean’. A unique sculpture that reflects the city in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways. Great for your Instagram feed. Then, just as impressive, the Crown Fountain sits between two interactive video towers showing digital faces of Chicagoans, some of whom appear to be squirting the very water you’re playing in. And during the summer months you can pitch up on the Great Lawn or the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for a free concert or film screening, or in winter, the McCormick Tribune Plaza is transformed into a free ice rink. You’ve not spent a cent yet…

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The Big Loop – Red Route, Stop: Maggie Daley Park

Get some Chicago culture

One of the most visited attractions in the city is the Chicago Culture Center, and we don’t doubt that it’s partly down to the incredible free line up on offer. First, you can take a tour covering the architecture and history of the building – look up and you’ll be blown away by the largest Tiffany stained-glass dome in the Preston Bradley Hall. 

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It’s not just the beauty of the building that draws in flocks of crowds to the Chicago Cultural Center every day. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy the free art exhibits, music and dance performances this venue schedules, showcasing both international artists and local talent.

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The Big Loop – Red Route, Stop: The Loop & State St.

Festival fever

Chicago hosts festivals throughout the year, always free of charge. And there’s some we simply must shout out. The Grant Park Music Festival has been going for more than 80 years now. Chicago’s summer music event, a world-class orchestra and chorus perform classical melodies transforming the atmosphere city. The Chicago Blues Festival celebrates this genres past, present and future. Demonstrating how this Chicago-born music tradition has impacted soul, R&B gospel, rock, hip hop and so much more. And SummerDance, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. You can practise your swing, waltz and cha-cha before taking to the open-air dancefloor and letting loose.   

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Ice cream on the Pier

Ok, technically the ice cream isn’t free, but plenty is at Navy Pier. You can start with a Self Guided Walking Tour, designed to be used on your own time and at your own pace. Showing you the best of the boardwalk, with 2,000 feet to cover it’s a great way to plan your time ahead. Take in the views of the city along the way and spy the public art on show. Adjacent to the Pier is Ohio Street Beach where you can spend many-a-days relaxing in the sun. Then when the sun goes down, look up to the firework display that’s laid on from Memorial Day through to Labor Day. That’s a lot of bang for your buck spent on ice cream.

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The Big Loop – Red Route, Stop: Navy Pier

Take the trail

The Lakefront Trail in Chicago stretches from Ardmore Street on the North Side to 71st Street on the South side. 19 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan, it’s a scenic route best enjoyed by walking or cycling. Trailing right through downtown Chicago passing plenty of cultural hotspots and attractions along the way. Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, Promontory Point, all en-route. Burnham Park, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium…just plan in plenty of time for those selfies. 

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The Big Loop – Red Route, Stop: Maggie Daley Park

So there you have our simply-must list of free things to do in Chicago. And now that you’ve managed to save so much money, why not splash out on a Big Bus tour and see all the city’s sights in style. With stops by all the landmarks and attractions Chicago is famous for, you can hop off and explore more wherever you choose. For more inspiration on how to fill the rest of your time in this cultural city, check out our guide to the Top 10 Things to do in Chicago.