CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER (77 E. RANDOLPH STREET)
This historical landmark hosts hundreds of free programs year-round. The building has two unbelievable stained-glass domes, which you can see on your own or on a free building tour. The many halls regularly hosts free events, from weekly classical music concerts to blues, jazz and more. Also look on the daily Chicago Cultural Center schedule for free dance performances, film screenings, seminars and theater events.
CAMBODIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE MUSEUM (2831 W. LAWRENCE AVENUE)
This unique institution celebrates Cambodian community and culture in the United States. The museum draws awareness to the Cambodian genocide and offers an ever-changing rotation of exhibitions and original art.
CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION PROGRAMS (224 S. MICHIGAN AVENUE)
The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring people to discover why design matters. In addition to their popular architecture river boat cruises and docent-led tours, CAF pursues this mission through free exhibitions, special events and youth/adult education programs. Visit their Loop headquarters to see their impressive 3D model of the city, try to catch a lunchtime seminar, or plan your trip around their marquee event Open House Chicago each September.
CHICAGO GREETER NEIGHBORHOOD TOURS (VARIOUS LOCATIONS)
The Chicago Greeter program pairs knowledgeable locals with Chicago visitors for an informal, insider's orientation of the city and its many, vibrant neighborhoods. Through customized, guided walks you can sightsee all across the city based on interest topics of your choice, from public art and architecture to food to films.
CHICAGO PARKS & BEACHES (VARIOUS LOCATIONS)
Chicago has hundreds of free public parks that cover over 8,000 acres of Chicago. Many feature wildlife havens like Northerly Island and North Pond Nature Sanctuary; incredible landscape designs such as Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool and Jackson Park's Osaka Garden; and athletic facilities such as the kayak boat house in Ping Tom Memorial Park. Hit the Lakefront Trail for some free outdoor recreation with a view or spend the day at one of the free public beaches, open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
CITY GALLERY AT THE HISTORIC WATER TOWER (806 N. MICHIGAN AVENUE)
The treasured landmark on The Magnificent Mile has been turned into a beautiful showcase for rotating art exhibits from local photographers and artists.
HAROLD WASHINGTON LIBRARY CENTER (400 S. STATE STREET)
As one of the largest public libraries in the world, the Harold Washington Library encompasses close to a million square feet filling a whole city block and houses more than 13 million published works. Enjoy a look at the architecture — giant owls perch from the roof, Roman goddess of grain Ceres on the facade, the sunny 9th floor Winter Garden — or explore the art collection of over 50 artists, both local and internationally known, displayed throughout the halls and reading rooms.
GARFIELD PARK CONSERVATORY (300 N. CENTRAL PARK AVENUE)
As one of the nation's premier displays of rare plant species, the Garfield Park Conservatory has a half dozen greenhouses and two large exhibition halls.
HYDE PARK ART CENTER (5020 S. CORNELL AVENUE)
If you're looking for open to the public gallery talks, poetry readings, musical performances and art classes, HPAC offers free cultural exhibitions for visitors of all ages.
JANE ADDAMS HULL-HOUSE MUSEUM (800 S. HALSTED STREET)
This museum is dedicated to providing free to the public exhibits and programs that focus on policy efforts. The tribute to Jane Addams serves as an educational conduit to addressing issues that affect the sociological conditions of underserved communities.
LINCOLN PARK CONSERVATORY (2391 N. STOCKTON DRIVE)
Located in stunning Lincoln Park, this conservatory displays some of the most stunning flowers and rare plant life. No matter the season, a walk through this storied green house will always feel like a stroll through paradise.
LINCOLN PARK ZOO (2200 N. CANNON DRIVE)
As one of only a few free zoos in the country, Lincoln Park Zoo covers over 35 acres and features tigers, polar bears, lions and more than 230 other species of animals. The Farm in the Zoo and Nature Boardwalk bring you up close and personal with the animal world.
MAGGIE DALEY PARK (337 E. RANDOLPH STREET)
Meet Grant Park's newest addition, located immediately east of Millennium Park. This play park for kids is an imaginative 20 acres designed in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It comes complete with its own mini-lighthouse, a life-sized ship, two climbing walls (fee starts at $15), 30-foot tall Suspension Bridge Towers, a quarter-mile long skating ribbon, an Enchanted Garden of upside-down trees, plus several Picnic Groves.
MILLENNIUM PARK (201 E. RANDOLPH STREET)
One of the state's most popular tourist attractions features larger-than-life public art (don't miss Cloud Gate for a mirrored look at the skyline or splashing in Crown Fountain during warm weather months); a cutting edge performance stage (the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Prizker Pavilion) featuring free concerts all summer; and the all-seasons beauty Lurie Garden. Be sure to check the Millennium Park schedule for a listing of upcoming events.
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY (600 S. MICHIGAN AVENUE)
As one of the only museums in the region devoted exclusively to photography, this cultural center aims to communicate the value of still images, artistic expression and human thought.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MEXICAN ART (1852 W. 19TH STREET)
Located in the cultural epicenter of the colorful Pilsen neighborhood, this museum is focused on celebrating Mexican culture and is the largest of its kind in the nation.
NAVY PIER (600 E. GRAND AVENUE)
One of Chicago's most recognizable landmarks boasts gorgeous lakefront views — take a stroll and enjoy the breezes, admission is free to the pier's boardwalk. Summer features free weekly fireworks Wednesday and Saturday evenings as well as free outdoor concerts in the LandShark Beer Garden.
THE 606 (BLOOMINGDALE AVENUE FROM ASHLAND TO RIDGEWAY)
Trek this stunning new 2.7 mile elevated park trail set above city streets and explore its five interconnected neighborhoods. With its linear walking/bicycle/jogging paths, as well as ample green space, it boasts scenic lookout points, public art murals and an outdoor observatory.
THE NEWBERRY LIBRARY (60 W. WALTON STREET)
This stunning library contains more than 1.5 million published works and often features special exhibitions.
THE ORIENTAL INSTITUTE MUSEUM (1155 E. 59TH STREET)
Focusing on the rich history of the ancient Near East, this museum displays artifacts recovered during Oriental Institute excavations.
THE RENAISSANCE SOCIETY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
(5811 S. ELLIS AVENUE)
The society offers exhibitions and programs that aim to provide insight and educate on the wonders of art history.
SMART MUSEUM OF ART (5550 S. GREENWOOD AVENUE)
The name kind of says it all. This museum features works from some the world's all-time brightest minds like Goya, Frank Lloyd Wright, Degas, Rodin, Matisse, Picasso, Rivera and Ansel Adams.