You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of fun things to do all around the city. Here are 10 of our favorite free events and activities this month in Chicago, including exciting neighborhood festivals, cultural celebrations, dance events, live music, free museum days, and so much more. Start planning your budget-friendly Chicago adventures for September 2022.

1. See the fireworks

NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Don’t miss the last Navy Pier fireworks of the season! The free show is one of the most iconic parts of a Chicago summer. The dazzling display will light up the sky for Labor Day weekend on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 9 p.m. You catch the show on the Pier, at Offshore Rooftop, on a boat cruise, or along the lakefront.

2. Catch some live jazz

Chicago Jazz Fest Band
Chicago Jazz Fest

September in Chicago is an excellent month for jazz lovers. Check out these two signature festivals that bring local, national, and international jazz musicians to Chicago for multiple days of live, free music.

  • Chicago Jazz Festival: Labor Day weekend in Chicago can only mean one thing — the Chicago Jazz Festival. Head to Millennium Park to take in the free festival, known for attracting big names and emerging talent, to enjoy shows with a skyline backdrop.
  • Hyde Park Jazz Festival: This historic neighborhood hosts their annual jazz festival on Sept. 24 and 25. The multi-venue event includes both an outdoor fest at the Midway Plaisance and shows throughout the area’s many cultural institutions.

3. Explore a new neighborhood

Monument to the Great Migration

Join Chicago Greeter in Millennium Park on Saturday, Sept. 10 to celebrate the 7th annual International Greeter Day. Meet at Chase Promenade for live music, a pop-up visitor center, and free tours of Chicago’s downtown and neighborhoods, including Pilsen, Chinatown, Bronzeville, Uptown, and more.

4. Enjoy a free museum day

Clayton Hauck for Choose Chicago

Spend an afternoon wandering through a Chicago museum, where you can dive into fascinating local history, provocative contemporary art, and galaxies far far away. Here are the upcoming free museum days in Chicago this month:

You can also check out one of the city’s always-free museums, like the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Hyde Park Art Center. And check out free museum days throughout the year.

5. Check out a neighborhood festival

Printers Row Lit Fest; photo by Ken Carl

September in Chicago is packed with neighborhood events, from outdoor markets to art fairs to lively street fests. Check out just a few highlights you’ll find this month:

  • West Loop Art Festival (Sept. 3  – 4): Live music, entertainment, and four blocks filled with local art vendors will be showcased at the fourth annual West Loop Art Festival.
  • Sundays on State (Sept. 4): Join this free, interactive block party featuring art, culture, shopping, dining, and more in the heart of the Loop.
  • German American Oktoberfest(Sept. 9): Oktoberfest is in full swing in the heart of Lincoln Square, with a free festival featuring food, drinks, dancing, entertainment, and more.
  • Printers Row Lit Fest (Sept. 10 – 11): The largest free outdoor literary showcase in the Midwest features speakers and exhibitors across genres in the South Loop.
  • Jazzin’ On the Steps (Sept. 18): The South Side Jazz Coalition kicks off its summer series with a return to free jazz in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.

6. Watch movies in the park

Millennium Park Pritzker Pavilion
Abel Arciniega :: @tequilagraphics

It’s last call for movies in the park! As summer comes to an end, so do the ultra-popular outdoor movie series throughout Chicago’s many green spaces. Catch one last free movie at these downtown and neighborhood parks this September:

  • Millennium Park Summer Film Series: Every summer in Chicago, visitors and locals flock to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion to watch blockbusters, award-winning movies, family classics, and cult favorites. This month’s films include Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Sept. 6.
  • Movies at Gallagher Way: Catch fan-favorite films in the shadow of iconic Wrigley Field at this outdoor movie series. This month, watch Selena on Sept. 14 and Bohemian Rhapsody on Sept. 21.
  • Movies in the Park: The Chicago Park District hosts various screenings at parks around the city, with a few last shows in September, including Minari at Margate Park in Uptown on Sept. 9.

Tip: You can also catch free screenings from two major film festivals this month: the Chicago International Film Festival and Asian Pop Up Cinema, both at the Chicago Cultural Center.

7. Celebrate the Year of Chicago Dance

Chicago is home to an innovative and influential dance scene, and you can get a taste during the Year of Chicago Dance. All summer long, you’ll find free outdoor performances and fun lessons throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods, including:

  • Chicago SummerDance (Sept. 7, 14, and 17): Learn some new moves with live music and dance classes held in Chicago parks around the city, celebrating a diverse variety of genres.
  • The Bollywood Dances of South Asia (Sept. 8): Come dance to popular songs from nine decades of Bollywood from the 1930s till today at Strohacker Park in West Elsdon.
  • Comedy Dance Chicago (Sept. 10): Catch a free all-ages comedy dance show at the outdoor Northcenter Town Square.
  • Flamenco Quartet Project (Sept. 20 and 22): Enjoy the energy and vibrancy of live flamenco at this free event held at Ravenswood Manor Park and Back of the Yards Park.

Find more events and performances during the Year of Chicago Dance.

8. Experience Chicago culture at Navy Pier

An outdoor concert at Navy Pier
Photo by James Richard IV

Chicago Live! is a free performance festival hosted at lakefront Navy Pier. The annual event showcases more than 60 of Chicago’s top cultural organizations, including music, dance, theatre, and more. Head to the Pier for two days of back-to-back performances on Sept. 24 and 25.

This year’s line-up includes Black Ensemble Theater, The Joffrey Ballet, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago Fringe Opera, South Chicago Dance Theatre, American Blues Theater, and so much more.

9. Hear music from around the world

World Music Festival is a one-of-a-kind experience that brings hundreds of musicians from all over the world to Chicago for a multi-venue celebration of international music that starts on Sep. 30. Don’t miss Ragamala, an all-night showcase of Indian classical music that’s always a fan favorite. Other highlights include the Global Peace Picnic in Humboldt Park and the finale event at Navy Pier.

10. See landscape art under glass

Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory; photo by Adam Alexander

Recently named the best garden in North America by Yelp users, Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush wonderland of plant life from all over the world, from massive palm trees to cacti and succulents. The conservatory is housed inside a historic glass structure designed by the legendary Jens Jensen. Outside, you’ll find 10 acres of sprawling gardens to explore. The conservatory is free, donations are accepted.

Looking for more? Check out our guide on free things to do in Chicago all year long.