You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of fun things to do in Chicago. Here are 10 of our favorite free events and activities this spring in Chicago, including cutting-edge art experiences, outdoor adventures, free museum days, and so much more. Start planning your budget-friendly Chicago adventures for May 2022.

1. Catch the first summer fireworks show

NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Navy Pier’s summer fireworks display is one of the most iconic parts of a Chicago summer. The dazzling free series kicks off on the Saturday evening of Memorial Day weekend. You catch the show on the Pier, at Offshore Rooftop, or on a lakefront boat cruise.

2. Explore space at Adler Planetarium

After a long hiatus, the Adler Planetarium has reopened to the public. They’re celebrating with free admission for Illinois residents every Wednesday during their new evening hours from 4 – 10 p.m. Explore exhibits, see a Sky Show in the dome theater, and more.

3. Admire Art on theMART

A brand new season of Art on theMART is now playing along the Chicago River. This spring, the massive digital display will feature works in collaboration with the Shedd Aquarium and local dance troupes in honor of the Year of Chicago Dance. The spring program will run twice nightly at 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. from April 9 through June 29.

4. Visit a museum

A girl explores an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry
Photo by Adam Alexander

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by wandering through a museum exhibit or art gallery. 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. Scoot or skate along the Ribbon

Rock climb at Maggie Daley ParkRock climb at Maggie Daley Park
Grab your skates or a scooter and head to Maggie Daley Park, where the free Skating Ribbon has been transformed from an ice rink to a paved path. The Ribbon is free when you BYO wheels, rentals are available for $12. The park offers scenic views of the surrounding skyline and is a short walk to Millennium Park or the lakefront.

6. Browse an outdoor market

Maxwell Street Market

This 100-year-old Chicago tradition is now open for the season. The outdoor Maxwell Street Market is brimming with eclectic, international treasures waiting to be found every Sunday. Expect tools, clothing, collectibles, baked goods, produce, and more — and come ready to bargain.

If you’re looking to stock up on local produce, check out these summer farmer’s markets popping up in neighborhood parks all over the city.

7. Hit the beach

Mandatory Photo Credit:
Abel Arciniega :: @tequilagraphics

Beach season officially begins on Memorial Day weekend, which means Chicago’s dozens of free beaches will be open to the public. People watch at North Avenue Beach, take in the views at South Shore Beach, play some beach volleyball at Foster Beach, and beyond. Many Chicago beaches are connected via the Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile path perfect for running, walking, or biking.

Check out more sandy spots to explore with our Chicago beach guide.

8. Visit a historic zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is Chicago’s free zoo and one of the oldest in the country. It’s open to the public all year long. Stroll through the scenic grounds, where you can watch animals from around the world explore their habitats, including the newly reopened big cat exhibit.

9. Take a free history tour

Chicago is full of stunning landmarks and historic spaces — and you can learn all about them during these free tours.

  • Historic Former Wabash YMCA: This Bronzeville building, known as the birthplace of Black History Month, is filled with fascinating history. This month’s tour is May 14.
  • Charnley-Persky House: A National Historic Landmark in the Gold Coast recognized as a pivotal work of modern American architecture. Catch a free, small-group tour every Wednesday.
  • Chicago Cultural Center: An iconic cultural attraction in the Loop, it’s worth visiting just to see the intricate Tiffany glass dome. Tours meet every Thursday and Friday afternoon.
  • Clarke House Museum: The oldest home in Chicago, the Clarke House has been standing in the South Loop since before the Civil War. Take a look inside during the free tours on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

10. Experience the Chicago Riverwalk

Pedestrians walk on the Chicago Riverwalk in summer
Alice Achterhof

Last but certainly not least, the Chicago Riverwalk is the perfect vantage point to admire the city’s stunning architecture. The award-winning stretch of waterfront is open year-round, but it comes to life in the spring and summer. The many waterfront restaurants, bars, and vendors begin to open for the season in April, so there should be plenty of places to explore in May!

Bonus! Discover a new neighborhood

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident, there’s always something new to discover in Chicago. Get to know a new neighborhood on a free Chicago Greeter tour, led by a friendly local who will show you each neighborhood’s landmarks, hot spots, and hidden gems.

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