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 and cheap things to do in Chicago this month, including free museum days, outdoor movie screenings, music festivals, neighborhood walking tours, and so much more. Start planning your budget-friendly adventures now.

1. See live music

Pritzker Pavilion

It’s the Year of Chicago Music, and that means a year jam-packed with music festivals, outdoor concerts, and more. The best news? A lot of them are free. Check out some upcoming free concerts and festivals in September.

  • Chicago in Tune: This new month-long festival will celebrate Chicago’s diverse music scene in venues all across the city.
  • Millennium Park Summer Music Series: See free shows under the soaring Pritzker Pavilion, featuring local and national talent.
  • House City: This new, nine-part series of free events will showcase the Chicago-born genre of house music through pop-up performances in various neighborhoods.

Check out more music festivals in Chicago this month.

2. Experience the Chicago Architecture Biennial

An exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019/2020
Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial /
Kendall McCaugherty

The largest architecture and design exhibition in North America is back in Chicago, featuring projects created by contributors from around the globe at free exhibits and events throughout the city. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is held at the Chicago Cultural Center with a selection of off-site projects, related exhibitions, and programming in neighborhoods all across the city. Check out the full programming schedule that kicked off during opening weekend, Sept. 17 – 19.

3. Explore a museum

MSI Storm exhibit
J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

In the summer, and there’s no better way to cool down than by wandering through a new museum exhibit or art gallery. Here are the upcoming free museum days this month (and make sure to reserve  your tickets ahead of time):

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

4. Catch music, movies, yoga, and more on the lakefront

Navy Pier (an always-free Chicago attraction) offers a full schedule of free summer events, and Labor Day is the last weekend to check them out! Check out everything happening on the Pier this summer and visit the Navy Pier events calendar for more details:

5. See the world’s largest video art show

Art on theMART is back! The free show lights up the Chicago Riverwalk with a stunning light display each night at 8:30 and 9 p.m. Grab a spot near the water and enjoy projections inspired by the blockbuster art exhibits on Frida Kahlo and the Obamas.

6. Visit the Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center has reopened to the public. The cultural heart of the Loop, this stunning landmark building is home to free art exhibits, concerts, tours, and the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. Spend a day exploring, then head right across the street to spend some time in Millennium Park.

7. Take a free neighborhood tour

Whether it’s 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. Or drop into a free InstaGreeter walk that covers the top things to see around the Chicago Loop.

8. See landscape art under glass


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.

9. Wander The Lakefront Trail

Biking down Lakeshore Drive on Divvys
Clayton Hauck for Choose Chicago

Explore a stretch of the 18-mile Lakefront Trail, where you’ll find scenic views of the vast Lake Michigan. Venture out by foot or rent a Divvy bike to cover more ground. Make sure to check the weather and trail conditions before heading out.

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, though concessions are seasonal.

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