You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of culture and fun in Chicago. Here are 10 free things to do in Chicago this January, including light displays, outdoor activities, exhibits, concerts, and more.
1. Be awed by a one-of-a-kind light show
Through Jan. 5
Only a few days left to see the Zoolights! This stunning lights show takes place at Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest free zoos in the country. While winter animals play in their habitats, the sprawling lakefront zoo is decked out in 2.5 million glittering lights. See the luminous display and enjoy festive activities like live ice-carving demos, photos with Santa, strolling carolers, and more.
2. Go for a spin on an outdoor ice rink
All month long
Lace up your skates and go for a spin at one of the two ice skating rinks in Millennium Park. Check out the McCormick Tribune rink in the shadow of the iconic “The Bean” statue, or the Skating Ribbon, which loops around nearby Maggie Daley Park. Admission is free, skate rentals are available.
Check out these upcoming ice skating events:
- Ice rink DJ nights at Millennium Park (Jan. 2 & 16)
- Free ice skating lessons at Millennium Park (weekends and select holidays)
3. Visit a Chicago museum
Various dates in January
Many of Chicago’s most popular museums are offering free admission days this month. Illinois residents get free admission to the following museums this January:
- Adler Planetarium (Jan. 7 – 9, 20 – 22)
- Shedd Aquarium (Jan. 16 – 20)
- Chicago History Museum (Jan. 20)
Check out our list of free museum days all year long.
4. Explore artists’ galleries
Head to the Bridgeport Art Center on the third Friday of every month for their free open studio night. Meet painters, sculptors, photographers, fashion designers, ceramic artists, and woodworkers and check out their work and artistic process. The event, which runs from 7 – 10 p.m., includes free parking and refreshments.
5. Preview the Chicago Latino Film Festival
Jan. 15, 22, 29
The Chicago Latino Film Festival isn’t until April, but you can get a sneak preview during their free film series this month. Catch the first-come, first-served screenings at the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesdays throughout January and February. The series will highlight comedies from Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Chile. Check out the full film schedule.
6. Welcome the Chinese New Year
Jan. 25 – Feb. 9
Chicago pulls out all the stops to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Choose from two dazzling parades — the Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration on Saturday, a decades-old Uptown tradition, and the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade on Sunday. Both feature marching bands, colorful floats, dancers, and traditional lion dances.
7. Embark on a Polar adventure
Explore a snow-covered urban island during Polar Adventure Days. Head to Northerly Island on Lake Michigan to explore the island on snowshoes, sip hot cocoa, create nature-inspired crafts, and come face-to-face with wolves, Siberian huskies, birds of prey, and other winter creatures.
8. Tour the Chicago Cultural Center
Wednesday – Saturday
Get an inside look at one of Chicago’s most beloved cultural assets. The free building tours delve into the fascinating history of the landmark Chicago Cultural Center, offered year round on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1:15 p.m.
Plus, check out these free events at the Chicago Cultural Center:
- Chicago Architecture Biennial (Through Jan. 5)
- Chamber Mondays with the Musicians Club of Women (Jan. 27)
9. Explore a restored architectural gem
Jan. 12, 19, 26
What was once a crumbling, abandoned bank is now a vibrant cultural asset. The Stony Island Arts Bank is a hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center. Get an in-depth introduction to the the radically restored building during free Sunday tours that cover the architectural restoration, special collections, and ongoing programming activities.
10. Experience an immersive art installation
Jan. 31 – Feb. 1
This experiential art and sound project is inspired by seismic recordings from a 125-mile long crack in the Antarctic ice shelf that broke into a trillion-ton iceberg. While seismic data is inaudible to the human ear, a Chicago-based art collaborative has created a musical composition for orchestra and voice based on these sonic signals
The sound installation will run from Jan. 31 – Feb. 1, with daily sound walks and a free concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on Feb. 1.