Want to get the most out of summer in Chicago — without breaking the bank? We’ve got your back. The city is full of free events, activities, and festivals, so you can fill up your weekends while sticking to your budget.
Here’s just a few of the best free things to do in Chicago this summer:
Free museum days
Chicago has some amazing museums. So you should take advantage of the no-admission days for Illinois residents. Here are the free museum days for the rest of the summer:
Millennium Park Summer Film Series
Tuesdays, June through August
Relax on the grass, enjoy a picnic, and watch a classic flick or a blockbuster hit. The Millennium Park Summer Film Series is back and it’s free all summer long. Here’s the entire schedule.
Movies in the Park
Want to explore Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods? Check out Movies in the Park, featuring a variety of free film screenings in outdoor locations all over the city nearly every day of the week. Movies start at dusk, and you can find the schedule here.
Movies in the Park is part of Night Out in the Parks, which includes free events of all shapes and sizes: meditation, yoga, hip-hop concerts, luaus, crafts stargazing, and more.
Grant Park Music Festival
June 12 – Aug. 17
Head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for the nation’s only free, outdoor classical music series of its kind. The Grammy-nominated Grant Park Orchestra, along with the 100-plus-member Grant Park Chorus and special guest performers and conductors, bring the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and more to Millennium Park.
Chicago Mariachi Festival
4 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Chicago Mariachi Festival, presented by the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, will bring word-class mariachi bands from the U.S. and Mexico to multiple stages across Millennium Park. Attracting more than 22,000 people, this is the largest mariachi event in the country.
Taste of Chicago
July 10 – 14
11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
This annual extravaganza is the largest free admission food fest in the world. This year, 82 vendors will be there from all areas of the city, representing a diverse and interesting array of cuisines. You’ll need to buy tickets to sample their food, but if you there’s plenty of no-cost things to do, including free concert from local and national acts, including Courtney Barnett, De La Soul, The Strumbellas, and more.
Bastille Day Chicago
6 – 10 p.m.
Celebrate the French National Holiday with a free celebration at Navy Pier. Hundreds of Francophiles gather in the park for picnics, children’s activities, French games and activities, and more. End the evening with DJ Mwelwa Musambacine playing a global mix of music, followed by a fireworks show over the water.
3rd Fridays at Bridgeport Art Center
Photo courtesy Bridgeport Art Center
July 18 and Aug. 15
7 – 10 p.m.
Bridgeport Art Center
Every third Friday, the Bridgeport Art Center’s artists open up their studios for the public to explore. All manner of art forms are represented: sculptors, photographers, painters, painters, fashion designers, ceramic artists, woodworkers and more. Come chat with the artists, enjoy refreshments, and see their ever-changing work.
Shakespeare in the Parks
Photo by Liz Lauren
July 18 – Aug. 18
Catch an abridged version of classic plays during the touring Shakespeare in the Parks series. The free shows from Chicago Shakespeare Theatre will be held in parks all around Chicago throughout the summer. Just bring your own blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the show.
Bud Billiken Parade
10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King Dr.
With an eye on summer’s end and the start of the school year, the annual Bud Billiken Parade has been going strong since 1929. A celebration of African American heritage and culture, the parade marches down two miles of Martin Luther King Drive with bands, floats, drill teams, dancers, and lots of joy.
Chicago Air and Water Show
Aug. 17 – Aug. 18
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
North Avenue Beach
The largest air and water show in the country, the Chicago Air and Water Show is one of the most anticipated events of the summer. You can catch the action from Fullerton Beach to Oak Street Beach, with North Avenue Beach at the center of the celebration. This year will feature displays from the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. Get there early for a great spot.
Chicago Jazz Festival
Aug. 29 – Sept. 1, 2019
Chicago Cultural Center & Millennium Park
For more than 40 years, this beloved festival has brought some of the world’s greatest jazz artists to Chicago for 10 days of free music. Check out this year’s headliners here.
Wednesdays through Sundays, June 27 to Aug. 24
Grant Park and various locations
Learn to dance (or just watch the show) at SummerDance, where you can take a free outdoor dance lesson on the open-air dance floor at Grant Park. The lesson is followed by live music, so you can try out your new moves. The schedule has dates, bands, and dance style, so you can pick and choose when you want to get your groove on.