Having fun in Chicago without spending a dime is easy. Our city has a wealth of attractions that don't cost a thing - you just have to know where to look. Your best bet is to ask a local! If you're traveling with children and looking to stay within a budget, here are our picks for fun, free things to do in Chicago this summer.
We'll be spending a large part of our summer splashing in the waves of Lake Michigan. All 28 miles of Chicago lakefront are managed by the Chicago Park District and are free and open to the public. Check out my picks for the top 3 Kid-friendly Chicago beaches.
Lincoln Park Zoo is our fantastic, fun and, perhaps best of all, free zoo. Open 365 days per year, you're always welcome to meet and greet the animals or check out some of the other fun, free programming for families.
The Pritzker Paviliion is the musical centerpiece of Millennium Park. All summer long, its acoustically outstanding open air pavilion plays host to a wide range of performance artists - from Blues to Jazz and beyond. Spread your blanket on the grass, bring a picnic and some toys to keep the kids occupied while the family enjoys a concert under the sun (or stars!). Click here to check a schedule for upcoming concerts and events.
Kids under 8 eat free at Leona's any time and any day. Italian-American favorites include made-to-order pizzas and a good selection of hearty salads. We frequent the Lakeview location at 3215 North Sheffield - steps away from the Brown/Purple line Belmont 'L' stop.
The National Museum of Mexican Art, located in Chicago's vibrant Pilsen neighborhood, is always free. They also offer a wide array of free family programs. Afterwards, explore the beautiful murals of Pilsen, making sure to stop in at a local taqueria for an inexpensive and tasty lunch.
Entrance is always free to Chicago's Navy Pier. The Family Pavilion offers daily, free entertainment, and the spectacular fireworks, on display Wednesday and Saturday evenings throughout the summer are a must-see. The Chicago Children's Museum, while not totally free, is an incredible experience for children at the Pier. For more information about the Museum's discount and free days, click here. Also, check out my guide to a fun and affordable visit to Navy Pier for more family-friendly options.
Millennium Park is Chicago's brightest (and perhaps best) park offers amazing architecture, free programming, and a free waterplay area thanks to the interactive Crown Fountain. Be sure to bring a swimsuit as your kids will most certainly want to splash around.
The Chicago History Museum gives visitors an interactive look into our city's past. Children under 12 are always free, and adult admission always includes two free audio tours. Visit on weekend and you'll usually find fun family-centered events, all free with admission, including Radio Disney day, cultural workshops. performances and craft stations.
At the center of Grant Park lies Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, dedicated in 1927. Every hour on the hour for 20 minutes the fountain produces a stunning water display; the center jet shoots as high as 150 feet into the air! Beginning at dusk, every hour on the hour for 20 minutes, the water display is accompanied by a lights and music. The final display of the evening - truly a great way to cap off an evening exploring Chicago - begins at 10:35 p.m.
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