Go off the beaten path and discover a handful of cool free things to do around Chicago.

Looking for free things to do in Chicago? Get out into the city’s neighborhoods and discover lots of little-known activities that you can enjoy admission-free. From a folk concert to a flea market, with a historic cemetery tour thrown in for fun, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy without spending a dime.

WHERE: Graceland Cemetery

Graceland Cemetery

NEIGHBORHOOD: Wrigleyville

THE DEAL: Established in 1860, Graceland Cemetery is an offbeat place to explore Chicago’s storied history. Some of the biggest names in Chicago are buried here, including retailer Marshall Field, hotelier Potter Palmer and architect Daniel Burnham. Take a free self-guided audio tour (maps are available at the cemetery office) of this beautiful park-like space dotted with amazing statues by renowned artists like Lorado Taft, elaborate tombs and a historic stone chapel. Thanks to its extensive collection of trees, Graceland has also been certified as an arboretum. Grab a Tree Tour map and check out the shady foliage.

COOL PLACES NEARBY: Metro, Gallagher Way (formerly The Park at Wrigley), Cubby Bear, Rockit Burger Bar, “Nuts on Clark”

WHERE: Bridgeport Art Center

Bridgeport Art Center


THE DEAL: The Bridgeport Art Center is the creative home for local artists and designers working in a multitude of mediums. Stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden and three curated art galleries, and don’t miss the Fashion Design and Chicago Ceramic centers. Sneak a peek at some of the artists’ studios during the free 3rd Fridays, held from 7-10pm on the third Friday of each month. Painters, sculptors, photographers and fashion designers welcome visitors into their studios to see their latest works. Complimentary wine and refreshments are served, and there’s plenty of free parking.

COOL PLACES NEARBY: Chicago White Sox, The Duck Inn, Chicago Helicopter Experience, Nana, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar

WHERE: Busy Beaver Button Museum

Busy Beaver Button Museum


THE DEAL: If you’re a fan of pinback buttons, this free museum in the hip Logan Square neighborhood is a must-see. Located in the Busy Beaver Button Co. headquarters, the museum is a veritable history of buttons, from black-and-white buttons promoting early film stars to political buttons from the 1960s and music buttons featuring icons like David Bowie and Elvis Presley. Busy Beaver is known for creating button masterpieces of its own for a cool clientele that includes musicians Daft Punk and Jack White. Got a button you’d like to see pinned up in the museum? Busy Beaver happily accepts donations to add to its collection.

COOL PLACES NEARBY: Scofflaw, Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Bang Bang Pie Shop, Concord Music Hall, Revolution Brewing

WHERE: Maxwell Street Market

Maxwell Street Market Chicago


THE DEAL: This free market is a Chicago tradition, held every Sunday from 7am-3pm all year ‘round. You’ll find everything from fresh produce to clothing and handmade jewelry in the vendor booths lined up along Desplaines Street in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers. Even better than the bargains is the Latin street food served hot off the grill, including tacos and tamales. And there’s dancing in the streets when the live bands begin to play, with music ranging from mariachi to blues and rock.

COOL PLACES NEARBY: Buddy Guy’s Legends, UIC Forum, Prairie Avenue Historic District, Vice District Brewing Co., The Spoke & Bird

WHERE: Old Town School of Folk Music

Old Town School of Folk Music

NEIGHBORHOOD: Lincoln Square

THE DEAL: Bring your own instrument or just sing along during a free music jam at this legendary folk school, where famed former students include Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc. Meet in the lobby on Wednesdays from noon-2pm for the Great Americana Songbook Jam, or later in the evening from 8:30-9:30pm for the New Jam! There’s also a free session on Thursdays from 7-10pm called the Folk, Rock and Roots Jam. Weekly World Music Wednesday concerts are free (although a $10 donation is suggested), and showcase world music and dance. Reservations are required to guarantee a seat.

COOL PLACES NEARBY: Merz Apothecary, Gene’s Sausage Shop Rooftop Beer & Wine Garden, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, The Book Cellar, Elizabeth Restaurant

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