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20 Free Things to Do in Chicago

The city of Chicago is known for its impressive cityscape, delicious food and friendly locals. Chicago also boasts a variety of free attractions and activities to enjoy. Many of the city’s finest attractions are always free to enter or offer free admission on certain days. Here are 20 of the best free attractions in Chicago.

20/05/2013 by Barbara Noble

The city of Chicago is known for its impressive cityscape, delicious food and friendly locals. Chicago also boasts a variety of free attractions and activities to enjoy. Many of the city’s finest attractions are always free to enter or offer free admission on certain days. Here are 20 of the best free attractions in Chicago:

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

Established in 1897, this intriguing cultural center offers free admission to people of all ages. Guests can observe the works of art featured in the extensive art galleries. The center also regularly showcases music performances and is even the main performance venue for the Chicago Children’s Choir. Tours of the facility are offered to guests who wish to learn more about the center’s history, architecture and overall goals.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Lincoln Park Conservatory

This large conservatory contains numerous exotic plant life species. Specific sections of the conservatory include the Palm House, Fern Room, Show House and Orchid House. Multicolored flowers, ancient ferns and vibrant green plants provide a visual treat for onlookers. Beautiful statuettes and other decorative objects enhance the conservatory’s overall appearance. The conservatory also includes several small ponds and fountains. The glass ceilings found in each section of the conservatory allow natural sunlight to shine down and provide nourishment to all of the plants and flowers. Clear walking paths allow visitors to tour the facility with ease.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

Located next to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, this zoo is one of the few free zoos in the world. Guests can get acquainted with animals like the aardvark, black bear and alpaca. The zoo also features Amur leopards and tigers. Bald eagles, European white storks and ostriches also make their home in this attraction. Visitors who would like to learn more about snakes, spotted turtles and other mysterious creatures can check out the reptiles and amphibians exhibits. The zoo even offers education programs to children and school groups.

National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art

Artworks telling the story of Mexico’s vibrant culture and history are on display inside this popular city attraction. Collections include folk art pieces, photography and colorful paintings. Beautiful authentic Mexican textiles are also showcased. In addition to its permanent collections, the museum also hosts several temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Knowledgeable tour guides provide even more details about many of the featured art pieces. Visitors can also enroll in education programs specifically designated for children, teens and families. The museum even offers special film, literature and women’s programs.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park

This spacious city park is one of the most popular outdoor gathering spots in the city. People often come to this park to enjoy cycling, jogging and socializing. Many outdoor music concerts are also held at this location during the summer months. The modern sculpture known as Cloud Gate is one of the most noticeable features of the park. The massive Crown Fountain features a waterfall, a spout and an interactive video tower. Visitors can see tulips, exotic grass and other forms of plant life during certain times of the year by taking a stroll through the picturesque Lurie Garden. The park additionally features other unique outdoor sculptures and fixed objects.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

Smith Museum

Located along the famous Navy Pier, this museum showcases colorful stained glass window displays featuring depictions of religious figures, pristine landscapes and unique patterns. The museum has been a favorite attraction among Chicago locals since it opened in 2000. Certain displays even feature images of notable Chicago athletes. There is even a display made entirely out of soft drink bottles. Special lighting behind each stained glass panel is used to illuminate every detail for the eye to behold. A barrier made out of bulletproof glass is used to protect each panel from damage. The museum also allows visitors to bring food and beverages through the gallery.

Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago Childrens Museum

Also situated along Navy Pier, this fun attraction offers free admission to museum members and children under the age of one. Children who are 15 years of age or younger can enter the museum for free on the first Sunday of every month. The WaterWays, Treehouse Trails and Dinosaur Expedition areas are among the exciting interactive exhibits geared toward enriching young minds. Children can also have a blast by visiting the Skyline, Kraft Artabounds Studio and BIG Backyard sections. Visitors who wish to learn even more about the museum’s exhibits can take part in special education programs.

Harold Washington Library

Harold Washington Library

Named after notable Mayor Harold Washington, this huge city library is the largest public library in the world. The building’s eccentric architecture and modern statues fixed atop its roof make this library an eye-catching addition to the local cityscape. Guests can tour the building’s 10 floors to find book titles under every literature genre imaginable. The library contains additional resources detailing subjects like history, social sciences and city government. The library even includes a grand auditorium and exhibit hall. Audio and visual rooms as well as music practice rooms are additional features of the library.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Museum of Contemporary Photography

This free museum is located on the campus of Columbia College Chicago and has been showcasing photographic masterpieces since 1984. Several traveling exhibitions make their way through this museum each year. Black and white photos as well as photos featuring vibrant colors adorn the facility’s walls. Many of the photographs show images of famous athletes, beautiful landscapes and abstract objects. Visitors can also choose to purchase special editions of fine prints.

Chicago Water Tower

Chicago Water Tower

This city landmark was completed in 1869 to hold clean drinking water for the city’s residents. Architect William W. Boyington designed the limestone structure to resemble a small European castle. The tower miraculously survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and stands today as one of the city’s most iconic structures. The tower includes a photo art gallery and is open for free tours.

Swedish American Museum

Swedish Museum

People can enjoy free admission into this museum if they come on the second Tuesday of every month. Children under the age of one as well as museum members can always enter the museum for free. This museum details the history of America’s immigrants from Sweden. Visitors are also given the opportunity to learn more about the history of the museum itself as well as the facility’s Swedish immigrant founder named Kurt Mathiasson.

Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

Grant Park’s extraordinary Buckingham Fountain draws countless numbers of curious onlookers who are interested in seeing the elaborate water shows. The fountain bares a semblance to the Latona Fountain located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in France. Special jets timed with musical scores have been programmed to shoot water into the air during certain notes of the music. Beautiful lights around the fountain are turned on during the evening hours for a more surreal effect. The surrounding cityscape creates the perfect backdrop for this exquisite landmark.

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

Illinois residents have the opportunity to see this museum for free if they visit every Thursday during the evening hours. Permanent and temporary collections include numerous classic and contemporary art pieces. The museum also features an abundance of ancient artifacts from Europe, Asia and the Americas. Visitors can even see antique weaponry from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Several local artists also have their works displayed inside the museum. Portraits featuring artistic representations of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars provide additional splendor.

Money Museum

Money Museum

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago proudly presents this free museum to the public. Daily guided tours give visitors the chance to learn more about the Federal Reserve System as well as the local Chicago Fed. Visitors can also see an extensive collection of historical currencies. Visitors are also shown an informative film and are allowed to take part in a question and answer session following the film’s showing.

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park

People who visit Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood can stop by this peaceful city park to admire its serene setting. The park was dedicated to a civic leader named Ping Tom who was a member of many of the city’s community development programs. A pavilion resembling an Asian pagoda is the park’s centerpiece. The park’s Chinese gardens contain species of ginkgo trees and bamboo plants. This peaceful green space also offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Clarke House Museum

Clarke House Museum

This historic home was built in 1836 and is the oldest home in Chicago. It had previously been owned by a hardware businessman named Henry B. Clarke. The house was originally in a different location before being moved on two separate occasions. People can visit this house every Wednesday to receive a free tour of the property. Visitors can learn more about how the house managed to survive fires and other natural disasters throughout its history. The house contains old photographs and antique furnishings.

Glessner House Museum

Glessner House Museum

Adjacent to the Clarke House Museum, this city landmark is another attraction worth touring. The home dates back to 1887 and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. John J. Glessner lived in the house along with his family. The home’s interior features portraits of the Glessner family along with several art pieces and vintage furniture items. People who would like a free tour can visit the home on Wednesdays.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory

People who are visiting Garfield Park are encouraged to stop by this elaborate conservatory. Markers featuring the names of the plants and trees are clearly visible throughout the facility. Guests can also choose to participate in guided tours of the entire conservatory. Visitors can even take part in education seminars providing information about proper plant care. This versatile attraction is also a popular venue for weddings, business meetings and other types of special events.

Oriental Institute Museum

Oriental Institute Museum

The museum located at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago provides the perfect opportunity for visitors to learn more about Asian culture and history. The museum includes several ancient pieces from Syria, Anatolia and Nubia. Artifacts salvaged from archeological expeditions include statuettes, pottery pieces and art pieces carved into slabs of stone. There are also several historic photographs taken during excavation projects.

National Veterans Art Museum

National Veterans Art Museum

Art pieces dedicated to the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces are displayed throughout this honorable museum. All of the pieces were created by veterans. Photographs, paintings and drawing depict images of combat and military camaraderie. Most of the museum’s pieces focus on the Vietnam War and the effects of war in general. Active military personnel can even participate in free therapeutic art workshops complete with complimentary art materials.

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