Leave your cash behind for these 10 free Chicago experiences
Zoos, public gardens, breweries — these are just a few of Chicago’s long list of attractions. The good news is that many of these amenities are free to experience or don’t charge admission. Here are 10 free things to do in the Second City without having to tap your wallet:
1. Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo ranks as a favorite spot, no matter the season. In warmer weather, it’s a welcome spot to spend the afternoon, checking out the animal exhibits, carousel, paddle boats and lush park setting. On Wednesday and Friday mornings, kids can rock out with Electric Neil, who sings silly songs and tells stories in the barn by the petting zoo. On Wednesday and Friday mornings, kids can rock out with Electric Neil, who sings silly songs and tells stories in the barn by the petting zoo.
2. Navy Pier
This Chicago landmark in 2016 marked its centennial with a major revamping, including a new carousel and restaurants. There are plenty of free activities, from the fireworks (which run May through October and on New Year’s Eve) to the new Polk Bros. Park, which features regular entertainment, an interactive water fountain and some of the best views of the Windy City.
3. Garfield Park Conservatory
This hidden gem houses thousands of plants in a two-acre greenhouse, and offers another 12 acres of outdoor gardens that are open in the summer. The conservatory also hosts classes on topics like beekeeping, a concert series for kids and composting demonstrations to help Chicagoans live greener.
4. Brewery tours
Chicago has experienced a craft beer boom with breweries popping up across the city. Many of the places, including Revolution’s Brewery, Moody Tongue Brewing Company and Lagunitas Brewing Company, offer free guided tours. Be sure to check in advance to see if reservations are required.
5. Farmers’ markets
Every morning from mid-May through late October, you can peruse fresh local produce and flowers at farmers’ markets throughout various neighborhoods. The expansive Green City Market is the city’s only year-round operation, moving indoors in the winter.
6. Maggie Daley Park
Named after the late wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, this park features something for the whole family. Kids can spend hours exploring the three-acre-plus state of the art play area, complete with twisty slides, bridges, and tunnels. The ribbon, a path that loops around the park, doubles as a walking course in the summer and a free skating rink in winter. The park also offers tennis courts, a special garden dedicated to cancer survivors, and picnic groves.
7. Chicago Lakefront
One of Chitown’s crown jewels, the Lake Michigan shoreline can be enjoyed year-round. Whether it’s running, walking, biking or spending some time at the beaches in the warmer months, the lakefront path offers a great way to explore by venturing into different neighborhoods along the way.
8. Second City Improv shows
Seeing a full-length show at Chicago’s famed comedy club requires a paid ticket, but if you happen to be strolling around Old Town in the evening, you can catch a free performance. Every night excluding Friday, players open a free, improv show following their regular set to the public. Call the theater box office to check on specific times; seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
9. Millennium Park
Since it’s opening in 2004, Millennium Park has become one of downtown Chicago’s most popular public spaces, offering everything from free evening concerts and spray fountains in the summer to a nice rink in the winter. Cloud Gate, a stainless steel sculpture known as “The Bean,” has become a favorite spot for Instagram shots, too.
10. Greeter tours
For those who want to explore a neighborhood or a particular topic like food or architecture, booking a free greeter visit will help you get in the know. Make sure to book a few weeks in advance to get the topic of your choice. Last minute trip? Join an InstaGreeter tour of some of the city’s more popular destinations.
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