Whether you’re on a business trip, visiting a loved one or embarking on a solo adventure, you’ve found yourself with some free time in the “Windy City.” You want to have fun, but don’t want to break the bank. Between the cost of exclusive speakeasies and scouring the best local spots for deep dish pizza, it can feel impossible to find free things to do in Chicago. Luckily, there are plenty of options for every kind of outing at no cost to you, nor sacrifice of enjoyment. From family-friendly options to a romantic date night, here’s how to have fun for free while exploring the heart of America.

Free Things To Do in Chicago for a Date Night

Visit Millennium Park 

Chicago business district.

From movie screenings to sculpture installations displayed by local artists, there’s plenty of free programming during the summer and winter months to enjoy in Chicago’s beloved 24.5-acre park. While Chicago winters are not for the weak, you can take a stab at your inner gold medalist at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink— just make sure to reserve your spot online in advance.

Visit an Art Museum

Chicago Art Museum

Nothing exudes romance quite like a stroll through enthralling canvases and sculptures, and luckily, there are plenty of museums that make this an ideal date night choice and totally free activity to do in Chicago. From the Smart Museum of Art located on the UC campus, to the National Museum of Mexican Art in the lower west side, to the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, there’s a wide variety of historical and contemporary art to see.

Free Things To Do in Chicago With Kids

Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo

A rhino at the Chicago Zoo.

A 35-acre zoo with over 200 species of animals — with a totally free admission? That’s surely a mistake, right? The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last free zoos in the country and a stellar spot to find yourself marveling at lions, penguins and crocodiles at no cost. Alongside special holiday hours, the historic zoo is open 365 days a year and was specifically designed with accessibility in mind.

Visit the Poetry Foundation Library

A bookshelf at the Poetry Foundation Library

During a very special (and totally free!) story time, your little ones can have some fun exploring poetry and their creative expression through interactive readings and crafts at the Poetry Foundation Library, a literary society that seeks to promote poetry and lyricism across all ages and generations. Readings are on Wednesday evenings, but there’s something for everyone on any day of the week, including creative writing workshops, panel discussions and monthly book groups.

Free Things To Do in Chicago With Your Friends

Hit the Arcade

Photo of pinball machines at Replay Lincoln Park.

No matter what the age, it’s never a wrong time to bring your inner child alive, and what better place to do so than at an adult arcade? While the cocktail will cost you, all the games are for free at Replay Lincoln Park, a vibrant bar that was one of the first in the arcade bar movement of Chicago. From the nostalgic pinball machines to vintage arcade games, get lost in the world of Pac-Man, air hockey, and skee ball, all for free.

Hike the 606

The 606 walking and hiking trail.

You don’t need to venture too far out of the city to get in a quick fix of nature. Regardless of being an expert hiker or a casual explorer, this easy 2.7 mile trail located in Humboldt Park is an elevated trail that runs over former railroad tracks through lush green spaces and Chicago’s most charming downtown neighborhoods. It’s mostly flat, so no robust equipment is necessary, but you can never be too prepared. 

Free Things To Do in Chicago by Yourself

Visit the Bean

The famous "bean" in Chicago.

When it comes to things to do for free in Chicago, this very well might be the most iconic. Designed by Frank Gehry, Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean,” is one of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations, located inside Millennium Park. Without a large group en tow, fighting through the other flocking tourists is easy breezy, and you can even get a selfie of the massive block of stainless steel to commemorate the moment. 

Picnic in the Park

Couple sitting at picnic table in Jackson Park, Chicago.

As long as you bring your own snacks, basking in the sun amongst thriving greenery and buzzing social life is a deeply therapeutic and free thing to do in Chicago. There are plenty of picnic-equipped parks in the city, from the lagoons of Humboldt Park to the Japanese-inspired Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park.

The Windy City Is a Free for All of Activities

Chicago offers a ton of activities for families, first-time dates and visits from out-of-town friends … all for free. You do not have to worry about breaking the bank, splitting a bill or an uncharacteristic meltdown from a child causing you to exit early from a paid venue. These free activities in and around Chicago are perfect at any time of the year. So, what’s stopping you? Get that checklist out and start working your way through some of these iconic, free activity spots in Chicago.