Top 10: Best Free Things to Do in Chicago

Like A Local Guide • 22 Jun, 2016

Chicago is a huge city with tonnes to discover. In fact, it’s the third most populous city in the U.S. Willis tries to make the task of figuring out what to do a little easier for you with his top 10 list of free entertainment options.

Willis is a passionate explorer who enjoys writing about his travels, and he even has a self-published travelogue about his adventures.

1. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Located at 600 S. Michigan Avenue on the Columbia College campus, this museum may not compete with the Art Institute of Chicago, but it is free to visit. The exhibitions take around an hour to examine and feature works by both international and domestic photographers. It’s well worth the five-minute walk from the Loop. Open Monday through Saturday 10 am–5 pm and Sunday 12 pm–5 pm.

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2.  Take a tour of Fermilab and the Argonne National Laboratory

If you have a car, check out Fermilab (America’s premier particle physics laboratory) in Batavia, 65 kilometres/40 miles west of Chicago. Public tours are offered on Wednesdays at 10:30 am, beginning with an hour-long lecture and concluding with a walk through the main buildings. It’s worthwhile making a reservation beforehand. The Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont also offers free tours.

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3.  Catch a parade

It sounds cheesy, but Chicago has great parades. If you time your visit appropriately, you can check out the Thanksgiving Parade (fourth Thursday in November), the Chinatown New Year’s Parade (first Sunday after Chinese New Year) or the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade when the Chicago River is dyed green (nearest Saturday to Saint Patrick’s Day).

All are good excuses to celebrate with some alcohol – just remember to dress warmly!

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4. Check out Chicago’s sports statues

Legendary Chicago sports figures are immortalised across town. See Michael Jordan on the southeast corner of the United Center, Ernie Banks and Harry Caray at Wrigley Field, and the Chicago White Sox Champions Plaza at U.S. Cellular Field.

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5.  Get into the holiday spirit at the Christkindlemarket

Okay, so it’s overplayed. Okay, so you’ll need cash for gluhwein. But, technically, the Christkindlemarket is free. In 2016, the market takes places on Daley Plaza in the Loop from November 18th to December 24th.

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6.  Spend an artsy afternoon at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

Take the “L” to Evanston and visit the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art on the Northwestern University campus. There are over 5000 artworks. The Block Cinema, where free artsy-fartsy movies are shown, is part of the museum. Preview the collection and peruse the film schedule here.

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7. See the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Everybody eventually sees the animals in Chicago’s Near North Side, but some creatures are in cages at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Everything from aardvarks to armadillos and red pandas to rattlesnakes are on show. Open 365 days a year from 10 am to 5 pm.

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8. Take some time off at The Harold Washington Library Center

The library?  Yes, the library has 1.2 million holdings, Wi-Fi, the tranquil Winter Garden on the ninth floor and author events – all free.

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9.  Browse the sculptures in the Loop

Everyone knows about Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Millenium Park, so everyone goes to Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain. Avoid the crowds and see Ivan Mestrovic’s The Bowman and The Spearman – the gatekeepers to Congress Plaza on E. Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue.

Additionally, check out The Picasso in Daley Plaza, The Flamingo in Federal Center Plaza on South Dearborn and God Bless America outside the Tribune Tower.

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10. Play a round of disc golf in Highland Park

Take the Metra Union Pacific/North Line to the Ravinia stop and start walking west. There’s a nine-hole Frisbee golf course in Larry Fink Memorial Park and another in Danny Cunniff Park about a quarter of a mile west of the train stop. The courses are open year-round, but you need to bring your own Frisbee(s).

6930754928_446f4b78cc_kPhoto credit: Enoch Lai

For more local recommendations read:
What locals like to do in Chicago
Where locals like to eat in Chicago
Where locals like to party in Chicago

Special tip: For a more authentic Chicago experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

Like A Local Guide
Like A Local Guide is about stepping off the tourist trail and finding cool and cosy spots where locals like to spend their time. We built a website and mobile app to bring insider recommendations from around the world to your fingertips.

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