Yes, the best things in life are free, including this list of 61 free things you can do in Chicago. So if you happen to have blown all your cash at a Cubs game (hey, beers and Hot Doug's will do that to you), not to worry: as The Notorious B.I.G. never said, “no money, no problems.”

DiegoMariottini /

1. Catch the view at the Hancock Center's Signature Lounge

Save the $20 you'd use to go up the Sears Tower (and get a much better view) by hitting the bar on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center.

2. Bike one of the country’s finest trail systems

Some of the finest trails in the country are just a bike ride away. So what are you waiting for? A chance to ride them naked?

The Boathouse Cafe

3. Explore the full 219 acres of Humboldt Park (and the boathouse café)

It’s a massive 219-acre park complete with a fitness center, two gymnasiums, an inland beach, and lagoon. Also, The Boathouse Café (OK, not exactly free) = summer done right.

4. Explore Chicago’s underground pedway

There are 5 miles of underground tunnels and overhead bridges linking more than 40 Downtown blocks. A nice alternative to, say, sitting in traffic on State St (also free).

5. Meditate in nature at North Pond

This nature sanctuary tucked into Lincoln Park is one of the city’s finest treasures, and totally free. The adjacent North Pond restaurant, however, is quite another story.

6. Museum of Contemporary Art

Free on Tuesdays for IL residents. That means you. Unless you just moved here from Ohio and haven’t yet updated your license. In which case, you get what you deserve.


7. Bike the lakefront

Bike the full 18 miles from Ardmore St to 71st St. On second though, let’s not overdo it. It’s a long summer.

8. Enjoy a killer view of the city at Promontory Point

One of the best parks in the city is also one of the least known, and the views of Downtown over the lake are pretty much the best in the business.

Chicago Cultural Center

9. Immerse yourself in culture at the Chicago Cultural Center

It’s the nation's first and most comprehensive free municipal cultural venue. What, you didn’t know?

10. Post up to the spot where John Dillinger was shot

Stand outside the Biograph Theater, where the cops finally got their man in 1934. Make a mobster face, if you must.

11. Run the bases where the Cubs last won the World Series

No, this doesn’t mean sneaking into Wrigley circa October 2016. It means finding a spot somewhere on the UIC Medical Campus, site of the former West Side Park that hosted the 1908 celebration.


12. Freak out the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo

Really cool. And totally free 365 days a year. Bonus: zebras and shit.


14. Attend a ton of free events in Millennium Park

Jazz fest, gospel fest, and what the... free workouts?

15. Peep the latest fashions in Millennium Park

During Chicago Fashion Week, the looking is free.


16. Wander the city’s best beach/park combo

Milton Lee Olive Park/Ohio Street Beach. The only thing that could fuck this up is getting too close to Navy Pier.

17. Do some “movieokie” at The Whistler

Perform scenes from Star Wars and other films in front of an audience, karaoke-style. No cover. Free embarrassment.

18. Stroll the Maxwell Street Market every Sunday

Free smells.

Flickr/Ryan Wilson

19. Take a date on a romantic garden walk

Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden is helping to up your game with a variety of date-worthy strolls.

20. Play with fire at Full Moon Fire Jam

Things get weird every full moon in summer. After that, you’re on your own.

21. Go off the leash at Montrose Dog beach

Because dogs rarely carry cash.

22. Catch free improv every Sunday

It’s called the Free for All. Pretty much sums that one up nicely.

23. Make your happy hour a hardcore honky-tonk fest

Every Friday at Empty Bottle, courtesy of The Hoyle Brothers.

24. Tour a brewery

Revolution offers free tours Wednesdays-Fridays, available for groups of up to 30 on a first-come, first-served basis.

25. Stand outside the gates at Lollapalooza

The listening is free. So is the people watching.

Flickr/Kristian Golding

26. Explore one of only seven Baha’i Temples in the world

It’s also one of the most beautiful buildings in the state. Which is nice.

27. Tour a money museum like a baller

If you stand close enough, it’s almost like it’s yours. Right?

28. Get some culture on a Sunday at DuSable Museum of African American History

One of the city’s finest cultural treasures, free on Sundays.

Thomas Barrat /

29. Sweat it out at Garfield Park Conservatory

See if you can find the spot where Vince Vaughn caught Winona Ryder cheating in The Dilemma.

30. Explore your humanity at Hull House

One of the city’s most important historical sites is, like, totally free (unlike those history textbooks).

31. See how much your iPhotos suck at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Inside Columbia College hides one of the country’s finest photography museums. And yes, we’re pretty sure none of the pics were taken with an iPhone.

32. Get smart at the Smart Museum of Art

One of the best museums in the city is also one of its most overlooked.

33. Keep it classy at Gallery 37

This city-sponsored gallery is the Ron Burgundy of museums.

Flickr/Sarah A.

34. Rock out to free live music

Reckless has free in-stores. Check their site to find out when.

35. Poke around the City Gallery in the Historical Water Tower

Yes, you can go inside this Mag Mile landmark. Don’t worry. You really can.

36. Tour a new neighborhood with an official city “greeter”

You know that one friend who claims to know everything about Logan Square? We doubt he knows as much as an official city-sanctioned greeter, offering free tours of your neighborhood of choice.

Flickr/Nataly Kochina

37. Spread out a blanket at the Chicago Botanic Gardens

How the hell is such a beautiful place totally free (not counting parking, of course)? Don’t ask. Just go.

38. Check out amazing free theater

Free Street Theater has been doing their thing since 1969. It’s about time you check them out.

39. Kick off your weekend early with a free “live magazine” every Saturday

It’s called The Paper Machete. And it goes down every Saturday afternoon at Green Mill.

40. Party in a crazy dancing-cage with free UV-reactive body paint

Douse yourself in body paint and dance till dawn at Blacklight Blackout, uncorked on the third Friday of each month on the second floor of Exit.

41. Enjoy free porn and free chicken on Monday nights

One of the city’s craziest ragers is serving up free insanity with a side of chicken at EvilOlive’s illicit Porn & Chicken party every Monday night.

42. Eat as many free wings as you can handle

There are free wings at 8:30pm during the week at Burwood Tap. And they’re better than BW3.

43. Show off some sweet moves at a Tuesday night dance party

Beauty Bar is always free after 9pm, but Tuesday is free all night with the manic dance tunes of Timbuck2 alongside weekly rotating guests (past guests have included A$AP Rocky and Freddie Gibbs).

Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock

44. Tour the world’s highest church

It’s called “The Chapel in the Sky” at First United Methodist Church Downtown. And it almost makes going to church worth it.

45. Watch a Cubs game for free

If you know someone who lives on Waveland, that is.

46. Take a free ghost tour, food tour, or BYOB (bring your own bike) city bike tour

Because why pay when these ones are free?

47. Tour a stained glass museum at Navy Pier

A stained glass museum. Yes, you heard that right.

48. Grab free shit on Craigslist

Because, what could go wrong?

Flickr/John Kannenberg

49. Creep yourself out at the International Museum of Surgical Sciences

Tuesday is free day. That’s all we’re allowed to say. 

50. Browse the fishes at the Old Town Aquarium

Better than the Shedd? Maybe. Certainly cheaper. Unless, of course, you buy something.

JBTV Music Television

51. Attend a studio taping at America’s longest-running music showcase

It’s sort of like American Bandstand, only way cooler.

52. Check out a free BYOB comedy show in a bookstore

One of Logan Square’s coolest events is also free.

53. Ride the Reggies party bus to concerts and haunted houses

From Cubs/Sox games to festivals and concerts, there’s always something interesting happening on board this tripped-out party bus that looks like something ripped straight out of the float parade scene in Animal House.

54. Make a sweet jazz face on Monday nights

Extraordinary Popular Delusions make extraordinary (and free) music most Monday nights at Beat Kitchen.

55. Set foot in one of Wrigleyville’s best (not terrible bars) for free comedy

They call it The Best Night Ever. We’re not sure about that, but pretty damn fun.

Flickr/Ken Lund

56. Drive the Chicago Park District’s Boulevard System Historic District

Beautiful boulevards connecting some of the city’s most beautiful parks. What’s not to like?

57. Go “grazing” at your nearest supermarket

See how many free samples you can get at Whole Foods before the kids show up and steal all the good shit.

Chicago Blues Festival

58. Attend a free blues festival

Chicago Blues Fest. Ever heard of it?

59. Excuse you, while you kiss the sky

The Chicago Air & Water. It’s tradition.

60. Impress a date with a free play on the lake

Cheaper than Book of Mormon tickets.

61. Stumble upon free shows under the Picasso

Weekdays at noon at Daley Plaza.

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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor who remains a fan of free things. Follow him @innerviewmag.



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