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Free Things to Do in Chicago for Families

Updated on February 22, 2014
Cloud Gate, aka The Bean
Cloud Gate, aka The Bean

Chicago is a great destination for family vacations. This is a beautiful Midwestern city with plenty of family friendly activities – and many of them are free! Here are a few of the things your family can do for free in Chicago.


Families can climb a ship’s ropes or see a knight’s sword and armor – for free.  Many of Chicago’s most popular museums offer free admission nights, especially in the off season.  The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Children’s Museum both waive entry fees on Thursday nights between 5 o’clock and 8 o’clock. The Art Institute offers them all day on the first and second Wednesdays of the month after June, a nice savings on the $18 tickets. This policy is subject to change, so check before going.  If there’s a Chicago museum you’d like to check, jump online and head to its website to find out if you can see it for free.


Miniatures at the Art Institute
Miniatures at the Art Institute

Millennium Park - Winter

Millennium Park offers a variety of activities for those enjoying a Chicago family vacation, and they’re free. The park is located in the loop, on Michigan Avenue, right next to the Chicago Art Institute. When you see the giant metallic bean, known as Cloud Gate, you’ll know you’re in the right spot. In winter there’s an ice skating rink that’s free.

Millennium Park - Summer

In summer, free concerts are given outdoors at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion, by such notable acts as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Bring a blanket or lawn chairs, maybe some snacks. Sit in the back so the kids can run around without bothering the hardcore music lovers up front. Summertime also sees throngs of kids splashing about in the free wading pool, between two glassed walls where videos of blinking people play all day long. Every so often the faces pucker up and a spout of water shoots out, drenching the squealing kids below. Bring a towel along, and kids can change into dry clothes in the public bathrooms located at the park restaurant.

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo has big cats, giraffes, polar bears, a petting zoo, barnyard animals, bats, monkeys – the list goes on.  The price of admission? Free, all day, every day.  As the name suggests, the park is conveniently located in Lincoln Park, right by Lake Michigan. Compare this to Central Park Zoo in New York City, which charges an arm and a leg to see a fraction of the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo, and you’ll realize what a great deal this is.


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