IN CHICAGO, SOME OF THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE — OR AT THE VERY LEAST DISCOUNTED!
Attractions, tours, festivals, museums — you don’t have to dig deep into your pockets to enjoy a slew of amazing experiences in Chicago.
Here’s the lowdown on some of the FREE and DISCOUNTED things to do and see on your visit.
Lincoln Park Zoo is a 35-acre wildlife oasis standing before a glorious city skyline. Located within verdant and expansive Lincoln Park, the zoo is one of the country’s oldest free zoos, founded in 1868. Just next door, Farm-in-the-Zoo transports you to a Midwestern family farm in the middle of the city. Situated along idyllic Nature Boardwalk, a prairie pond ecosystem, this interactive farm gives you the chance to feed cows, pet goats and see chickens, pigs, rabbits and ponies up-close. In the winter, the Farm is the location of a wonderful ice-skating rink, while ZooLights illuminates the Lincoln Park Zoo grounds with colorful displays of light, filling the attraction with festive spirit.
Beauty and tranquility imbue the Victorian era Lincoln Park Conservatory greenhouse. Oxygen-rich air, fragrant tropical flowers, ancient ferns and towering palms are among the multi-sensory experiences to be had here. Built between 1890 and 1895, the historic conservatory includes four display houses: The Palm House, Orchid House, Fern Room and Show House. And just outside, you can wander the Formal Garden, Bates Fountain, the Von Schiller Monument, the Old English-style Grandmother’s Garden and the Shakespeare Monument.
Check out the mind-bending reflections at Cloud Gate (aka the “Bean”). Take a selfie with the virtual reality wonder of Crowne Fountain. Wander the breathtaking native plantings at Lurie Garden. Marvel at the architectural splendor of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, as you lay out on the lawn to watch a free outdoor film screening or concert. Climb a wall at Maggie Daley Park, or rollerblade the skating ribbon, which transforms into one of the city’s most innovative ice “rinks” in the winter months. McCormick Tribune Plaza also transforms into a picturesque ice-skating rink in the winter, with the city’s jaw-dropping skyscrapers and the Bean as its backdrop.
With 50 acres filled with gardens, amusement rides, shops, eateries and attractions, it’s no surprise that the colorful playground known as Navy Pier remains a top Midwest tourist destination. There’s no cost to enter, and just a stroll along the waterfront boardwalk to see the downtown horizon is worth a trip. On top of that, FREE fireworks at Navy Pier fill the night sky each summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so stick around every Wednesday and Saturday evening.
Opened in 1897, the “People’s Palace” stretches from Washington to Randolph Streets, and Michigan Avenue to Garland Court. The building was designed in the Classical Revival style, taking inspiration from the monumental structures of Ancient Greece and Rome. Most notable is a luminous 38-foot-diameter dome by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. Restored in 2008, it is the largest Tiffany dome in the world, containing approximately 30,000 individual glass pieces. The Chicago Cultural Center is listed as a Chicago Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places; FREE 45-minute building tours are offered at 1:15pm from Wednesday through Saturday. Best of all, critically acclaimed art exhibits, performances, lectures and film screenings are available to you every day of the week for free all under one roof. Check out 7 Free Things to Do at the Chicago Cultural Center.
The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, one of the largest in the world, puts on a mind-blowing water, light and sound show for 20 minutes every hour. A center jet shoots water to a height of 150 feet, and though displays begin daily at 9:00 a.m., the best time to see the show is at night, when lights create a truly surreal, magical experience. The final major display begins at 10:35 p.m. The fountain is located at Columbus Drive (301 East) and Congress Parkway (500 South) in Grant Park, and runs from 8 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily, typically from early May through mid-October.
Garfield Park Conservatory boasts both display houses and outdoor gardens across its 14 acres. Opened in 1908, the conservatory was designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, and features rare and exotic plants from around the globe (5,000 varieties in total), it remains one of the largest and most stunning public gardens under glass.
Source: City of Chicago