Looking for some direction? Register in advance for a private, guided walk of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Chicago Greeter is a FREE program that pairs you with a local volunteer who can show you around town and give their own insider’s orientation. Customize your visit based on language spoken and subjects of interest, from history, nature or sports, to architecture and public art.
Alternatively, Chicago Walking Tours is an association of independent tour guides that has brought a pay-what-you-want model to eight different cities since it started in 2006. In Chicago, the walking tours include Loop highlights (public art, architecture and history, as well as themed routes like blues music and literary sights. With no upfront costs, you decide on a value at the end of your tour based on your experience and your budget.
Chicago’s major museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago and Field Museum of Natural Historyoffer Free Museum Days, where the splendor of vast, world-class collections is at your fingertips for no cost at all. However, a multitude of fascinating Chicago museums are free to the public every day of the week. Here are just a few.
The renowned National Museum of Mexican Art is located in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood, which is itself rich in Latino history. Wander the halls of this dynamic museum, and you’ll find a collection of more than 10,000 works that bring to life the richness of Mexican art and culture. Look for special cultural performances that include dance, music and theater. Check out current and upcoming exhibits and events.
A part of the renowned University of Chicago’s research center for ancient Near Eastern Studies, the museum’s collection of art and archaeology spans the civilizations of Ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and more. Check out the museum’s special exhibits here.
As one of the country’s top academic art museums, the Smart Museum of Art takes an educational approach to the collection, display and interpretation of cultural works. Founded in 1974, the museum has been a hinge point for the fine arts collections of the University of Chicago. Today, it holds more than 15,000 pieces, with some works dating back more than 5,000 years.
Housed within Columbia College in the South Loop, the Museum of Contemporary Photography is a small but mighty museum, regularly carrying the work of local photographers. The museum’s Midwest Photographers Project cycles through new and established midwest photographers, each examining a different social experience, from the slums of Mumbai to electronics and teens. Check out current and upcoming exhibits.
Housed in one of the most iconic Gothic Revival buildings in Chicago, and sitting right in the middle of the Magnificent Mile, the City Gallery is also a frequent venue for thought-provoking rotating exhibits. The building itself was constructed between 1867 and 1869, created for Chicago’s municipal water system. It originally housed a 135-foot iron standpipe used to regulate water pressure. It gained special significance as one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Check out current and upcoming exhibits.
Located at Block 37 on State Street (aka shopping mecca), this tiny (and free) museum displays incredibly creative changing exhibits on everything from design to architecture. Recent exhibitions have included paper arts from around the world, and games in our modern culture. Check out current and upcoming exhibits.
Founded in 1939, the Hyde Park Art Center is a combination of contemporary art exhibition space, learning lab, community resource, and social hub for artists and the “art curious.” As the institution explains, “The Art Center functions as an amplifier for today and tomorrow’s creative voices, providing the space to cultivate and create new work and connections.” Check out current and upcoming exhibits.
In the summer, the city’s downtown and lakefront are filled with the sound of sublime song, slide guitars, haunting violins and sultry saxes, as revelers dance, mingle and celebrate the city’s astounding contribution to music through a series of free festivals. Six in particular bring together the very best in House, Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Classical and World Music. Check them out here.
FREE FESTIVALS, PARADES & SPECIAL EVENTS
Chicago packs a full calendar of free-admission festivals, parades and special events throughout the year, with summer being the high season. During SummerDance, free dance lessons combine with live music on the alfresco stage. Thrill-seekers catch high-speed stunts at the Chicago Air and Water Show. Food lovers pack Grant Park during Taste of Chicago for local eats priced as tasting portions. And architecture and history buffs go exploring during Open House Chicago. For a lively weekend, head to one of the hundred street festivals that pop up in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Celebrating everything from LGBTQ+ pride to cultural heritage, these outdoor parties offer food, drink, shopping and entertainment — generally for free or for a small donation. Parades add to the festive mix, from St. Patrick’s Day traditions of dyeing the Chicago River green to the city’s holiday kick-off event, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
CHICAGO SIGHTSEEING DEALS
Consider an attractions pass from Chicago CityPASS or a Go Chicago Card for discounted access to Chicago’s most famous sights. With Chicago CityPASS, one ticket booklet saves you 52% or more on VIP admission (within a nine-day timeframe) to five of the city’s must-sees, including The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Skydeck Chicago. With the Go Chicago Card, multi-day card options include admission to 25 different Chicago attractions, from museums and tours to amusement rides and bicycle rentals.
DISCOUNTED THEATER TICKETS
Experience headlining shows on a budget with HALF-PRICE THEATER TICKETS FROM HOT TIX! The League of Chicago Theatres has launched its brand new Hot Tix website, featuring a sleek new look, user-friendly search options, geo-locating to find nearby half-price performances, and the ability to buy your half-price tickets straight from your mobile device. Alternatively, visit one of two convenient downtown ticket booth locations:
- 72 E. Randolph St. (near Millennium Park)
- 108 N. State St. (inside Block Thirty Seven at Guest Services, 1st Floor)
Check out 10 Hot Shows to See in Chicago this month.
Source: Choose Chicago