The Top 10 Free Museums and Attractions in Chicago

Chicago has plenty of free activities to keep you entertained
Chicago has plenty of free activities to keep you entertained | © Gary Hebding Jr. / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor8 May 2019

Travelling on a budget? Bookmark this list of the best free activities – from outdoor attractions to exhibits at cultural institutions – in the city of Chicago.

Cloud Gate

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Cloud Gate also known as the Chicago Bean in Millennium Park in Chicago, IL. The work is the creation of artist Anish Kapoor
© Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo
Anish Kapoor’s metallic sculpture, Cloud Gate, has been a beloved fixture of the Chicago cityscape since its unveiling in 2006. The installation was made from 168 welded stainless steel plates, and got its official name (it has unofficially been dubbed ‘The Bean’) from the 12-foot-high central arch which forms a gate-like structure. Standing at 33 feet (10 metres), the artwork warps the reflections of the sky and the skyscrapers – forming the perfect canvas for artistic iPhone photoshoots.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Map View
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL, USA
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is part of Columbia College Chicago | © Jonathan Castillo / Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Photography
Curious about the latest in photography? Add the Museum of Contemporary Photography to your itinerary. The museum, which is affiliated with Columbia College Chicago, displays thought-provoking exhibitions that promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the cultural, political and artistic implications of photography in the modern world.

Chicago Cultural Center

Historical Landmark
Map View
Cultural Center, Chicago is the city of skyscrapers. Chicago streets, buildings and attractions of the city of Chicago.
The beautiful Chicago Cultural Center hosts free public events year-round | © Dmitryi Bogdanov / Alamy Stock Photo
If the aesthetic beauty of the structure itself isn’t enough of an enticement (think stained-glass Tiffany domes and ornate mother-of-pearl mosaics), the extensive program of free events will be. The Chicago Cultural Center offers free concerts, tours, movie screenings, plays, lectures and more. Check the events calendar to see what’s on during your visit.

Smart Museum of Art

Museum, Park, University
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David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, IL, USA
The Smart Museum of Art has impressive collections of European, American and Asian art | © Andre Jenny / Alamy Stock Photo
Located on the University of Chicago campus, the Smart Museum of Art bills itself as “an intimate museum for bold encounters with art.” The collection – which includes pieces by Edgar Degas, Frank Lloyd Wright, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso – is renowned for its extensive array of fine art and objects representing a plethora of eras, continents and genres.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Zoo, Park
Map View

Lincoln Park Zoo has one of the most extensive zoo-based conservation and science programs in the US, and pledges to take the best care of its animal residents. Spend the day with black rhinos, zebra, sloths and the delightfully named Allen’s Swamp Monkey – all for the price of zero dollars.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Park, Botanical Garden, Zoo
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The Lincoln Park Conservatory, with its glass walls and exotic plant species, feels like a sanctuary in the middle of the bustling city. The Victorian-era building is divided into four spaces: the Fern Room, Orchid House, Palm House, and the Show House. Each houses thousands of plant and flower varieties that thrive in the conservatory’s balmy conditions all year round.

The 606

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Bicyclists on the 606 elevated bike trail, green space and park built on the old Bloomingdale Line in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, USA
The 606 in the Wicker Park area is Chicago’s answer to The High Line | © Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo
Take a stroll, run or cycle ride through the peace and quiet of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood on the railroad-turned-park and trail system known as the 606. The tree-fringed stretch hosts regular events worth checking out, including community bonfires, stargazing, fun runs and art installations. The trail itself is a kind of living, evolving piece of art, and the community is encouraged to use the space for performance and artistic expression.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

Building, Museum
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Hull-House from 1856, is a settlement house that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Hull-House became a community hub in 1889 | © B. Leighty / Photri Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jane Addams was the leader of the settlement housing reform movement, which encouraged middle-class people to move into poor urban areas in order to share their knowledge and skills, contribute essential services and encourage economic integration. Addams founded Hull-House in 1889 with the goal of providing everything from childcare for working mothers to acculturation classes for immigrants. Now a museum, Hull-House displays pictures, furniture and a collection of artwork by individuals who lived in the house, offering historical insight into what life was like during the turn of the 20th century.

Promontory Point

Memorial, Park
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Promontory Point on the Lake Michigan shoreline park at sunset from the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago's south side
Watch the sun set from Promontory Point on the Lake Michigan shoreline | © D Guest Smith / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in Chicago’s Burnham Park, this man-made picturesque peninsula juts out onto Lake Michigan, providing some of the best views of Chicago’s famous skyline. Discover bird sanctuaries, pretty beaches and a skate park. It’s especially lovely in the summer, when a lake-cooled breeze provides welcome respite from the humidity.

Oz Park

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Oz Park is an ode to author L Frank Baum’s most famous book, The Wizard of Oz. Baum was a resident of the surrounding Lincoln Park neighborhood back in the 1890s, before it became the established community it is today. Between 1995 and 2007, the Oz Park Advisory Council commissioned sculptures of the book’s characters including the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Dorothy and Toto. Find them among the leafy walkways and lawns of the Emerald Garden.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Samantha Looney.

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