15 Free Things to Do in Chicago with Kids

Chicago may be a big city, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, you can even vacation in Chicago and still manage to do plenty of things that don’t cost a dime. take a look at 15 of my favorite free things to do in Chicago with kids. Have fun. 🙂

1. The City of Chicago, as well as the suburban areas, are home to hundreds of children’s parks. The city alone has 580 parks! The Chicago Park district keeps a listing of all the parks, including dozens of spray parks that are open for free through the summer.

2. City of Chicago Cultural Center – Located on Washington Street, the Chicago Cultural Center is full of art displays, music, and galleries.

3. Take a stroll through Millennium Park inside the loop and don’t miss the “The Bean.” Find it inside Michigan Avenue, Randolph Street, Columbus Drive and East Monroe Drive. There’s a lot of architecture around it, as well as a good deal of public art. 

4. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the biggest  zoos you’ll visit for free. Take time to spay your favorite animals and enjoy a day in the sun with your family. Plan to pay for parking or take the CTA bus if you’re staying at a hotel in the city.

5. Play at the new Maggie Daley Park, which takes up a 20-acre corner section of Grant Park. You’ll find rock climbing walls, mini golf and a massive playground.

6. Explore Navy Pier. Located on Lake Michigan, the iconic Navy Pier has an accessible boardwalk as well as free outdoor concerts and fireworks in the summer. 

7. Summer is a time for lakefront music festivals that are free, including Grant Park Music Festival (June-August), Chicago Blues Festival (June), Chicago Gospel Music Festival (June), Chicago Jazz Festival (August) and the World Music Festival (September).

8. Learn to dance for free at Chicago SummerDance every Friday and Saturday all summer long. Located at  Grant Park, nearly 50 bands in different genres will rock, jazz and bring the tunes to make your body move! You may even learn a dance step or two, too.

9. Visit the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (JAHHM), which serves as a dynamic memorial to social reformer Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. A donation is suggested, but you can enter the museum for free.  

10. On Tuesdays, Cat & Mouse Games, a fun store that sells board games, puzzles, mind benders and more, offers a free game night from 6:30-10:30 pm. They have locations in Bucktown and West Loop. 

11. From April to mid-October, look for a 20-minute water show at the Buckingham FountainIf you’re out in the evening, a spectacular light and music display accompanies the major display at dusk every hour on the hour. 

12. Head to the beach. With the Lake Michigan shoreline, there are plenty of spots. Consider the 12th Street Beach on Northerly park or one of the many other locations.

13. Visit the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier on one of the free entry nights. Target Free Family night is usually Thursday evenings and kids are free on some Saturday mornings. See their website for more details. 

14. Many stores and cafes offer free storytime for kids. Barnes and Noble has a few times a week, as well as places like Little Threads, which offers free storytime every Monday at 10:30 am. See their website to confirm times. 

15. Visit Arcade Park for plain old fun recreation. Grab a Frisbee or a ball and glove and have regular old-fashioned, unstructured fun. Kids need those activities and there’s a lot to be said about just being active, putting down the devices and enjoying time together as a family.

Chicago is easily accessible from midwestern states and also makes a good stopping point for those heading across the country to visit family and friends. With plenty of places to visit, there’s no reason you can’t make Chicago a fun, and fairly inexpensive, stop along the way.

If you plan to fly to Chicago on Southwest, don’t forget about Southwest Check-In online. It’s a great way to ensure a good flight boarding position, which is a must when flying with kids. Many flights also have Southwest WiFi and you can check ahead of time on their website.

Looking for kid friendly hotels in Chicago? I’ve got you covered. You can also check out the latest Chicago hotel deals, including deals on hotels in Chicago near Navy Pier and downtown Chicago hotels with pools.

What are your favorite free things to do in Chicago?