100 FREE Things to Do In Chicago with Kids

Explore artistic classics at the Chicago Art Institute. Photo by Maureen Wilkey
Explore artistic classics at the Chicago Art Institute. Photo by Maureen Wilkey
1/12/24 - By Maureen Wilkey

Parenting is expensive, especially in Chicago. There's plenty for kids to do, but a lot of it costs a lot of money. 

Mommy Poppins is here to help with 100 ways to entertain your kids in Chicago and the suburbs for FREE or for next to nothing. Some of these are seasonally dependent free activities, like swimming or ice skating, and some are events that are only available on specific days of the week or month. But if you plan ahead, you can usually find something to do with your kids that won't break the bank.


Of course, you can always check our events calendar to find the best things going on this week—and check the free tag under categories to find activities that don't cost money! Or subscribe to receive updates weekly. 

100 Free Things to Do with Kids in Chicago

1. Adler Planetarium

The museum is free for Illinois residents every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. See the stars and planets and learn about what it's like to be an astronaut traveling to the moon (or maybe beyond.)

2. The Art Institute of Chicago

The institute is always free for kids under 14, but it's also free weekdays from the week after Thanksgiving through spring break. See some of the classics you've learned about in art class, like Sunday on the Grand Jatte and Monet's Water Lilies.

The Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome from Preston Bradley Hall photo by Patrick Emerson via Flickr 
Experience art, music, historic architecture, and more at the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo by Patrick Emerson via Flickr

3. Chicago Cultural Center

The center is always free. See some great architecture, art, music, and more within walking distance of Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile

4. The Field Museum 

The museum is free every Wednesday in January for Illinois residents. Check out our tips for visiting the museum with kids here.

5. Garfield Park Conservatory

Check out some greenery off the Green Line: The Garfield Park Conservatory is always free. We let you know how to visit with kids.

6. Museum of Contemporary Art

Find a new favorite piece of art at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Those under 18 are always free, and all Illinois resident are free on Tuesdays. Check out free Family Saturdays the second Saturday of the month October through May.

7. National Museum of Mexican Art

More art, but now from south of the border: The National Museum of Mexican Art is always free for everybody.

8. Museum of Science and Industry

The museum has at least two free days every month in 2024 except in December. Check the museum's website for more details and see our favorite things to do here.

9. National Puerto Rican Museum 

Learn about another culture at the National Puerto Rican Museum in Humboldt Park. It's always free.

10. Smart Museum of Art

The University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art is always free and features Saturday family events highlighting the museum's current exhibits.

RELATED: Chicago Restaurants Where Kids Can Eat Free  

  Photo courtesy of the Shedd Aquarium Turtle Chicago 
Enjoy an animal encounter at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium

11. Shedd Aquarium

Tuesday evenings are free for the first half of the year at the Shedd Aquarium. Select full days in January and February are also free for Illinois residents.

12. Lincoln Park Zoo

There's only a handful of free zoos left in America, and one of them is Chicago's own Lincoln Park Zoo. 

13.  Broofield Zoo

The suburbs have their own zoo, too. Broofield Zoo is free Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays for the first three months of the year.

14. Chicago History Museum

The museum is free on many days of the year, including Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day. Check the website for full details and see what we liked to do in our review.

15. Jane Addams Hull House Museum

Learn about Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and her work with immigrants at the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum. The museum is free with a suggested donation of $5.

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Conservancy and Gardens, Facebook 
See nature on display at the Lincoln Park Conservancy and Gardens. Photo courtesy of the conservancy, Facebook

16. Lincoln Park Conservatory

Supplement your trip to Lincoln Park Zoo by learning about plants at Lincoln Park Conservatory. It's free with a suggested donation, and makes a great place to get out of the cold during the winter.

17. Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures

The University of Chicago's recently renamed Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures has suggested donations of up to $10 for individuals. Learn about ancient cultures, West Africa, and North Asia.

18. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

The museum offers Donation Days on Thursdays: You pay what you can or want to pay. Be sure to visit the butterfly haven at 2pm to see the newly emerged butterflies being released.

19.  Swedish American Museum

The Andersonville museum has free admission days every Tuesday. The Brunk Children's Museum of Immigration has plenty of interesting information for young people.

20. Trailside Museum of Natural History

Learn about nature, walk through the woods, and participate in plenty of free activities at the Trailside Museum of Natural History.

21. Chicago Women's Park and Gardens

Visit free indoor and outdoor play spaces and learn about the contributions of a variety of Chicago women at Chicago Women's Park and Gardens. 

22. LEGO Store

It's bricktacular: You can play without buying anything at the LEGO Store in Water Tower Place.

23. The American Girl Store

We all know American Girl dolls are expensive, but you can browse The American Girl Store, also in Water Tower, for free. It has free events such book signings and trick-or-treating at Halloween, and many other events under $15.

24. HelloBaby

This free, indoor play space for toddlers on the South Side features music classes and story times with a reservation.

25. PLAY at Yorktown Center

This kid-friendly space has a climbing structure, duplo tables, and sensory exhibits for young kids. 

26. Money Museum

This museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is free to walk-in visitors.

RELATED: Free Museums and Free Museum Days for Chicago Kids

Photo courtesy of the North Park Village Nature Center Chicago  
Explore North Park Village Nature Center. Photo courtesy of the center

27. North Park Village Nature Center

You don't have to leave the city to play in nature. North Park Village Nature Center has 58 acres of hiking, a discovery room, a hands-on table of natural objects, and interactive displays.

28. Thomas Hughes Children's Library

Everyone from toddlers through tweens can enjoy the Thomas Hughes Children's Library at Harold Washington Library in the Loop. 

29. Ukrainan Institute of Modern Art

Visit the Ukrainan Institute of Modern Art for a donation-based art experience.

30. Anderson's Bookshops

Hang out in these book stores in Naperville or Downers Grove. There are lots of fun books to check out, and authors frequently visit to sign and/or read books.

31. Holy Name Cathedral

Take a self-guided tour of Holy Name Cathedral, an architectural gem among Chicago churches.

32. Gurnee Mills

Climb on the giant hot dog in the Gurnee Mills mall play area.

33. Chicago Pedway

Wind your way through Chicago's underground by using the Chicago Pedway.

34. Wildwood Nature Center

Visit the animals in the recently reopened Wildwood Nature Center in Park Ridge.

Chicago Chinatown Public Library photo by Emily via Flickr 
Chicago's Chinatown Branch Library is a multicultural haven. Photo by Emily via Flickr

35. Chinatown Branch Library

Hear a story in two languages at the Chinatown Branch Library.

36. Obama Presidential Library

Check out the progress of the construction of the Obama Presidential Library and the Japanese Gardens and Wooded Island in Jackson Park.

37.  Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Take part in a free discovery day at the nature center in Naperville.

38. Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

Learn about lapidary art at the Lizzadro Museum on free Wednesdays in Oak Brook.

39. Holstein Pool

Go for a swim at Holstein Pool—it even has a separate kiddie pool.

40. Free Concerts

Listen to some music at a free concert in one of Chicago's parks.

41. Go Run

Register for a 'Go Run. These free one-mile or 5K races are a partnership between Chicago Park District and Chicago Area Runners Assocation and they run March through November.

42. Parades

From Lunar New Year to St. Patrick's Day, to Halloween and Thanksgiving, you can find a parade in the city or suburbs.

RELATED: 25 Free Things to Do Indoors on Rainy Days in Chicago 

Crown Fountain photo courtesy of the Millenium Park Foundation 
Make a splash at the Crown Fountain. Photo courtesy of the Millenium Park Foundation

43. Millennium Park

Visit Millennium Park. See The Bean and make a splash in the Crown Fountain

44. Maggie Daley Park

Then walk over to Maggie Daley Park. Its magnificent playground and skating ribbon wow families in all seasons.

45. Lakefront Trail

Take a walk along Lakefront Trail. Traverse 18 miles from north to south on foot, on a bike, or even on rollerblades.

46. Beaches

Swim in Lake Michigan at one of our favorite beaches

Wiggleworms photo courtesy of Gallagher Way Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field 
Enjoy four seasons worth of free events at Gallagher Way. Photo courtesy of Gallagher Way

47. Gallagher Way

Visit Gallagher Way for free events, including movies near Wrigley Field or theme days with activities ranging from music to sports to environmentalism.

48. Navy Pier

Stroll along Navy Pier. You'll often find art exhibits, free music and dance performances, or other family-friendly activities going on up to a half-mile into the lake.

49. Fireworks

Speaking of Navy Pier, the venue sets off fireworks every Saturday during the summer, on July 4 and New Year's Eve, and on select other holidays.

RELATED: Museum Guide for Kids and Families in Chicago 

Photo courtesy of Art on the Mart 
Delight in the work of local artists at Art on the Mart. Photo courtesy of Art on the Mart

50. Art on the Mart

Stop on Wacker Drive across the Chicago River from the Merchandise Mart to see Art on the Mart—images from local artists projected onto one of the largest horizontal buildings in the country.

51. Public Art

See more art, from Picasso to Chagall and Calder, without entering a building in a self-guided public art tour of the Loop.

52. St. Patrick's Day

Celebrate Irish culture and watch as the Chicago River is dyed green in March.

53. Free Neighborhood Tour

Take in the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival's Free Neighborhood Tour in January.

54. Holiday Windows

Visit the animated windows at Macy's during the holiday season.

55. Outdoor Movies

See a free outdoor movie in one of Chicago's parks during the summer.

56. Open House Chicago

Tour one of Chicago's hidden architectural gems at the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Open House Chicago event in October.

Photo courtesy of the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink Dowtown Winter Chicago Ice Skating 
Enjoy a free skate at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Photo courtesy of the rink

57. Ice Skating

Glide along the ice at McCormick Millennium Park skating rink, where admission is free.

58. Holiday Carols

Sing some carols next to the Bean on Fridays in December.

59. Children's Theater

See Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins presented by the Strawdog Theater in December. 

60. Klein Creek Farm

Visit West Chicago's Klein Creek Farm to see what life was like in the area in the 1890s.

61. Wicker Ice

Skate on the community-maintained Wicker Ice in Wicker Park.

62. Parkway Bank Park

See all Rosemont has to offer at Parkway Bank Park, including the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink.

63. Mount Bridgeport

Enjoy a winter day of sledding at Mount Bridgeport.

64. Skate Park

Get some air time at Grant Park's new skate park.

65. Buckingham Fountain

Watch in awe as the Clarence F. Buckingham Fountain lights up on a summer evening. 

66. Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Walk among the outdoor art at Skokie North Shore Sculpture Park, or take a free public guided tour from May through October.

67. German-American Fest

Music and dancing are free at the late-summer German-American Fest in Lincoln Square. Food, drink, and games are available for a fee.

RELATED: Guide to the Best Classes for Kids in Chicago

OZ Park Chicago Playgrounds  
Head off to see the wizard at Oz Park. Photo courtesy of the 43rd Ward and Chicago Playgrounds

68. Oz Park

Follow the yellow brick road to Oz Park to see gardens, statues, and a playground inspired by the movie.

69. The 606

Take the kids on a tour of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka the 606. The 2.7-mile former train track has playgrounds and events from astronomy to yoga.

70. Spraygrounds

Get wet and wild at one of the free spraygrounds located throughout the city. 

71. Humboldt Park Lagoon

Enjoy a dip in Chicago's only inland beach. Hopefully, lifeguard shortages will end in time for families to swim there in 2024. 

72. Graceland Cemetery

See if you can find any famous Chicagoans buried in Graceland Cemetary.

73. Women and Children First

Watch an author read his or her book or enjoy a story time or kids book club at this Andersonville book store.

74. Neighborhood Tours

Download an episode of Chicago Children's Theater's Walkie Talkies and let it guide you through one of Chicago's neighborhoods.

Blue Angels over Chicago Air and Water show Summer Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs 
Watch the Blue Angels soar over Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

75. Chicago Air and Water Show

Find a spot along the lake shore downtown or on the near north side to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show in August.

76. Toy Stores

Play in a local toy store such as Building Blocks in Lakeview or Wicker Park, Timeless Toys in Lincoln Square, or My Special Toy Store in Downers Grove.

77. Make Music Chicago Day

Make some sweet sounds in Chicago for free at various locations on June 21.

78. Green City Market

Visit Green City Market in Lincoln Park for some free or low-price produce.

79. Kidical Mass

Take part in a free Kidical Mass bike ride. They take place monthly in many Chicago neighborhoods.

80. Chalk the Street

Chalk up Howard Street in Rogers Park in August for free.

81. Grant Park Music Festival

Find a free seat at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for Grant Park Music Festival. Premium seats are paid, but you can sit in the back or on the lawn for free.

82. Sundays on State

Stroll down "that great street" when the Chicago Loop Alliance closes down State Street for a festival on select Sundays during the summer.

Chicago Summerdance photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs 
Bust a move at SummerDance Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

83. SummerDance Chicago

Learn to dance in one of Chicago's 77 neighborhoods at SummerDance Chicago.

84. Chinatown Summer Fair

Watch the dragon and lion dance procession at Chinatown Summer Fair, held in July,.

85. Printers Row Lit Fest

Meet your favorite authors and browse through books at this literary festival, held each September.

86. Northerly Island

Explore Northerly Island during all four seasons. It has a beach in the summer, hiking in the spring and fall, and you can cross-country ski or snowshoe in the winter.

87.  Volunteer

Cultivate your kids' sense of citizenship by helping out at a food pantry or toy drive.

88. Support the Athletes 

Watch the Chicago Marathon in October or the Chicago Triathlon in August.

89. Palmer Pool

Take a ride down one of the three free water slides in Palmer Pool.

90. Bison's Bluff Nature Playground

The playground in Schaumburg is free from November through March.

91. DuSable Museum of African American History

This one-of-a-kind art and culture museum is free to everyone on Wednesdays.

92. Mindworks: The Science of Thinking

The University of Chicago's Mindworks: The Science of Thinking features interactive exhibits downtown. It's always free and reseservations are recommended.

93. Design Museum of Chicago

Explore all aspects of design, from architecture to street art at this museum, which is free and open to the public daily.

94. Watch a Waterfall

Take in more of nature's beauty at Waterfall Glen or Lake Katherine.

95. Lilacia Park

Visit Lilacia Park in Lombard for Lilac Time in the spring or holiday lights in the winter.

Chicago Riverwalk photo by Nancy Kalchbrenner Downtown River Historic Chicago 
Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo  by Nancy Kalchbrenner


96. River Walks

Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk or the Naperville Riverwalk to see people, public art, and aquatic life in each city's downtown.

97. Hyde Park Art Center 

This home of creativity and community is always free and features free programming related to current exhibits.

98. Poetry Foundation

Roses are red, violets are blue, the Poetry Foundation is free for me and you.

99. Newberry Library

Newberry is a noncirculating library featuring rare and historical books and exhibits. It's always free to the public.

100. Greeter Tours

Explore one of Chicago's historic neighborhoods with a local from Chicago Greeter.