Chicagoans love summer. It’s glorious here through September (and even into October), with the waters of Lake Michigan sparkling, green parks bustling with families, tulips blooming and fireworks bursting over Navy Pier.
And the best part? You don’t have to pay through the nose to make the most of the summer in Chicago. Look around and you’ll find free outdoor movies, free outdoor concerts, free outdoor workouts and so much more. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite freebies:
Take in Movies in the Park. Chicago Park District's 15th annual Movies in the Park brings the big screen to green spaces across the city. Some of the movies, which start at sundown, even have a Chicago theme. Check out the schedule here to see what’s showing at a park near you.
Park it at Millennium Park. It’s true, you can amuse yourself for hours just wandering around Millennium Park, capturing your funhouse-like reflection in Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture (aka The Bean) and picnicking on the Great Lawn in front of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry. But if you plan your visit right, you also can take advantage of the packed calendar of gratis gatherings, such as festivals and gardening workshops at Lurie Garden, free concerts (indie rock, pop, electronic and other genres) at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Wednesday and Saturday morning workouts (Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates and Zumba), movies, music festivals, dancing (and dance lessons) with SummerDance and so much more. See Choose Chicago’s site for a comprehensive guide.
Millennium Park concert photo courtesy of City of Chicago
Take a tour. The Chicago Greeter program offers InstaGreeter tours through three different areas of Chicago: The Loop, Millennium Park and the Uptown neighborhood. Led by volunteers, the one-hour tours give local insights into the history and future of the Windy City. (No registration is required; simply show up at the time and place of the tour and you’re in.) Want more? The Greeter Visit, available for groups of up to six, can be customized, whether you’d like to learn about a particular neighborhood or area of interest, such as art and architecture, food, family activities and more. This one requires some planning: You’ll need to register at least 10 business days in advance so your volunteer guide has time to plan the tour.
InstaGreeter tour stop at the Chicago Cultural Center; courtesy of Choose Chicago
Get wild at Lincoln Park Zoo. Say hello to oh-so-adorable Obu, the baby snow monkey recently born at Lincoln Park Zoo. Then journey through Africa, bark at the sea lions, wave to the primates, crane your neck at the giraffes and get a sense of Zen at the Nature Boardwalk, all of which are free and open 365 days a year.
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
Watch the skies come alive. Chicago doesn’t need July 4th to color the skies. Throughout the summer, Navy Pier sets the night ablaze Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:15 p.m. with its famous fireworks display. Tip: Avoid the Navy Pier crowds and pick a grassy or sandy spot along the lake to take in the show. Two of our favorite locations are Oak Street Beach (1000 N. Lake Shore Dr.) and Montrose Beach (4400 N. Lake Shore Dr.).
Photo courtesy of City of Chicago
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