As always, planning ahead can help you make the most of your visit to any city — even your own! Check for a monthly breakdown of ”what to do in Chicago” in order to have a better idea of what’s going on while you’re in town. Of course, letting things happen spontaneously can always make for some fantastically memorable stories — but why not at least know where all the free stuff is, just in case?
Take advantage of the tons of museums in Chicago and see if your travel dates match up with any of their free-admission days, which change every month. There are some museums that have a weekly date which is always free, such as the Loyola Museum of Modern Art, although some allow only residents of Illinois to take advantage of their free-admission policies. Some museums, such as Adler Planetarium, the first planetarium in the United States, also have special-admission passes.
There’s a free water display every hour at Buckingham Fountain from mid-April to mid-October. In the evening, the fountain show features a light-and-music spectacle as well! Don’t miss out on the Navy Pier, featuring places to grab a bite to eat, a winter ice-skating rink, two children’s museums, and a Ferris wheel giving you amazing views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. While some of the attractions cost a small fee, a walk along the pier is always free.
Summer in many cities means that performers flock to the streets and parks, looking for a crowd to please. Millennium Park is one of the most concentrated areas in Chicago that features outdoor concerts, both scheduled and spontaneous. Also check out their various pieces of artwork, beautiful architecture, and landscape design including the famous Bean — officially known as the Cloud Gate — which reflects and warps the skyline. Between May and October, visitors can take a free 45-minute tour of the art and architecture from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day.
It seems like Chicago is the place to be for festivals in the summer. With beautiful Lake Michigan as a backdrop, who wouldn’t want to play a few sets? Join in on the fun at the Grant Park Music Festival (a summer series), the Chicago Gospel Music Festival in May, and the Chicago Blues Festival in June. The Chicago Jazz Festival and the World Music Festival run in September, reminding folks that just because school has started, that doesn’t mean summer festivities are already over! Other fun festivals throughout the year are Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions (they even dye the river green!) and the Christmas kickoff on Michigan Avenue called the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
While parks-and-outdoors deserves its own section, it’s fair to say that they’ve already been covered quite well. Millennium Park, Grant Park, and Lincoln Park Conservatory are all hot spots when visiting. With more than 29 miles of lakefront property and 15 miles of beach in Chicago, you’re bound to find a small nook just for you when visiting the Windy City — famous for its deep-dish pizza and home to the blues.