I am not much of a big city girl, but Chicago has won my heart. It might be the 75° weather in July, but we have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Chi-Town. When you visit big cities, the costs can add up quickly with things that you're not used to paying for like parking or public transit. The good news is that there are some great attractions to visit in Chicago that are completely free and totally worth it.
1. Lincoln Park Zoo
Open 365 days a year, the Lincoln Park Zoo is totally free. Parking on the other hand isn't. Depending on how long you stay, it can cost up to $30 to park on site. With six people in my car, I would have been happy to pay $5 each to get into the zoo if parking was free, and it helps keep this beautiful zoo running.
We arrived when the zoo opened, and the animals were all up and moving about. It was such a beautiful day, and such a difference from viewing animals in the scorching Texas heat. Established in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is celebrating 150 years of service.
There's also an incredible view of downtown from the south pond, near the camel exhibit. By the way, did you know that camels' humps twitch? We were fascinated as we watched them move their humps involuntarily! Camels are such strange creatures!
2. Grant Park & Buckingham Fountain
Grant Park is filled with gorgeous flowers and peaceful paths. Strolling through gardens in the city are my favorite way to enjoy the downtown experience. The Buckingham Fountain is the highlight of Grant Park.
With water shooting up to 35 feet in the air, this fountain is awe inspiring. From one side of the fountain you can view Lake Michigan, and from the other side, you can view the downtown skyline.
There are public restrooms nearby, which is always something we need. I would have loved to have seen the fountain at night as it is lit with colorful lights. Maybe we'll come back one day and enjoy it after dark.
3. Millennium Park & Cloud Gate aka "The Bean"
I knew this was a thing to see in downtown Chicago, but this was more fascinating than I expected. I don't know how someone dreams up a thing like this, but it's beautiful, intriguing, and captivating. We could have gazed into this metallic bean for hours!
Even though there was quite a crowd around this attraction, we still found plenty of room for fitting in our own little photo shoot. There were quite a few tripods out there for high fashion photo shoots. I can totally see why.
4. Lake Michigan Beach
Again, parking is all you pay for when enjoying this Chicago destination. It is pretty surreal to walk up to clear water beaches and then turn around to see the city skyline towering above you. The water was pretty chilly, but the locals didn't seem to mind!
The Lake Michigan shore line is really fascinating to me. There are so many wonderful things to do even if the water is too cold for swimming. People are biking down the miles of trails, playing beach volleyball, and picnicking under the trees. We rented a double surrey and the six of us enjoyed riding down the trail together.
5. Chicago Riverwalk
Ever since I watched The Fugitive, I've been fascinated with the river that runs through Chicago and is dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. This canal was built to help keep the city clean as it changes the flow of the Chicago River's water from pouring into Lake Michigan to connecting with the Mississippi and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.
The views from the river are stunning. Our favorite buildings were the Marina City towers. These curious buildings were completed in 1968 and are like a city within a city. They hold what we considered a terrifying parking garage, a theater, gym, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, stores, restaurants, and, of course, a marina. They call them the "corn cob" buildings for good reason. After driving across the Illinois countryside through all of the corn fields, this seems like the perfect place for a corn cob high-rise.
Although there are tons of opportunities for city tours by boat, we found that walking along the riverwalk offered great people watching opportunities! We loved watching the private speed boats navigate between the kayaks as well as the giant tour barges.
By saving money in visiting the free attractions in Chicago, it gave us room in our travel budget to eat pizza at Pizano's Pizza and Pasta. Oh my goodness...this pizza is amazing.
If you're heading into any city, you've got to plan on spending some money. However, it is always nice to find some stops that are free to help save a little money so that you can enjoy the finer things of life—like eating Chicago style pizza outside on Madison street in 75° weather. That is something that is priceless!
Do you have any favorite free Chicago attractions that you love to visit?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.