Top Free Outdoor Activities in Chicago

#1 – Lincoln Park Zoo

Home to big cats, polar bears, penguins, gorillas, monkeys, and many more species, this zoo, located in Lincoln Park, makes you forget you are in the heart of Chicago, and transports you into the wild. Lincoln Park Zoo is such a great destination because it is open every day, it is free, and it is a very manageable size for an afternoon visit.>

  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
  • Hours: Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm (gates open until 6pm)
    Sat & Sun: 10am-6:30pm(gates open until 7pm)
  • Web Site:

#2 – North Pond in Lincoln Park

Located between the North Pond Restaurant and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park sits the North Pond. A beautiful 13 acre nature sanctuary, this pond is home to countless ducks, birds, butterflies, turtles and other small mammals. For a great tour of the pond, docents offer free interpretive tours on the weekends in the summer. Tours meet on the patio in front of the North Pond Restaurant on the north end of the pond..

  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
  • Web Site:

#3 – Millennium Park

Completed in 2004, this park, located in the corner of Grant Park, is far from ordinary. Some great free things to do include:Cloud Gate – the giant reflective bean, a great place to take cool unique pictures, Crown Fountain- where kids can run, splash and play in fountain – remember to bring dry clothes, Family Fun Tent (located on the Park’s Chase Promenade North) – open everyday from July 2 -September 2 between 10am and 3pm. Check out their family performances and hands-on activities, Morning Work Outs (7 am to 11am on Saturdays) – Work outs are 45 minutes long with classes in Tai Chi at 7 a.m., Yoga at 8 a.m., Pilates at 9 a.m. and Zumba at 10 am, Classical Music – stop into Grant Park for free summertime classical music. A performance schedule is posted on their web site. SummerDance (free introductory 1 hr dance lessons in Grant Park followed by music and dancing) – Thu, Fri and Sat evenings, from 6-9:30 pm and Sun afternoons from 4-7 pm, weather permitting, from July 19 through September 16.

  • Neighborhood: Millennium Park
  • Hours: Open Daily: 6am-11pm
  • Web Site:

#4 – Buckingham Fountain

Located in the center of Grant Park, this amazing fountain, one of the largest in the world, is a true cascading work of art. Make sure to stop by on the hour everyday from 10am to 10pm to enjoy its water, light, and music show.

  • Neighborhood: Grant Park
  • Hours: Open Daily: 10am-10pm
  • Web Site:

#5 – Magnificent Mile

Chicago largest shopping district, this strip of retail stores, restaurants, museums and hotels that extends from the Chicago River to Oak Street is more than just a shoppers dream. Some worthwhile stops along the way include the Historic Water Tower, Water Tower Place Mall, Museum of Contemporary Art, John Hancock and the Hershey store.
Neighborhood: Magnificent Mile

Web Site:

#6 – Navy Pier

Home to the famous 150 foot-high Ferris Wheel, the Shakespeare Theater, Children’s Museum, IMAX theater, and much more, Navy Pier is a great place to bring your kids, or to rediscover the kid in you. Check out the amazing free firework display every Wednesday at 9:30 pm and Saturday at 10:15 pm through Labor Day weekend.

  • Neighborhood: Streeterville
  • Hours: Sun – Thu: 10am-10pm
    Fri & Sat: 10am-Midnight
  • Web Site:

#7 – Movies in the Park

The 12th annual Movies in the Parks series kicks off Monday, June 11th with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo at Belmont Harbor, and wraps up Oct 26th with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at Marquette Park. This series features 176 movies at 128 citywide parks. Admission is free, and all movies begin at dusk (weather permitting).

For a complete movie schedule:

Web Site:

#8 – Chicago Greeter Tours

The Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture offers a free Greeter Visit, which is a 2-4 hour guided tour of Chicago. Your tour will be customized based on your choice of neighborhoods, language and interests. Make sure to register for this service at least 10 business days before your trip, to make sure there’s availability. For more flexibility, check out the InstaGreeter tours, which are 1-hour guided walks that don’t require any registration. All tours are a great way to discover neighborhoods and learn more about Chicago.

For all tour options and information:

#9 – Green City Market

A great place to browse, and shop for fresh organic fruit, veggies, cheeses, meats, and many other food items, the Green City Market is a great farmer’s market located in the heart of Lincoln Park. Stop in, and browse the delish food selections, and grab a grilled cheese sandwich or other treat, so you can munch while you shop.

  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
  • Hours: Outdoor Season – May 5 through October 27, 2012, every Wednesday and Saturday from 7am to 1pm
  • Indoor Season – November through December 21st, every Saturday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s eco-lot on the north side of the Museum.>
  • From January 21st through April, every Saturday inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the South Gallery.
  • Web Site:

#10 – North Avenue Beach

Running from North Avenue to Diversey Harbor in Lincoln Park, North Avenue Beach is considered by most local Chicagoans to be best beach in Chicago. The trademark beach house resembles an ocean liner, and offers bike and sport equipment rentals, a restaurant, beachside concession stand and restrooms. From segway tours, to sand castle building, the Lake Michigan shore is a must-see when in Chicago.

  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
  • Hours: 11am-7pm
  • Web Site:

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