This summer we played Chicago tour guides a couple times when my boyfriend’s family visited from Texas and Mexico. We don’t make the 2-2.5 hour trip from Central Illinois super often, but this summer has been a fun exception. On one particular visit, we were able to spend a whole day in Chicago without spending any required money on activities. We also had a large group with us (9 adults and kids!), so I thought this recap might be helpful for large families or groups of friends looking for cheap ways to explore the city for a day. Between our multiple visits to Chicago, we’ve come up with 5 of the best, free ways to spend the day in Chicago.
Basically our “tours” involve a whole lot of walking and sightseeing. My boyfriend and I love to walk as a way to explore new places. We think it’s the best way to take in everything and find things you probably wouldn’t have noticed if you’d been driving or taking public transportation. Plus it’s good exercise. Although the list below does indeed have free activities, you may want to factor in some money for a few Uber rides and Giordano’s pizza, you know, just in case.
Disclaimer: If you live in Chicago, this might be the most boring and obvious list ever, but hey, you can’t argue that these are fun, free things to do!
1. Millennium Park
You get the most bang for your walking shoes with this one. There are so many things to see here and SO many photo ops.
The Bean (formally known as Cloud Gate, but everyone calls it The Bean. I actually forgot it had a different name until I started writing this post.)
Crown Fountain (informally known to me as the one with the *sometimes creepy* faces)
Buckingham Fountain (On a windy summer day, you can catch a nice, refreshing mist from this fountain.)
Lurie Garden (This garden is a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of downtown that surrounds it.)
2. Walk along Chicago Lakefront Trail
It’s definitely worth spending a little time on this trail. It’s fun to walk right next to the water and watch all the boats. People sit along the shore and you’ll find people everywhere biking, jogging, roller blading, etc. It’s also a great route to take you to the next stop on our tour.
3. Navy Pier
This pier stretches 50 acres on Lake Michigan and is full of rides, attractions, restaurants, and events. One time I even saw they were having auditions for The Voice and we walked among some of the contestants waiting to perform! It’s free to walk throughout the pier and the exhibition halls, but of course there’s plenty of food and activities you can spend money on if you choose, such as the Ferris wheel ride.
4. Chicago Riverwalk
Personally I don’t think I’ve spent enough time sightseeing on the Riverwalk. Often times we just kind of end up there on our way to our next destination. I don’t even have great pictures except the ones I took at night, but I recommend using the riverwalk to get places, or enjoying it via the steps outside the City Winery (which is definitely on my list). As you walk along the path, you’ll see people kayaking, fishing, and boating on the river, and you’ll find all sorts of little cafes and entertainment that you would’ve missed if you had taken an Uber. The riverwalk even has its own website with all the things you can do!
5. Magnificent Mile
Oh yes, the shopping opportunities are endless here. But this is a list of free activities, remember?? Regardless of whether or not you spend money, the Magnificent Mile is a must-experience. There’s such an energy with so many people and places and things happening. You’ll stumble upon street performers and window shop luxury designer stores you may have only seen in magazines (at least that’s what I do, God bless if you can #treatyoself). Check out the website for a listing of all stores, restaurants, and more!
If you’ve visited or lived in Chicago, what are your favorite free ways to spend the day in Chicago?
Happy sightseeing! xx