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Photograph: Clayton Hauck

The best free things to do in Chicago this month

No need to break the bank—check out all the fun (and free) stuff happening throughout the city this month.

Emma Krupp
Jeffy Mai
Edited by
Emma Krupp
&
Jeffy Mai
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As it turns out, some of the best things in life—or at least, some of the best things to do in Chicago—are free. There are plenty of free ways to occupy your time over the next few weeks, including ice skating and a handful of winter markets. Plus, don't miss out on gallery shows, concerts and other recurring events that won't cost you a dime. Ready to save some money? Check out more of the best free things to do in Chicago this month.

RECOMMENDED: The best cheap eats in Chicago

The best free things to do in Chicago this month

  • Things to do
  • Loop

Close out the Chinese New Year with a marketplace featuring lion dances, music and more by local performers. Attendees will be able to enjoy food, calligraphy, puppets and trinkets at the Chicago Cultural Center. The event is hosted by the Chinese Fine Arts Society and admission is free.

  • Museums
  • Museum Campus

Escape the planet with exhibits about the first lunar missions, the solar system and more, plus immersive shows in the dome theater. The Doane Observatory is also home to the largest public telescope in the area, and gathers 7,000 times more light than the human eye. Every Wednesday, the Adler stays open late from 4pm-10pm so that folks can visit after work or school. And best of all, admission is free on those nights for Illinois residents.

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  • Things to do

To get in the shopping spirit this season, stroll through Edgewater Chamber of Commerce’s Winter Bryn Mawrkets, where you can peruse stellar work by makers from all over the windy city from wellness to apparel. Explore the festive stalls and pick up a gift for yourself or someone on your list. Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind art installations and purchase art to take home at the Winter Bryn Mawrkets Gallery. Check out their website for the full list of local vendors you'll find there.

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Millennium Park

Situated in the heart of downtown Chicago with the city's sweeping skyline as a backdrop, the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is a winter attraction unlike any other. Skaters can lace up and wind around a winding ice-covered path that's twice the length of a lap around a traditional rink. Reservations for the popular ice rink should be made in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly.

Admission to the Skating Ribbon is free Monday through Thursday and for 11am sessions Friday through Sunday (and $5 for other time slots Friday through Sunday, as well as holidays) if you bring your own skates. No skates? Entry is $16–$22 if you need to rent a pair. The Ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and even offers limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Logan Square

The Whistler’s monthly lit series returns for the first time since before the pandemic, bringing an evening of readings, workshopping and discussion to the Logan Square cocktail bar. Looking to share your work? Get in touch with organizers at testliteraryseries@gmail.com—the team eventually hopes to compile all workshopped pieces in an anthology at the end of the year. 

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Wicker Park

Chicago farmers market season is well past its peak, but you can still get in on the fresh produce action during this winter edition of the Wicker Park market, which is popping up inside The Robey’s lobby on select Sundays from December through April. Browse goods from vendors like River Valley Ranch, Star Farm and Zeitlins Delicatessen—and you can always grab a coffee from The Robey’s espresso bar to sip while you stock up. 

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Ukrainian Village

Add some shopping to your Saturday morning brunch routine by visiting Handmade Market at the Empty Bottle. You can sip a mimosa while checking out the wares of local vendors selling funky jewelry, clothing, handbags and paper crafts. You probably need a gift for someone—or yourself—right? Handmade Market takes over the Bottle on the second Saturday of the month from October through April.

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  • Sports and fitness

Slide past an indoor skydiving center and Fogo de Chão on the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink at Rosemont's Parkway Bank Park, where you can hit the ice on the weekends up until December 22, and then every day from December 22 through January (including holidays). The rink, which is free to access, will also be open on Sundays through the end of February.

  • Art
  • Arts centers
  • Humboldt Park

Working in partnership with the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture is bringing a stunning selection of paintings to Chicago—some of which have never been shown outside of Puerto Rico—for an exhibition highlighting several of the island's most important artists. Centered around three curatorial themes (“My Home,” “My People” and “My Island”), the works span from the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century, showcasing artists like José Campeche, Francisco Oller, Miguel Pou and Myrna Báez, among others. Tickets to the exhibition are free, but you might consider a small online donation to the Museo de Arte de Ponce, which is still recovering from damage sustained in a 2020 earthquake.  

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  • Comedy
  • Uptown

This weekly “live magazine” is a cavalcade of culture, politics and wit featuring journalists, actors, comedians and musicians offering idiosyncratic reports on the news of the day. Head to Uptown’s iconic Green Mill for drinks, hot takes and laughs; the longstanding Saturday afternoon edition tends to run about two and a half hours.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs

Originally established in the late 1800s, the Maxwell Street Market brought vendors, musicians and cooks to an open-air flea market where shoppers could find just about anything they wanted. The market introduced the Maxwell Street Polish sausage, provided a venue for rising Chicago blues musicians and was immortalized in a scene in The Blues Brothers. These days, the market sets up on nearby Desplaines Street (between Roosevelt and Howard) on the first and third Sundays of every month, where visitors will find vendors hawking their wares, an abundance of delicious Mexican food and occasional performances by local bands and dance troupes. Don't let the cold or wet weather scare you away—the Maxwell Street Market takes place outdoors year-round.

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