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The best free things to do in Chicago

Enjoy all that Chicago has to offer without spending a dollar

Photograph: Martha Williams

There’s so much to do in Chicago, it’s easy to give your wallet a break without sacrificing your social life. From art shows to concerts to festivals, there's plenty of entertainment that's available free of charge. There's no need to stay hidden inside with so many fun things to do that won't cost a cent.

The best free things to do in Chicago

National Museum of Mexican Art

You don't have to look any further than Pilsen to find one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art and explore a 6,000-piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits, performing-arts showcases and educational programming that represents an illustrious Mexican culture.

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Lower West Side

Midway Plaisance Park

During the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, Midway Plaisance Park was filled with amusement park rides and attractions. Today, the park serves as a connector between Jackson and Washington Park, featuring paths for biking, walking and jogging. 

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Hyde Park

Slo ’Mo

At this polysexual Logan Square dance-off, party purveyor Kristen Kaza and DJ Tess drop the needle on love-drenched classics by Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Prince and the queen of lovers' rock, Sade.

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The Whistler , Logan Square Thursday December 15 2016 - Thursday June 15 2017

Chicago Cultural Center

Since being converted to the Cultural Center in 1991 (it used to be the Chicago Public Library), this city-block-wide institution now offers free classical concerts Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Concerts are always free.

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Loop

Newberry Library

The Newberry Library, founded in 1887, is an independent research library located right in the heart of the Gold Coast. From illuminated medieval manuscripts to the personal papers of local authors, the Newberry is home to an impressive collection of work. 

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Rush & Division

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Rhona Hoffman Gallery, founded as Young Hoffman Gallery in 1976, is one of the oldest galleries in the West Loop. Specializing in international contemporary art in all medias, particularly of the socio-political variety, Rhona Hoffman exhibits young and emerging artists alongside established ones. 

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West Loop

Ed Paschke Art Center

Polish American painter Ed Paschke grew up on the Northwest Side, attended the Art Institute and taught at Northwestern University. His confrontational, brightly-colored paintings typically dealt with topics like fame, sex and violence, inspired by the pop art of Warhol. 

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Jefferson Park

FKA

Recommended

We don't know if they're painting smiles on people's faces at the door or if they're mixing something into the booze, but everyone seems to be in a good mood at this energetic and inclusive queer party that's been going strong since 2008. 

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Big Chicks , Uptown Until Friday June 9 2017

Salonathon

Recommended

Jane Beachy and friends invite the city's most genre-defying performers and provocateurs to take over West Town. This weekly Beauty Bar art/comedy/music show never fails to surprise the audience. 

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Beauty Bar , River West/West Town Monday December 12 2016 - Monday June 26 2017

Harold Washington Library Center

The main branch of the Chicago Public Library boasts nine floors of books, computer labs, meeting rooms and more. Head up to the ninth floor to see art displayed in the library's exhibit space or view the small Harold Washington museum, where memorabilia related to the building's namesake is collected. 

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Loop

Chicago Urban Art Society

Located in the East Pilsen Industrial Corridor, CUAS is an emerging mixed-use art space that facilities "creative juxtapositions." The community cultural institution presents work by contemporary artists and promotes projects and hosts events by creative-sector groups—everything from pop-up dinners to the Pilsen Flea Market to Slow and Low, a community lowrider festival.

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Lower West Side

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Founded in 1976, the Museum of Contemporary Photography collaborates with artists and photographers to present exhibitions of analog and digital images. Columbia College frequently presents works from its collection or commissions photographers to develop exhibits that display the capabilities of visual art.

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Loop

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Recommended

Under a glass dome and in greenhouse rooms on just more than a half acre thrive more than 40,000 plants representing around 200 species. Attractions include an extensive fern collection, a room full of dozens of orchid varieties and a 100-year-old, 50-foot rubber tree. Flower shows change with the seasons.

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Lincoln Park

devening projects + editions

Founded in 2005 as a curatorial effort, devening projects + editions now includes a Garfield Park gallery space showcasing site-specific exhibitions by international contemporary artists in every medium. Multiples by exhibiting artists often accompany these shows.

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East Garfield Park

Deep Dish

This bimonthly body-positive Berlin bash features deep house and free pizza. What more can you ask for in a dance party?

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Berlin , Lake View Monday December 19 2016 - Monday June 19 2017

Jackson Junge Gallery

Owned and operated by Chicago artist Laura Lee Junge and partner Chris Jackson, this Wicker Park gallery displays Junge's own work in addition to exhibitions from contemporary artists. The general public can visit the gallery free of charge seven days a week, while patrons can take home prints and reproductions that are produced (and framed) on site.

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Wicker Park

Burly

Burliness is optional at this night for bearded boys, funky folk and all other queers and allies. Burly's resident DJs spin punk, disco and new wave galore.

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The Burlington , Logan Square Wednesday December 21 2016 - Wednesday June 21 2017

Edible Garden

Located right in the Farm-at-the-Zoo area of the Lincoln Park Zoo, this is a hands-on way for kids to experience where their food comes from. Kids can flex their green thumbs May through September.

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Lincoln Park

Glass Curtain Gallery

Located in the Ludington building on Columbia College's South Loop campus, the Glass Curtain Gallery exhibits emerging and mid-career artists in all media. Showcasing a mixture of national and international artists, this free museum also offers workshops and lectures that allow anyone to learn more about art.

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Loop

Carrie Secrist Gallery

Carrie Secrist Gallery celebrated its 20th anniversary in early 2013 and over the past two decades has focused on established contemporary artists, with a recently renewed interest in adding new, emerging artists to its roster. Among our favorite works the gallery has exhibited are Kim Keever's water tank diorama photography; Megan Greene's recontextualized Audubon prints and Derek Chan's abstract paintings thoughtfully incorporating Native American symbolism.

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West Loop

Comments

1 comments
Elizabeth G
Elizabeth G

If you want to go outside and have a nice walk , 606 trail is perfect to have fun bring your bike or skate or make 5 miles running :) come out enjoy your city. ( boys , girls , dogs, babies , kids, grandmas.)