Free and Cheap things to do with kids in Chicago. Chicago can be pricey but there are loads of things to do with your kids for free or on the cheap.
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Free Family Fun at the Art Institute of Chicago
Enter through the Monroe Street entrance and get into the Ryan Education Center for free. The center offers FREE kids activities year round.
Spend a rainy or snowy day at the Chicago Public Library
Whether you head to the sprawling 756,000 square-foot main library, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, or check out one of the 75 branches there are free programs for kids, as well as computers, books and movies to check out for free. Chicago has one of the best library systems in the US.
While you’re at the library score a free general admission museum pass:
The Chicago Public Library (Chicago residents only) offers passes for families. Here’s what you get for free general admission at the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium. and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Select Chicago Museums are required to offer 52 free days each year
Free Museum Admission the first weekend of every month
Thanks to the Museums on Us program, you can show your Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card to get free admission to many museums.
Free admission to the Chicago Children’s Museum
On Thursday nights from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm and on the first Sunday of every month visit the for free. Beware: this is at Navy Pier which offers nothing either free or cheap (except the views). Things to do at Navy Pier.
Many firehouses across the city welcome walk-in tours. If the doors are open just walk in and ask to see the trucks for an insider’s tour. Some downtown stations: Engine 98, 202 E. Chicago Avenue (just south of Water Tower Place), Engine 42, 55 W. Illinois (six blocks west of Navy Pier in River North), and Engine 13, 259 N. Columbus (just north of Maggie Daley Park).
Check out a free monthly Lego Build on Tuesdays at your local Lego Store.
The second Saturday of each month is free for families. In 2017 while the museum is being remodeled they will offer Free Family Time.
Take a weekend ride on Metra:
A weekend pass is $10 per adult and good for unlimited rides on both Saturday and Sunday. Up to three children age 11 and under ride free with each fare-paying adult. Metra: Kids ride free Dec 16 to Jan 1.Not valid for travel on the South Shore (NICTD). Check the schedule and ride to the end of the line and back.
Michael’s Crafts has $2 kids classes on Saturdays.
Home Depot offers Kids’ Workshops offers once (or sometimes twice) a month from 9:00 am to noon, kids ages 5 to 12 can enjoy FREE hands-on fun at Home Depot kids workshops. In addition to keeping their projects, kids receive a FREE certificate of achievement, a Workshop Apron, and a commemorative pin while supplies last.
Spend a steamy, rainy or freezing day at the movies
Kids can enjoy a free story time and other events at Pottery Barn Kids. Sign up for email and get a coupon for 15% off.
Explore nature indoors
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park has a butterfly habitat and climbable tree house. Thursdays are suggested donation days for Illinois residents.
Visit nature indoors at a conservatory
Contact the volunteer coordinator at your local animal shelter or nursing home to find opportunities where kids can participate.
Learn new skills at FREE Apple Camp (Summer only)
Apple camp offers computing and video skills sessions.
Try a new beach
Chicago’s Lakefront has 26 miles of people watching and breathtaking ocean-like views. Every beach has different activities and amenities. Here’s your Guide to Chicago Beaches.
Take a Stay-cation:
Camp in Cook County Forest Preserves: The newly refurbished camping facilities are $50 a night and many have adjacent activities available. Save cash and time by camping close to home.
Camp in a Chicago Park District park for $50: save cash and time by camping close to home.
Try a new park
Many Chicago Park District parks have free events for kids and families including movies. Pack a picnic, grab some sports equipment and head out to your local park or try a new park.
Go to a Festival
Many Chicago Festivals have kids tents and activities. Most Suburban festivals have carnival rides and kids activities also.
Head to the Garfield Park Conservatory
There are family events year round for kids and families including a kids garden and scavenger hunts.
Propel yourself down The Lakefront Trail North or South
You can walk, bike or skate the trail on your way to the beach or just spend some time enjoying the magnificent views.
Don’t forget about the free Lincoln Park Zoo
One of the few free zoos in the U.S. Here’s a guide. The Zoo has scheduled Kids activities throughout the summer, beautiful grounds and educational animal exhibits and activities. Picnicking is encouraged. Parking is expensive so you may want to take the bus which stops at the zoo. Also the Brookfield Zoo is kind enough to have many free days all winter!
Play in the super kid-friendly Maggie Daley Park
Enjoy multiple slides, swings in the nautically themed play areas. Picnic tables are available. There are restrooms and drinking fountains in the field house.
Return to Millennium Park
Kids never tire of splashing in the Crown Fountain and checking out the Bean but you can also: Attend FREE Family programs at the Lurie Garden (Spring-Fall),Go to the Millennium Park Free Family Fun Festival (Summer) or pair up a trip to Millennium Park with a free evening concert. Even though it’s classical music kids attend and are welcome.
Try a Hidden Park
If Maggie Daley or Millennium Park are too much walk across Randolph Street from Maggie Daley Park and head to the “hidden” LakeShore East Park which has a small play area. There’s a Mariano’s Grocery store adjacent to the park with a nice patio and restrooms. Map
Explore Northerly Island
You can hike and bike on the trails which are safer biking for small children. They periodically have family-centric events and Polar Adventure Days (Winter only). Northerly Island is also adjacent to 12th Street beach and the Museum Campus.
Take a road trip in the city
Water taxi’s are an inexpensive way to get out on the water, a fun way to get around and at each stop there’s something new to explore. (May-November).
Check out the Chicago Riverwalk
Walk or bike along. Or sit and watch the boats go by. (May-November)
Take a weekend ride on Metra
A weekend pass is $8 per adult and good for unlimited rides on both Saturday and Sunday. Up to three children age 11 and under ride free with each fare-paying adult. Kids ride Metra free all summer. Not valid for travel on the South Shore (NICTD).
Ravinia: Check the schedule for low cost kids performances between June and August. Ticket prices are $5 lawn and $10-15 Pavilion.
Arlington Park has family day on Sundays with kids activities including a petting zoo.
Watch the magnificent bridges go up along the Chicago River***April-October only.***