10 free activities to show kids how magnificent Chicago is

A couple weeks ago I was running around the city and I was so consumed with work and my schedule that I almost ran right past the most beautiful bed of tulips. The bed was more like a vibrant runway, and the backdrop was the most beautiful skyline in the world.

Whether you were born in Chicago or have only been here for a year, any Chicagoan will tell you, there is simply nothing like Chicago in the spring and summer. We proudly survive the frigid winter conditions because we know what’s to come when the sun is beaming over the Windy City.

I think this is why almost forgetting to stop and smell the tulips gave me a reality shock. Spring is here, and shortly it will be summertime. These are the months we, as Chicagoans, LIVE for! We have miles of magnificent views, from the lakefront to the many museums, lush gardens and a pier to rival any pier in the country. The best part is much like the best things in life: they’re free.

Here are 10 kid-friendly and free ideas to get the most out of Chicago this spring and summer.

Visit the tulips along the Magnificent Mile

Every year more than 500,000 tulip bulbs are planted in the parkway gardens on Michigan Ave. They are truly an astonishing sight against the urban skyline. I snapped a picture right outside the InterContinental, so start there and take a beautiful walk with the family for a fun and free tour de Mag Mile.

Gaze at the Navy Pier fireworks

Starting Saturday May 27, Navy Pier lights up the sky with free fireworks shows. Fireworks are every Wednesday and Sunday through August, so grab a seat on the pier or on the beach and enjoy the show.

Stroll through Lincoln Park Zoo

If you haven’t been to this zoo yet, you’re missing out on sights and sounds most people would pay top dollar to experience. From a nature walk to the little petting zoo, this is the perfect place to bring the family for a day in the city. It’s perfectly nestled against Lake Michigan, open 365 days a year, and it is FREE.

Enjoy music and dancing at the Chicago Cultural Center and Garfield Park Conservatory

This event runs every first and third Fridays and Saturdays, through May 20 from 11-11:45 a.m. These are two of my favorite venues so I’m so excited I can bring the kids to sing, dance and even learn a few things at these fun family events. The locations are either or, so check out the link for more information.

Make Mondays fun at Morning Glories

If the weekend is filled up with soccer games and travel, head to Garfield Park Conservatory on Mondays when they host weekly events. These activities are fun, interactive and encourage children’s curiosity about the natural world. Children and caregivers can rotate to different project stations, take tours, enjoy storytime and more.

Example of this month’s activities:

May 9: Basil Attraction

May 15: Kale for Kids

May 22: Roots for the Home Team


Listen to concerts in Millennium Park

Millennium Park is one of Chicago’s favorite go-to spots for the best entertainment in the country. Even better? They host free concerts, often. The Jazz festival, Blues Festival, Gospel Festival, Summer Film Series (Ratings vary from G to R, so check the schedule first), and the Summer Music Series are all great ways to get the family out and dancing the day or night away.

Take a trolley ride

Who knew there were free trolleys to take you around Chicago? The Navy Pier Free Trolley operates seasonally and during special events. The updated route map includes service to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Randolph Street Trolley operates May to September during the indoor and outdoor markets, and offers a free ride from the Water Tower to the West Loop.

Take advantage of free museum days

While visits are always worth the price of admission, Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum do also offer free days that Illinois residents can take advantage of on certain days of the year.

Have a picnic on North Ave. Beach

Free events like the Air and Water Show (August 19-20) and the Navy Pier fireworks are always fun, but you can also enjoy a more simple time. My family likes to head to North Avenue Beach with lunch and a soccer ball (or volleyball when the nets are up.) And while there are a few other beaches nearby, North Ave. is my top choice because of Castaways. When the picnic runs out, you can splurge on ice cream and snacks instead of making an abrupt exit due to seagulls stealing your Pirate’s Booty.

Bike along the lakefront

There are 28 miles of lakefront that are begging for you to get out and explore them by bike! My kids are little and the path gets crowded on nice days, so the bike trailer is a perfect way to get the kids out in fresh air without worrying about them getting in the way of other bikers. The lakefront is also perfect for photo ops and family time, so pack up and make sure you take advantage.

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