Free Things to Do with Kids in Chicagoland

Enjoy family fun without spending a dime with these free activities.

The Chicago area offers so much family fun ranging from amazing museums, thrill-seeking attractions and unique desserts. But when going out with kids, we know some of these excursions can get really expensive. 

Sometimes we want to visit a kid-friendly place without spending a dime. Lucky for us, Chicago and the surrounding suburbs offer some great, free options for families. We gathered some of our favorite free things to do with kids in Chicagoland — both indoor and outdoor!

And if you’re looking for more budget-friendly ideas, find free local events in our online calendar and save the dates for these upcoming free museum days.


Photo Credit: Choose Chicago/Abel Arciniega

Chicago Cultural Center

Exploring in this grand old building can be a ton of fun on its own (it’s home to the world’s largest Tiffany stained glass dome). There are also free art exhibits, dance events and concerts.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Tropical palms and delicate exotic flowers will make you think that you’re not in Chicago as you explore Garfield Park Conservatory. Families can spend plenty of time at the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, too.

Harold Washington Library Center

Neighborhood libraries are great, but this library located downtown is pretty amazing. Inside, you’ll find the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library that offers activities and learning materials for kids of all ages.

Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park

Once a landfill, this nature park has transformed to an urban oasis where families can explore wetland terraces and get a great view of our great city skyline.

Lincoln Park Conservancy

Located steps away from the free Lincoln Park Zoo, this conservatory brings fresh, green foliage and plants to a Victorian-style Glass House. Stroll through a Palm House, an Orchid House, a Fern Room and an impressive show house. On warm days, be sure to take a walk through the manicured lawn and nature spaces that surround the green house.

Note: Admission is free, but an online registration is required for entry. 

Lincoln Park Zoo

See all the lions and tigers and bears you want, for free! The zoo is open 365 days a year. Plus, there are plenty of kid-friendly spots to explore there like the Farm-in-the-Zoo and the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo.

Maggie Daley Park

Where else can you find a life-sized ship, 30-foot-tall suspension bridge tower, a mini-lighthouse, spiral slides and an enchanted forest of upside-down trees, all meant to inspire play and imagination? There’s so much to do here!

Millennium Park

Come out to Grant Park to experience this beautiful public park. It is near the Lake Michigan shoreline and it features lots of ample seating areas to enjoy the weather outdoors. It also has a theater, artwork displayed and an ice skating rink. 

Mindworks: The Science of Thinking

Discover how your mind works at this behavioral science lab and museum ran by the University of Chicago. Explore interactive exhibits, participate in hands-on research studies and earn prizes. 

National Museum of Mexican Art

Head to Pilsen to see the 10,000-piece permanent collection showcasing Mexican art and culture. Take a gallery tour or stop by at one of their special events.

National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture

This cultural gem in the nation’s only freestanding institution completely devoted to preserving and celebrating Puerto Rican culture and traditions. The museum is located in Humboldt Park and features rotating art exhibitions, community workshops, art festivals and more.

Navy Pier

Take a self-guided tour of the pier and look at the public art and views of Lake Michigan and the city along the way. In the warmer months, you can listen to free concerts and enjoy fireworks. 

Northerly Island Park

Near Adler Planetarium, this 91-acre peninsula is worth the stop if you’re exploring the Lakefront Trail. There are usually several free events hosted there year-round. 

Smart Museum of Art

The Smart Museum of Art, the fine arts museum of the University of Chicago, is always free.  Our favorite time to visit is Family Day, usually held monthly.

The 606

This 2.7-mile elevated park trail is built on what used to be an abandoned rail line. Now it’s green space full of art and a great place to spend a sunny afternoon as a family, whether on bike or on foot.

North/Northwest Suburbs

Wagner Historic Farm, Photo Credit: Walter John Terry Jr.

Arlington Heights Memorial Library

While we love a library that has a great children’s section, Arlington Heights Memorial Library is worth the trip when they’re hosting one of their free traveling exhibits.

Baha’i House of Temple

Built in 1953, this temple is one of the seven Baha’i temples in the world. Families can walk around the gorgeous white dome surrounded by green trees.

The Chicago Athenaeum International Sculpture Park

Find 15 unique sculptures from artists around the world in this beautiful public park. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy after all that walking! 

Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area

Save this trip in the fall if you want to catch breathtaking autumn colors in the woodlands. Note: You’re not allowed to bring bikes or pets since the park is designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve.

Emily Oaks Nature Center

The outdoors of this nature center in Skokie features a 13-acre savanna, a two-acre pond and trails. The indoor part of the nature center offers classes, meeting rooms and the interactive Woodland Wander Inn. They offer free scavenger hunts, too. 

Fort McHenry

It’s rare to see wooden playgrounds in public parks anymore and this one is worth the drive. Inside you’ll find slides, monkey bars and more for kids to have a great time.

Historic Wagner Farm

Travel back in time at this 18.6-acre farm that shares a farm life experience during the early 20th century. Inside, you can visit the 1920s farmhouse, visit the livestock and learn something new. 

Illinois Beach State Park

While the city offers easy access to Lake Michigan, you can still enjoy the lake up in the North Shore. Illinois Beach State Park has the beach, of course, and a nature area for families, too.

Northbrook Court

Here’s a mall that has an indoor playground a little different from other mall play spaces. Designed by Chicago Children’s Museum, Northbrook Play offers a free, kid-friendly environment for littles to explore.

River Trail Nature Center

Nature centers are not only budget-friendly, but they provide a great educational option for kids. Head to Northbrook to explore River Trail Nature Center’s trails and exhibits for free.

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

You can find 60 pieces of art in this Skokie sculpture park. The trail is about two miles long — try turning the trip into a fun family bike ride

Wildlife Discovery Center

Explore a living natural history museum in Lake Forest. Inside, kids can meet reptiles, birds and other creatures.

South Suburbs

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

Benches on the Avenue

From mid-May to October, Downtown Tinley Park decorates their benches with a kid-friendly theme in mind. This year, the theme is “Album Cover Tour” with different genres and eras of music.

Bird Haven Greenhouse

If you spend time at Pilcher Park, you have to visit the Bird Haven Greenhouse. You’ll find flowers, waterfalls, plants and more.

Hidden Oaks Conservation Area

Explore the 80-acres of nature and kiddos will love playing on the nature playscape. There’s hands-on exhibits, interactive play elements and live reptiles. 

Homewood Railroad Viewing Platform

For kids who love trains, you can hang out at Homewood’s Rail Park to wave at the trains traveling down the rails.

Joliet Iron Works Historic Site

Have you ever hiked through a former iron manufacturing facility? It might sound eerie, but you can walk through to find abandoned ruins of the building from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

Lake Katherine Nature Center

Lake Katherine Nature Center has one of our favorite waterfalls in the Chicago area. Families will like the 1-mile trail to explore the outdoors.

Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center

One of our favorite nature centers features a historical schoolhouse built in 1886. You can also find indoor and outdoor nature-themed play areas, live animals, and more kid-friendly activities.

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

Here’s another sculpture park that’s completely free! At Governors State University, you can walk up to 100 acres to find 30 of their sculptures.

Orland Park Public Library

While the library usually offers great events and storytimes for kids inside, you can take some time to explore their StoryWalk outside. The stories change four times a year.

Richard Haas Murals

Homewood is already a suburb worth exploring. If you’re looking for a free activity, the village has one of the largest collections of Richard Haas murals outdoors. 

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Families that hike will love to wander the 11 miles of trails at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Don’t forget to take some photos at Rocky Glen Waterfall.

Western Suburbs

Photo Credit: Yorktown Center

Central Park

Central Park offers not one, not two, but three playgrounds! The Sandalot-A Universal Playground is worth the stop. 

Elmhurst History Museum

The free history museum has great special exhibits throughout the years with themes like trains, roller skating and even Snoopy.

Elmhurst Public Library

The Kids’ Library offers a fun environment for kids of all ages to share their love of reading. Younger kids will love to spend some time playing with toys and puppets in The Learning Garden, while older kids can play video games in the Middle School Hangout. 

DuPage County Historical Museum

This local history museum is best known for a detailed model railroad with over 2,000 ft. of track — perfect for little train lovers! The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday. 

Kline Creek Farm

Kline Creek Farm presents themselves as a living history museum with 19th century farm activities and special programs throughout the year. 

Mt. St. Mary Park

In Fox Valley, you can take a seat with Mr. Eggwards, the iconic Humpty Dumpty statue at Mt. St. Mary Park. Follow the paved path to find even more sculptures.

Naperville Riverwalk

Walk down the Naperville Riverwalk on a beautiful day where you’ll find a playground, skate park, fountains and more.

Oak Park Conservatory

The botanical garden showcases their finest plants and flowers in three indoor rooms with the following themes: Mediterranean, tropical and desert.

Phillips Park Zoo

If you’re looking for a smaller zoo to visit, this animal park features more than 40 mammals, reptiles and birds.

Sensory Garden Playground

This playground encourages play for all with a horse-themed playground, fully-accessible treehouse, a Sound Garden and more.

Wheaton French Market

  • Address: Reber Street from Willow to, W. Liberty Drive, Wheaton

Browse French items at this farmers market including produce, flowers, food and handcrafted items. 

Yorktown Center

Yorktown Center’s PLAY area offers 2,000 square-feet of interactive learning activities. Plus, the food court has a children’s dining area with an educational mural from Brookfield Zoo.

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Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts is the assistant editor on the Chicago Parent team. She is always on the lookout for the coolest and trendiest new attractions, restaurants and events for Chicagoland families. Her newsletters, online family guides and exciting digital content keep families informed on all the latest happenings around town.
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