Free Chicago: Explore Chicago's Arts, Culture and Entertainment on the Cheap

Free Chicago: Explore Chicago's Arts, Culture and Entertainment on the Cheap
Lurie Garden is beautiful throughout the year

Living in Chicago has its perks. There is fabulous theatre, arts, entertainment and more.   A real budget-buster, you might think. But it doesn’t have to be.

Some of the best of Chicago is free.

Where’s the world’s largest Tiffiany Dome? If you answered Chicago, you are right. What’s the price of admission, to see it and even enjoy a concert while basking in its glory? If you answered free, score one for you.

Below are ten of the many free events available year round in Chicago:

1. Dame Myra Concerts

The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts at Chicago’s magnificent Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) feature solo and ensemble performances of classical music showcasing emerging performers. The concerts, a Chicago favorite since 1977, are free every Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. under the spectacular Tiffany-domed ceiling in Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center. No tickets or reservations are necessary.

The Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts pay tribute to British pianist Myra Hess who organized some 1,700 free lunchtime concerts for Londoners during World War II, in the years of nightly air raids.

2. Lurie Garden

A real-life urbs in horto (city in a garden), Lurie Garden is a garden for all seasons and many reasons.   Visitors can take self-guided tours year round with brochures available in the Millennium Park Welcome Center (Northwest Exelon Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph Street).

Guided tours are offered from mid-May through September on Fridays, departing every 15 to 20 minutes, between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and on Sundays between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tours last approximately 20 minutes. No registration is required–just meet at the south end of the boardwalk.

The garden, located at the south east corner of Millennium Park on Monroe just west of Columbus, is open 365 days a year from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

3. Millennium Park

Millennium Park offers free guided walking tours (limited to groups of 10) with volunteers who will help you explore the history, art and architecture of the park.

These tours, provided by the Chicago Greeter service located inside the Visitor Information Center of the Chicago Cultural Center (across the street from the park) depart at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily between May and October.

No registration is required just meet at the Visitor Information Center in the Chicago Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph Street).

4. Lincoln Park Zoo

One of the few free zoo’s in the country, Lincoln Park Zoo, the pride of Chicago, is a historic landmark founded in 1868.  The zoo connects people with nature through family-oriented wildlife experiences–exemplifying some of the highest quality animal care and educational outreach on the globe.

Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year.

New in 2015–just in time for the snow are eight adorable Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys. You’ll find them at the brand new Regenstein Macaque Forest exhibit. For more information on the zoo, call 312  742 2000 or click here.

5. Under the Picasso

Under the Picasso inside the Daley Center and outside on Daley Plaza (in warmer weather) offers a variety of free programing including concerts, dance, ethnic celebrations and more–usually on weekdays beginning at noon. Click here for a schedule of times and events.  50 W. Washington Street.

6. The Civic Orchestra of Chicago
civicorchestraEnjoy the rich heritage of the CSO through free concerts by the CSO’s training orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

These free concerts feature an amazing line-up of programs from open rehearsals with the Maestro, himself, CSO’s Riccardo Muti along with concerts featuring tomorrow’s world-class musicians. The concerts take place in the splendor of Symphony Center and various other Chicago area locations.  Pre-concert conversations take place in Grainger Ballroom starting 90 minutes before each performance.

Although the concerts are free, you must make reservations that include a non-refundable $2 service fee per ticket. Click here for reservations and information.

7. Garfield Park Conservatory

Did you know there’s a cinnamon tree growing in Chicago? And yes they have bananas—not those from the produce section at Jewel—but bananas hanging on bunches from a banana tree.

Perfect for a cold winter day but fun any time of the year, Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory (100 N. Central Park Avenue) is a tranquil escape in the middle of a busy urban environment. Visitors can walk through the free admission conservatory at their leisure enjoying the sights, sounds and beauty of the environment; take part in free programs, family activities and more.  Click here for hours and information.

8. Newberry Library Tours

Designed by  Henry Ives Cobb, the elegant Newberry Library (60 W. Walton St.) features a Romanesque exterior built from pink granite from Branford, Connecticut. The building, which opened in November 1893, contains a wealth of Chicago history and legend. It is also noted for its focus on the humanities and extensive genealogy collections.

Free public tours of the Newberry Library are offered Thursdays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:30 am. Visitors of all ages are welcome. Reservations for groups are required and may be scheduled through the Library’s Office of Events  at 312 255 3595. Click here for more information.

9. Chicago Cultural Center Building Tour

The Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the Chicago Public Library, is a masterpiece of architecture both inside and out. Free public and private tours take guests through the beautiful space featuring the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome, ornate multi-colored mosaics, marble and moldings. Public tours (limited to the first 20 people) meet inside the Randolph Street lobby at 77 E. Randolph on Fridays and Saturdays at 1:15 p.m. For private tour information, contact Anna Marie Gazzi at 312 744 7917.

10. Jelly Belly Warehouse Tour…A Sweet Escape

jellybellytrainAbout 60 miles from downtown Chicago, but worth the trip for Jelly Belly fans, is the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin Jelly Belly warehouse–just across the Illinois border.

How sweet it is aboard the free Jelly Belly Express. The 30-minute train ride takes visitors on a journey down “Candy Alley” through the Jelly Belly Art collection and past a chorus line of dancing Jelly Belly characters with giant Jelly Bellies looming overhead.

The train stops at various “stations” along the way where giant video screens tell the history of the Jelly Bellies, gummies, candy corn and other sweets available at the warehouse.

Click here, for more information.

Free Days at Chicago’s Museums

If you are a fan of freebies, you may want to check out this post on Free Days at Chicago Museums for 2015.

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