By Samantha McCarthy

Recession round two, seriously? We were never out of the first. These days money’s tight and if it’s not, you still want to be financially responsible. With that being said, everyone could use a free fun day of entertainment. As a 20-something trying to make it in the city, I find myself an expert on finding free and/or inexpensive things to do around town. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

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Second City
(312) 664-4032
1609 N. Wells St
Chicago, IL 60614
Second City

If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, head over to Second City for a free improv set after the last performance of the night (every night except Fridays). My suggestion is to arrive 15 minutes early to make sure you get prime seats.


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Jazz Institute of Chicago and Chicago Park District will be putting on Jazz City Concerts once per month this fall. Concerts will start at 7:00pm.Grand Crossing Park
(312) 747-6158
7655 S. Ingleside Ave
Chicago, IL 60619
Date: October 7th
Band: Mulligan Mosaics Big Band
Grand Crossing Park

South Shore Cultural Center
(773) 256-0149
7059 S. Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60649
Date: November 4
Band: Saxophone Summit
South Shore Cultural Center

Hamilton Park
(312) 747-6174
513 W. 72nd St
Chicago, Il 60621
Date: December 9
Band: Blowin’ in from Chicago, Ari Brown & Edward Wilkerson at Hamilton Park


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Spend a night (or day) at the museum of your choice. Nearly all of Chicago’s museums offer free admission to Illinois residents on certain days. Here are a few of my favorites:Adler Planetarium
(312) 922-7827
1300 Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60605
Hours: Mon. – Fri, 10:00am – 4:00pm and Sat. – Sun., 10:00am -4:30pm
Free Days: October 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
Adler Planetarium Museum

Art Institute of Chicago
(312) 443-3600
111 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
Hours: Mon. – Wed., 10:30am – 5:00pm; Thurs. 10:30am – 8:00pm and Fri. – Sun. 10:30am – 5:00pm
Free Days: 1st and 2nd Wednesday of every month

Chicago History Museum
(312) 642-4600
1601 N. Clark St.
(At North Ave)
Chicago, IL 60614
Hours: Mon. – Sat., 9:30am- 4:30pm and Sun. 12:00pm – 5:00pm
Free Days: October 3 – 7 and 10 – 13
Chicago History Museum

Field Museum
(312) 922- 9410
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60605
Hours: Every day 9:00am – 5:00pm
Free Days: October 2, 4, 11, 26, 31; November 1, 3, 7, 20, 28, 29; December 4, 5, 7
Field Museum

Modern Museums

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Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
(312) 280-2660
220 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
Hours: Closed Mon.; Tue. 10:00am – 8:00pm and Wed. – Sun. 10:00am – 5:00pm
Free Days: Every Tuesday
Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Science & Industry (MSI)
(773) 684-1414
5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60637
Hours: Daily 9:30am – 5:30pm
Free Days: October 31
Museum of Science & Industry

Shedd Aquarium
(312) 939-2438
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr
(at E. Wm McFetridge Dr)
Chicago, IL 60605
Free Days: October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 31
Shedd Aquarium

* Note: Dates are subject to change. Make sure you check the museum’s website for the most updated free days.


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Newberry Library
(312) 943-9090
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, IL 60610Since 1996, The Shakespeare Project of Chicago has been presenting free theatrical readings at various locations throughout the year. They’ll open their 17th season this fall with a history play by William Shakespeare, Richard II, at Newberry Library on Saturday, October 22 at 10:00am. For future productions, check out their website at


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Lincoln Park Zoo
(312) 742-2000
2001 N. Clark St
(at W Armitage Ave)
Chicago, IL 60614
Lincoln Park Zoo

Open 365 days a year, you’ll never miss a chance to visit the zoo. The best part is, admission is free everyday. No matter the season, there’s always something fun and interesting going on, from Sea Lion shows during the summer, to the beautiful Zoo Lights during the holiday season. Oh and, don’t forget to say “Hi” to the Polar Bear while you’re walking around. He’s by far one of the most interesting animals there and has paws the size of a soccer ball.


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Navy Pier Fireworks
(312) 791-6196
600 E. Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
Navy Pier Fireworks

Memorial Day through Labor Day, Navy Pier puts on a fantastic firework display with music from B96 on Wednesday evenings at 9:30pm and Saturdays at 10:15pm. The spectacular show continues into the fall season from September 10 – October 29, with fireworks at 9:00pm on Saturdays. They also put on a special show for Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day and Memorial Day.


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McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park
(312) 742- 1168
201 E. Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park
Mid-November to mid-March, grab your skates and hit the ice! Admission is free. If you don’t have any, skate rental will set you back about $10.


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Signature Lounge at the 95th
(312) 787-9596
875 N. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
Hours: Sun. – Thurs., 11:00am – 12:30am and Fri. – Sat., 11:00am – 1:30am
Signature Lounge at the 95th

Forget spending the $20 bucks at the Observatory or Skydeck to see 360-degree views when the Signature Lounge at the 96th is free. Sure, there’s a one-drink minimum, but you’ll get to see the glimmering city skyline with a delicious cocktail in hand.

Do you have suggestions for free things to do in Chicago? Leave your comments below.
We’d love to hear from you.

Samantha McCarthy is a freelance writer and editor living in downtown Chicago.