You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of fun things to do in Chicago. Here are 10 of our favorite free and cheap things to do in Chicago this month, including free museum days, architecture events, spooky Halloween happenings, and so much more. Start planning your budget-friendly Chicago adventures now.

1. Go behind-the-scenes during Open House Chicago

Quinn Chapel; photo by Anna Munzesheimer

Open House Chicago is back! The free architecture festival opens the doors to some of the city’s coolest buildings, including private clubs, sky-high lounges, landmark residential buildings, historic spaces, and so much more. This year, there are more than 100 sites spread out across 30 neighborhoods. In-person site visits are from Oct. 16 –17, start planning your route today.

2. Attend a spooky evening parade

A glowing horse at the Arts in the Dark parade
Arts in the Dark; photo by James Richard IV Photography

Once a year, iconic State Street transforms into a surreal and spooky world created by local artists. The Arts in the Dark parade on Oct. 30 is an evening spectacle that celebrates Halloween with performances, life-size puppets, creative floats, and more. Or check out the new Upside Down Parade in Washington Park on Oct. 23. Costumed spectators will “parade” past local performance groups during this family-friendly event.

Check out more free Halloween events in Chicago.

3. Honor the Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead
Photo by Angela Wolz

Día de los Muertos is a meaningful holiday that originated in Mexico as both a celebration of life and way to memorialize loved ones who have died. Experience the customs and traditions for yourself at this year’s free celebration in Pilsen on Saturday, Oct. 30, hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art. You’ll find ofrendas (alters) created by community members, live musical performances, and art activities. Afterward, step inside the free museum to see the 35th annual edition of their exhibit, Día de Muertos – A Time to Grieve & Remember, which runs all month long.

4. Cheer on the Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon

The Chicago Marathon is one of just a few major world marathons, which means that athletes from all over the globe travel here to compete. This year’s race takes place on Sunday, Oct. 10. The 26.2-mile course starts and ends in iconic Grant Park, and travels through more than two dozen of the city’s unique neighborhoods. That makes it a great excuse to explore somewhere new. Check out the race day celebrations in Greektown, Chinatown, Pilsen, Northalsted, and beyond.

5. Explore a museum

MSI Storm exhibit
J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by wandering through a new museum exhibit or art gallery. Here are the upcoming free museum days this month (and make sure to reserve  your tickets ahead of time):

You can also check out one of the city’s always-free museums, like the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Hyde Park Art Center. And check out free museum days throughout the year.

6. See the world’s largest video art show

Barbara Kruger at Art on theMART
Barbara Kruger at Art on theMART

Art on theMART is a can’t-miss Chicago experience. The free show lights up the Chicago Riverwalk with a stunning light display every evening at 7:30 and 8 p.m. Grab a spot near the water and enjoy projections inspired by the blockbuster art exhibits. This fall, Art on theMART has partnered with the Art Institute of Chicago to bring Barbara Kruger‘s contemporary works to life on a grand scale.

7. Experience the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Douglass mini golf; photo by Aaron Magana

The largest architecture and design exhibition in North America is back in Chicago, featuring projects created by contributors from around the globe, presented in neighborhoods all across the city. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is free to all and includes a variety of projects, exhibitions, and programming around the theme “The Available City”. Check out the full programming schedule.

8. Take a free neighborhood tour

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident, there’s always something new to discover in Chicago. Get to know a new neighborhood on a free Chicago Greeter tour, led by a friendly local who will show you each neighborhood’s landmarks, hot spots, and hidden gems. Or drop into a free InstaGreeter walk that covers the top things to see around the Chicago Loop.

9. See landscape art under glass


Recently named the best garden in North America by Yelp users, Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush wonderland of plant life from all over the world, including massive palm trees, cacti, succulents, flowers, and more. The conservatory is housed inside a historic glass structure designed by the legendary Jens Jensen. Outside, you’ll find 10 acres of sprawling gardens to explore. The conservatory is free, donations are accepted.

10. Experience the Chicago Riverwalk

Pedestrians walk on the Chicago Riverwalk in summer
Alice Achterhof

Last but certainly not least, the Chicago Riverwalk is the perfect vantage point to admire the city’s stunning architecture. The award-winning stretch of waterfront is open year-round, though some concessions and attractions are seasonal.

Looking for more? Check out our guide on free things to do in Chicago all year long.