The city with a festival for almost everything, all year long
Chicago has a lot to celebrate, that’s why it’s always festival season
Chicago’s events calendar is always packed and, the best part is, many of the biggest events are FREE! Even the world-famous festivals. We've picked out a mix of festival favorites, but if you just want to wing it and show up there's bound to be something cool happening.
1Chicago Blues Festival
Kick-starting the summer every year is the Chicago Blues Festival, the largest free blues festival in the world. For three days, half a million blues fans get to see world-class performances from the biggest names. We're talking Ray Charles big. Or Chuck Berry. Or the late Bo Diddley. Not to mention all the best up and comers.
If you get to Chicago in May (which is known as Blues Month), you can catch preview performances around the city during the lead-up to the festival.
Where: Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park
2Taste of Chicago
Three million mouths to feed over 5 days can only mean one thing: the world’s biggest food festival. Taste of Chicago is a melting pot of the city’s diverse cultures and cuisines, with hundreds of drool-worthy dishes from around the world. There’s live music too, and plenty to keep the kids entertained. Admission is free, and so is the cheesecake at the opening ceremony (but you'll need to buy tickets to trade in for other food at the show). Hot tip – come hungry, really hungry.
Where: Grant Park
Cost: Free admission and entertainment, pay for food at stalls
3Design Harvest Fest
The name of this festival is intriguing enough. Design Harvest is a stylish celebration of home design that has become a mecca for designers, who come to adore the displays at unique pop-up shops and showrooms.
From the vintage and antique to the modern and environmentally savvy, beware of inspiration overload (which might make you want to run home and renovate). Oh, and it's not all about window shopping – there are also free design seminars, live music and stuff to keep the kids happy. Also, did we mention it's free?
Where: West Grand Ave., West Town (a.k.a. the Design District)
4Chicago International Film Festival
Come be part of the oldest competitive film festival in North America (it was around before Toronto and Sundance), dating back to the sixties. This global event brings hundreds of films and filmmakers from more than 60 countries. And film buffs will know that it's the festival that gave rise to hundreds of now-famous directors, like Martin Scorsese, Peter Weir and Taylor Hackford.
Head to the Chicago Film Festival website to check out the film schedule and buy tickets.
5Year-Round Festivals and Events
No matter when you visit Chicago or what you’re into, there’s always something going on…
The Magnificent Mile
Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is one of the world’s top ten hospitality, dining and retail destinations. It has its own festivals too (of course); biggies are The Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival every fall and The Lights Festival before Christmas.
Over 400 neighborhood festivals pop up all over the city, all year round. They're a great way to experience Chicago's diverse mix of cultures – with music, entertainment and obviously lots of food. Whenever you're in town, check out the City of Chicago's official website for the neighborhood festival calendar.
Chicago Cultural Center
One of the most visited attractions in the city, the Chicago Cultural Center has free events running all year round, from films and musical performances to art exhibitions and family events. It’s worth a visit for its stunning architecture alone.