Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Naperville, IL

  • Published 2022/12/16

Naperville is a beautiful city worth exploring in DuPage County, Illinois.

Although it is one of the wealthiest cities in the Midwest, it also offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities and fun activities.

From historic districts, sprawling parks, and charming riverside trails, Naperville has something for every kind of traveler.

Moreover, you can enjoy these activities without emptying your pockets.

Do you want to know more?

Here are some free things to do in Naperville, Illinois.

Soak up the Views along Naperville Riverwalk

Daytime view of Naperville Riverwalk

Hendrickson Photography /

Naperville Riverwalk is one of the best places to start and get an overview of what the city offers.

With its accessible location, Naperville Riverwalk is a favorite destination for morning joggers, families, and tourists.

The Naperville Riverwalk is the “Crown Jewel” of the city.

The riverwalk boasts 1.75 miles of brick paths that will take you through parks, fountains, bridges, pavilions, and other picturesque attractions.

The grounds of Naperville Riverwalk

James Andrews1 /

It is also historically significant, built to commemorate the city’s 150th anniversary.

Some highlights you can visit along your stroll include the Grand Pavilion, a large covered structure used for events.

You can also see the Dandelion Fountain, a fountain that largely resembles the flower, and Centennial Beach, a public swimming spot with water play features.

Welcome sign of Naperville Riverwalk

Opalenterprises, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marvel at the Colorful Naper Lights

The Naper Lights are a must-see winter spectacle if you’re spending the holidays in Naperville.

This tourist attraction combines the beauty of downtown Naperville with dazzling and multi-colored lights.

Top these off with the romantic ambiance of winter, and you should have a holiday to remember.

At the seasonal Naper Lights, walk around Water Street, Foyo Plaza, Jaycees Park, and the Naperville Riverwalk to check out the stunning lights display.

Like the lights, lively Christmas songs accompany you as you walk around and soak up the holiday spirit.

Since Naper Lights is downtown, you can easily visit the attraction after dinner or as a nightcap after a day exploring the city.

Explore the Naperville Historic District

Old Nichols Library at Naperville Historic District

Bcsimon15, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located near downtown Naperville, Naperville Historic District offers visitors a glimpse of the city’s past.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the district houses hundreds of buildings that exemplify the historical merit of the area.

The best way to explore Naperville Historic District and appreciate its heritage is by going on a self-guided stroll or biking around the neighborhood.

Houses along Naperville Historic District

Bcsimon15, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On your tour around the district, find the Old Nichols Library, a Richardsonian Romanesque style that served as the original public library for Naperville from 1897 to 1986.

Aside from the old library, you can also find former homes of prominent families and individuals who helped with the city’s development.

Whether you’re an architecture or history enthusiast, a trip down memory lane through Naperville Historic District is an unmissable activity.

A house at Naperville Historic District

Bcsimon15, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take the Kids to the Annual Halloween Happening

Ring in the spooky season and bring your children to Halloween Happening, a free annual event held at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion.

At the event, find children (and adults) donning their best Halloween attire while enjoying various activities on site.

Kids ten years old and under can also win fun prizes at the booths and join Halloween-themed games while collecting candies and other treats.

This event also allows your children to meet and socialize with other kids.

Come in your best Halloween costume with your kids and have fun at the Halloween Happening.

Besides game booths, you can also find giant inflatable playgrounds, hay rides, and concession stands.

Check Out the Riverwalk Amphitheater

View of Riverwalk Amphitheater from across the water

John D. Buell, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Along Naperville Riverwalk, the Riverwalk Amphitheater provides visitors a temporary break to take a breather and relax.

The open-air area can fit up to 100 people and is typically the venue for most concerts and community events like library-hosted story hours.

With its riverside location, the amphitheater is also a popular space for weddings and other private events.

Stop by the Riverwalk Amphitheater, including the Millennium Wall and Labyrinth.

The Millennium Wall is a series of plaques honoring individuals and businesses who contributed to the Celebration 2000, a city-wide festival to welcome the third millennium.

Meanwhile, the Labyrinth is a brick path replica of the Chartres Labyrinth in France.

Follow the DuPage River Trail

Naperville offers plenty of walking trails that provide a temporary respite from the bustling metropolis.

One of them is the DuPage River Trail.

The trail includes three segments that measure 8.64 miles in total and pass through neighborhoods like Woodridge, Bollingbrook, Plainfield, and Shorewood.

Since the surface is mostly paved and flat, you can bike, run, jog, or walk along the trail; in winter, you can go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

Start your DuPage River Trail adventure and pass through woodlands, wetlands, and historic farmsteads.

At the trail’s end, stop by Whalon Lake and enjoy the rewarding view of the lake’s calm waters.

Surround Yourself with Nature at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve

Wildflowers at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve

Hank Erdmann /

Do you want a change of scenery?

Head to Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve and immerse yourself in pristine natural surroundings.

The forest preserve spans 1,829 acres and is one of Chicago’s important grassland bird communities, home to several residents and migratory bird species.

Aside from being a birdwatcher’s paradise, Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve has plenty of activities for everyone.

Trail at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve

Ken Schulze /

The park has several picnic tables, shelters, and areas where you can lay down a blanket and enjoy the scenery.

On the other hand, take the Springbrook Prairie Trail, a 5.5-mile loop, and see the grasslands and waterways by bicycle or on foot.

Birdwatchers can spot species like meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, short-eared owls, and Henslow’s sparrows.

Wetlands at Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve

Hank Erdmann /

Tour the Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Situated along the DuPage River, Knoch Knolls Nature Center provides guests with an overview of the area’s rich biodiversity.

The nature center offers interpretive and child-friendly programs that let you see the animals and plants that thrive along the river.

The establishment also houses a playground, an aquarium, a creek, and several miles of hiking trails, making it the perfect home base to explore Naperville’s natural setting.

Visit Knoch Knolls Nature Center, take a free self-guided tour of the premises, check out the 900-gallon freshwater tank, and meet the native reptiles and amphibians.

You can also join a free hike with a naturalist and get a deeper insight into the natural history of Knoch Knolls Park and its surrounding areas.

Marvel at the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon

Exterior of the the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon

Steve Cukrov /

Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon tower over Naperville, measuring 160 feet above Aurora Boulevard and the Naperville Riverwalk.

Built in 1999, the tower commemorates the start of the third millennium and the 21st century.

It also has a carillon of 72 bells, said to be one of the largest in the United States.

Structure of the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon

EA Given /

Enjoy free access to the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon Visitor Center and learn about the history and the fundraiser that started the project.

You can also explore the park grounds and listen to the carillon during special performances.

Since Moser Tower and Millennium Carillo are centrally located, you can easily visit them on your stroll across Naperville Riverwalk.

Night lights of the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon

Lectrician2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See a Film under the Stars at A Night at the Movies

In the summer, see a free movie with A Night at the Movies, a series of free outdoor movie screenings across different parks in Naperville.

Bring your folding chairs, a blanket, or a picnic mat and relax as you watch movies like Encanto and Luca.

Most films screened during the events are family-friendly, making it an ideal activity for everyone in the family.

A Night at the Movies is held at parks across the city, including the 95th Street Community Plaza and Rotary Hill.

If you’re up for a relaxing film screening with the family, don’t miss this seasonal event.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Enjoy a Relaxing Afternoon at Cantigny Park

The waters of Cantigny Park

Kim Lewis Photography /

Go on an 18-minute drive from Naperville to Cantigny Park, located in Wheaton, Illinois.

This 500-acre green space is the former estate of Joseph Medill and his grandson Colonel Robert R. McCormick, best known as the publishers of the Chicago Tribune.

Find the park’s well-manicured gardens, a museum, charming picnic areas, and hiking trails.

Bright flowers at Cantigny Park

Danita Delimont /

Spend a lazy summer afternoon at Cantigny Park and explore the park grounds.

On select days throughout the year, the park hosts various events like local festivals, garden tours, lectures, music performances, and workshops.

The garden of Cantigny Park

JR Inspirations /

Watch the Aurora Festival of Lights

During the holiday season, Aurora, Illinois, provides its residents and tourists with one of the must-see Christmas attractions in the area.

The Aurora Festival of Lights is the region’s largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light display, with eye-catching displays and Christmas music.

Spectators can enjoy a mile of Christmas lights displays across Philips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive, within the comfort of their vehicles.

The show is located 15 minutes from Naperville, so you can quickly stop in the city before your day ends.

At the much-anticipated Aurora Festival of Lights, find new light displays along with classic ones like jumping reindeer, giant snowflakes, Santa’s toy factory, and howling wolves, among others.

Although admission to the event is free, each vehicle should register for the event.

Visit the Sensory Garden Playground

Musical horse sculpture at Sensory Garden Playground

Joseph Gage from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in Lisle, Illinois, the Sensory Garden Playground offers a unique playground experience for children.

This place is 12 minutes from Naperville.

The Play for All Playground & Garden Foundation developed the park to address the growing need to establish an accessible place for children with autism.

The park aims to have a barrier-free and universally accessible play space, using a combination of sensory-integrated playground facilities so children with or without disabilities can have a fun time.

At the park, find a sound garden, a fragrance garden, an accessible treehouse, treetop swings, large sculptures, and a central gathering that allows cooperative and side-by-side play for children.

The Sensory Garden Playground has no entrance fee, but visitors are encouraged to donate and help build new facilities.

Explore Oakhurst Forest Preserve

Take a 15-minute drive east of Naperville to Oakhurst Forest Preserve, a large marsh in Aurora that offers multipurpose trails and opportunities for wildlife viewing.

It is the perfect destination throughout the year, and you can enjoy winter activities like sledding or kite-flying in summer.

The highlight of the forest preserve is Lake Patterson, where visitors can fish for largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, and carp.

Oakhurst Forest Preserve has several trails that will take you to scenic meadows, woodlands, and lakeside views.

Overall, the nature preserve is suitable for those who want to relax.

Spend the Day at St. James Farm Forest Preserve

Nature scene at St. James Farm Forest Preserve

ESB Basic /

Embark on a day trip to St. James Farm Forest Preserve, located in Warrenville, Illinois, 18 minutes away from Naperville.

The forest preserve spans 595 acres and features more than 100 acres of scenic woodlands, prairies, wetlands, and more than 300 native wildlife and plant species.

During autumn, the trees create a picture-perfect canopy with golden, yellow, and orange-hued leaves, a visual treat for visitors.

A turkey at St. James Farm Forest Preserve

ESB Essentials /

Aside from its natural wonders, St. James Farm Forest Preserve has an indoor riding area, picnic tables, multipurpose trails, a pond, and beautiful sculptures.

Take a day trip to the forest preserve and enjoy various outdoor activities.

Go on a relaxing walk along the trail, bring snacks for a picnic lunch, or take photos of the sculptures.

Final Thoughts

Although Naperville is one of the wealthiest cities in the Midwest, you can enjoy plenty of activities that don’t require you to burn a hole in your pocket.

Fantastic riverside parks, historic districts, gorgeous forest preserves, and scenic nature trails await your visit.

You can also find seasonal activities, perfect if you visit for the holidays.

Try this list of free things to do in Naperville, Illinois, for a budget-friendly vacation to remember!

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