Best Museums In Chicago
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One of the worlds best Impressionist collections and the greatest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world are just a couple of the superlatives that characterize the treasures in Chicago’s best museums. Whatever your interest, from literature to industry, Pacific white-sided dolphins to Egyptian mummies, youll find it in one of the citys cultural institutions. The city also smartly caters to kids in search of nothing more than a fun place to run around for an hour as well as adults deeply invested in rare and obscure work. Here, our list of the best museums in the Windy City. While most museums on this list are now open to visitors, stay tuned this spring as the rest continue to open their doors.
Editor’s note: Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hours and accessibility of many places are fluid and subject to change. We advise you to contact businesses directly for updated safety guidelines and hours of operation before visiting.
School Of The Art Institute Of Chicago
As aforementioned, the Art Institute of Chicago was founded as both a museum and a school. The two still foster a close relationship, and the museum provides an incredible resource to students looking for inspiration. The school itself has grown into one of the most historically significant accredited independent schools of art and design in the nation. To visit the schools website and learn more, click here.
The Chicago History Museum
Founded in 1856, The Chicago History Museum was originally named the Chicago Historical Society. Like so much of the city, the Chicago Historical Society’s early collection was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Some of the items lost in the fire included the final draft of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In 2006, the museum was officially titled the Chicago History Museum.
Here are some of the “must see” items at The Chicago History Museum.
- The first passenger car to run on the ‘L’
- Chicago: Crossroads of America
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The Aztec Stone Of The Five Suns
This stone was carved to commemorate the reign of Emperor Motecuhzoma II. The hieroglyphic signs on the stone represent the five cosmic era, or suns, which legitimize the emperors rule. This piece is an amazing relic from the center of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs expansive empire, whose ruins now lie underneath downtown Mexico City.
Museum Of Contemporary Art
Get a little bold and adventurous at the Museum of Contemporary Art, located just one block east of historic Water Tower Placeon The Magnificent Mile. Browse the museums permanent collection, which includes more than 2,500 works, displayed in rotation, spanning media and movements from the 1920s to the present. Over the summer, Tuesdays on the Terrace brings you free, live jazz in the museum gardens, while morning visitors are greeted with weekly farmers markets at the museums monumental front steps. Check out the MCA Stage, too, where provocative performances are staged throughout the year.
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Explore The Lakefront Trail
Chicagos Lakefront Trail is an great way to see Chicago and enjoy incredible views. Chicagos Lakefront Trail is a paved path on a 18-mile-long stretch along Lake Michigan. In the summer and especially on weekends, the lakefront is packed with locals and visitors walking, running and riding bikes. Walking or biking all or part of the trail is a great way to see the Chicago skyline, people watch and get some exercise. Here is a map of the trail as well as its access points.
Oriental Institute Of The University Of Chicago
This is yet another great museum to visit in the windy city, but its worth noting that while they dont technically offer free admission, they do accept donations of just about any amount.
The Oriental Institute has permanent galleries focused on ancient Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, Nubia, Syria, Anatolia, and other ancient Near East locations.
As with most museums, they also provide limited exhibits that rotate every few months, each devoted to subjects related to ancient Eastern culture.
- 10 am – 5 pm | Tue, Thur-Sun
- 10 am – 8 pm | Wednesday
- Closed on Monday & major US holidays
The suggested donation amount is $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 12.
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Marc Chagalls America Windows
created this stained glass installation specially for the Art Institute of Chicago. The six panels commemorate Americas bicentennial and honor the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theatre, and dance. This work highlights the city of Chicagos long and rich tradition of public art.
Hidden in the basement of the Art Institute of Chicago are 68 tiny rooms by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, also known as Narcissa Niblack Thorne. The detailed mini diorama rooms are based on European and American interiors and are constructed at a meticulous scale of one inch to a foot. Theyre also just super fun!
Museum Of Illusions Chicago
Guaranteed to have you questioning which ways up and whats real and whats fake, this museum smack-bang in the heart of downtown is a mind-bending attraction that features more than 80 eye-popping exhibits and optical illusions to keep you guessing all day long .
From an oversized kaleidoscope room and rotating vortex tunnel to infinity rooms with endless mirrors, floor art, holograms, upside-down rooms where the furniture is own the walls, and a sleuth of classic optical tricks sure to have you scratching your head ideal for visitors of all ages, its no wonder why this place has earned rave reviews from locals and travelers alike as one of the best Museums in Chicago.
And while many museums require detailed explanations along the way on how each illusion works, here they encourage guests to interact and explore on their own taking wacky selfies all the way through.
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This was painted over four-hundred years ago by one of Greeces most famous painters. It is the central panel of an altarpiece from El Grecos first major Spanish commission. The composition is divided into two the bottom is the earthly sphere of the apostles and the top is the realm of heaven where angels await Mary.
A centerpiece of the museums new Medieval Arms and Armor collection. This may remind you of the classic knight in shining armor, but it actually represents the common soldier. The armor is from 16th century Germany, but the cloth was carefully recreated in 2017. Look closely enough and you will notice detailed touches like mud splattered up the legs.
Dusable Museum Of African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago highlights African American history, culture, and art. Founded in 1961 as the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art, the DuSable Museum today has a collection comprised of more than 13,000 different objects to include works by Langston Hughes, St. Clair Drake, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Here are some of the “must see” items at DuSable Museum of African American History .
- The Charles Dawson Papers
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Art Institute Of Chicago
Art lovers can spend the day browsing the nearby Art Institute of Chicago, one of the worlds leading art museums. The Art Institute displays iconic works by some of the greatest artists in history, including Monet, Picasso and Warhol. Its especially noted for its prized collection of French Impressionist paintings . The stunning Modern Wing is home to works by important contemporary artists.
Fox River Trolley Museum
Affordable, family-friendly, and a nice hours drive inland that begins to change from a built-up metropolis to wide and expansive nature, the Fox River Trolley Museum makes for a wonderful day of learning and history for all ages.
As the name suggests, this museum is all about recreating and celebrating the history of trolley transport in America: from early steam carriages to electric streetcars, it has over 30 different carriages and locomotives on display , making it a perfect place for kids who love anything with wheels.
Whats more, the knowledgeable staff are always happy to answer questions and teach visitors about how these modes of transportation helped shape society as we know it today. With plenty of picnic areas surrounding the sprawling complex and a 4-mile heritage railroad thats both relaxing and educational, it also makes for a great day out in nature too.
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Visit Millennium Park And The Bean
If you have seen photos of Chicago on instagram or facebook, chances are you have seen photos of Cloud Gate , the mirrored sculpture in Millenium Park. Millennium Park is a portion of the Grant Park, and includes Cloud Gate, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Crown Fountain sculpture and Lurie Garden. The Bean is one of the most instaworthy spots in Chicago if you want to take some selfies to remember your trip to Chicago.
Betty Brinn Childrens Museum
A beloved non-profit institution, the Betty Brinn Childrens Museum is all about hands-on fun and learning for kids aged 0-12.
With exhibits that focus on everything from science and technology to art and culture, this museum provides a wealth of opportunities for children to explore, play, and ignite creativity in a stimulating and encouraging environment.
Whats more, it also boasts an impressive range of special events and activities throughout the year , making it THE place to go if youre looking for something fun to do with your little ones.
Betty Brin is also proud to offer regular Sensory-Friendly Sessions, programs curated for children with Autism and unique needs, offering them the chance to experience all of its exhibits in a calmer environment.
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Hitting Up Multiple Museums Save Money And Hassle With A City Tourist Pass
With a plethora of fascinating museums beckoning sports fans, culture vultures, art lovers, and more, Chicago is unsurprisingly one of Americas most popular tourist destinations and with so much on offer, it can be tough to know where to start.
One way to maximize your time in the city? Invest in a city tourist pass, which grants access to multiple attractions at a discount.
Options include the Chicago City PASS, which gets you admission to attractions including the Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum or the GoChicago Explorer Pass, which gives you your pick of dozens of different options including the Art Institute of Chicago and 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck.
No matter what type of traveler you are, theres likely a museum pass thatll suit your needs so why not explore all that Chicago has to offer, without breaking the bank?
Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is one of the biggest contemporary art museums in the world. The MCA’s collection focuses on post World War II visual art works in the collection include pieces by Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Jasper Johns, Kara Walker, and Alexander Calder. The MCA once held the United States debut of Frida Kahlo’s exhibit.
Here are some of the “must see” items at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
- Chicago Works
- Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans II
- Jasper Johns’ In Memory of My Feelings – Frank O’Hara
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The Art Institute Of Chicago: 25 Must See Artworks
With over 300,000 pieces of incredible art on display, the Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the United States. Here are the top 25 famous artworks you must see.
The Art Institute of Chicago was voted one of the Top Museums in the World for four straight years. At one million square feet of space, and with a collection of over three-hundred thousand individual artworks on display, the AIC is the second-largest art museum in the United States. It also holds the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork outside of Europe, along with many other incredible collections from medieval relics to contemporary design exhibits . This may be overwhelming if you only have time for a short visit, so we hope this guide will help you decide where to start.
National Museum Of The American Sailor
Dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Americas sailors, this museum is like a small slice of maritime magic.
Housed in the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in North Chicago , this comprehensive collection takes visitors through life at sea for US military servicemen and women, with interactive exhibits that explore what everyday life was really like for those who served aboard Navy ships throughout history from colonial times through to the modern-day.
Featuring some fascinating artifacts including uniforms, photographs, sails, and other memorabilia it offers a wonderful insight into one of Americas most important servicemen whilst enjoying a slower change of pace from most Chi-town museums.
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Fabulous Chicago Museums For Families
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Chicago is a world class city filled with world class attractions and world class museums. These Chicago museums are so much fun the kids wont even know theyre learning something as they walk among the dinosaurs, marvel at the sea life, admire the artwork and splash in the water table.
Ask my kids which of the Chicagos more than 100 museums is their favorite and chances are an argument will ensue. Ask me, and I know the answer: The Museum of Science and Industry. This behemoth of a hands-on science museum has been my favorite since my first field trip there in the third grade.
It is one of the best museums in the Windy City, but its hardly the only Chicago museum worthy of a visit. If you plan to visit more than one of these, I recommend buying a Chicago CityPASS. Its what I do when I have family in town. Not only does it save you money on admissions, it lets you skip those ticket lines and head straight into the museum to start having fun.
Here are my familys favorite Chicago museums.
TravelingMom Tip: Always check the website for the latest details before planning your visit. The museum might close early for a special event or might require reservations and face masks. Chicago museums also offer a handful of free museum days for Illinois residents.
See Chicago’s History Unfold
Were open and ready to share Chicago stories with you while continuing our health and safety procedures. As of March 1, 2022, Chicago History Museum visitors are not required to show proof of vaccination. While masks are recommended and appreciated, they are no longer required. Learn more.
We encourage visitors to purchase tickets in advance online.Discounts can only be applied on tickets purchased in person.
*Illinois Resident Children 18 and under are FREE
*Non-Illinois Resident Children 12 and under are FREE
2022 Illinois Resident Free Days: January 17 February 14, 9, 21 March 4 June 19 July 4 August 2326, 3031 October 10
Access to the Abakanowicz Research Center is by appointment only. Find more information here.
City of Chicago residents receive a $2 discount
Thank you to Wintrust for sponsoring free Museum admission for Illinois residents 18 & under
It pays to be a member. Admission is free for members of the Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, and National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.
Free admission is granted year round to the following audiences :
US Armed Services: All active duty military and all veterans
Chicago Police Department: All active duty
Chicago Fire Department: All active duty
City Colleges of Chicagostudents, faculty, and staff
Park Voyagers: Must show your pass.
Kids Museum Passport Holders: Must show your pass.
Prices subject to change.
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Pritzker Military Museum & Library
At the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, Youll find thousands of artifacts, books, posters, photographs, maps, and manuscripts, ranging from military medals to swords, that tell Americas history through the eyes of the citizen soldier. Take a tour any day of the week or wander collections ranging from WWII and Korean War training comics to medical research files on topics like early ambulances and Civil War nurses.
Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 104 S. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor
Frank Lloyd Wright Home And Studio
Speaking of architecture, no trip to the Windy City is complete without a stop at the former Oak Park home and studio of one Frank Lloyd Wright, widely considered to be Americas most famous architect a man who left a glowing legacy of some 150 iconic buildings nationwide.
Designed by Wright himself in 1889, the building has been lovingly preserved and meticulously restored, declared a National Historic Landmark in the 1970s and welcoming curious visitors ever since.
Showcasing treasures around every corner, highlights include period furniture and fittings plus an extensive archive of drawings, models, and photos chronicling his career from early Prairie-style homes to later projects like the Guggenheim Museum.
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