There are few cities anywhere in the world what can rival Chicago when it comes to museums. No matter your passion, there is a place devoted to it somewhere within the city limits. And that’s a great thing, unless you’re trying to decide which one to visit. At that point, the options just seem too numerous and confusion takes all of the fun out of the idea.
Well, that’s the way it used to be – but not anymore. No, now you can just use this handy guide to plan the perfect day at the perfect museum. You’ll find all of Chicago’s finest institutions on this list, and even some of the hidden gems most people miss. So take a look, choose a place that speaks to you, and get ready to be educated, amazed, and entertained. There really is no better way to spend an afternoon in Chicago!
111 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of those wonderful places, much like the Louvre, that you could visit day after day without ever growing tired of what you’re seeing. Their collection includes more than 300,000 artifacts and works of art from every corner of the globe and every historical period; from the beginnings of human history to the present day.
They have a fantastic website where you can learn more about their monthly events, current exhibitions, and extensive resource library. You can also purchase maps, guides, and audio tours for your visit. Admission is free after 5:00pm on Thursdays for Illinois residents and $16 for seniors at any other time. They have four restaurants to choose from so you’ll have all the energy you’ll need to see the incredible collection. Don’t miss the breathtaking views of Millennium Park through the windows of the Modern Wing!
1400 S Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
The pride of the Chicago Museum System, the Field Museum houses more than 30 permanent exhibits covering every facet of the natural world. With more than 300,000 square feet of space, the Field holds wonders from every single epoch in Earth’s long history. You can marvel at gigantic dinosaurs, gaze upon the burial treasure of an Egyptian pharaoh, wander through display after display of priceless jewels, or relax and take your ease in the famous Chinese rock garden in the “Cyrus Tang Hall of China”. There are no wrong choices at this museum.
Rates for seniors vary depending upon the type of ticket you purchase. There are a number of options you can view on their site, but it basically depends on the level of access you’d like. Senior All-Access Passes go for $30 while the Senior Basic Admission is $19. There are also two excellent eating choices located right inside, so be sure to bring your appetite along with your curiosity. Don’t miss the Chinese Terracotta Warriors exhibit!
220 E Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago boasts one of the country’s largest and most revered collections of modern art. With artists like Peter Saul and Alexander Calder on display, the MCA has everything a modern art fan could want and more, and they even offer guided tours free of charge every day. Their BMO-Harris Bank-Chicago Works series gives local artists the opportunity to showcase their talents right alongside the greatest artists in the world. The museum also boasts an Artist-in-Residence space which gives visitors a glimpse into the inner workings of an artist’s mind at work.
The MCA offers free admission to all Illinois residents every Tuesday with the regular senior rate being $7. You’ll find one of the world’s greatest gift shops (according to Fodor’s) on the ground floor, and a stellar restaurant if you’re interested in a bite to eat. They also have a bookstore, a 300-seat theatre, and an incredible sculpture garden offering one of the best strolls in Chicago. Be sure to check out the MCA Calendar for upcoming events!
5700 S Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
It may come as a surprise to learn that the Western Hemisphere’s largest science museum resides right here in Chicago. Yes, the Museum of Science & Industry is a whopping 400,000 square feet of educational, eye-popping interactive exhibits. This is a place where experience and education go hand-in-hand. You don’t just look at a display, you touch it, you manipulate it, and you see what it has to show you. From the simulated coal mine to the restored U-505 Nazi submarine, you’ll find something amazing and unexpected around every turn. There is nothing at all like it anywhere in the city.
The Museum of Science & Industry has unique ticket pricing. Tickets basically break down as admission plus X number of attractions. So, the Explorer 1 package gives you access to the museum and one major attraction. Packages go all the way up to include every attraction in the building. You can also check the calendar on their website for Illinois Resident Days when admission for Illinois residents is free of charge. There are also five gift shops, three eateries, and Chicago’s only five-story, domed Omnimax® theater located throughout the museum. They also offer indoor parking adjacent to the Entry Hall. Make sure you check out the Science Storms exhibit!
150 Cottage Hill Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126
The Elmhurst Art Museum (EAM) is an ambitious, broad-spectrum collection of art, design, and architecture. The centerpiece of their collection is the McCormick House by Mies van der Rohe; the second of three he eventually built in the United States. The museum itself is located next door to the house and contains modern and contemporary art in all its many forms. You can find everything from sculpture by Abbot Pattison and works by Melissa Oresky. The staff is fantastic and their community involvement is second-to-none.
The EAM offers a Senior Rate for $7 and admission is free on the first Friday of every month. There are no eateries on premises but you can always pack a snack to eat as you stroll through the outdoor art installations. The EAM is also the centerpiece of a three-museum layout including two more museums on our list – the Elmhurst History Museum and the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary. Don’t miss the Skycube by David Wallace Haskins!
120 E. Park Avenue
Elmhurst, IL 60126
The Elmhurst History Museum, founded in 1957 and located in Glos Mansion – the former home of Elmhurst’s first ever village president, is an award-winning institution interested in collecting and preserving the historical treasures of Elmhurst, Illinois. They house a collection of more than 15,000 historical artifacts, over 10,000 historic photographs, and interactive exhibits like By All Accounts: The Story of Elmhurst which covers the entire 165-year history of the city of Elmhurst.
Admission to the Elmhurst History Museum is free with a nominal fee for tours and selected programs. The museum does not have a restaurant or café, but the Elmhurst City Centre is just a short walk away with all of the amenities you could ask for. Make sure you take a moment to look over the amazing In Her Own Right: Marion Mahoney Griffin exhibit!
220 Cottage Hill Avenue in Wilder Park
Elmhurst, Illinois 60126
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary is an incredible place with a confusing name. What is lapidary? Lapidary is the art of cutting and polishing stone, and this museum is full of beautiful stonework of all types. Opened in 1962, the museum is dedicated to showcasing the unique characteristics of the mineral world to visitors from around the world. You can find stones of all kinds in the collection, but the real showstoppers here are the jade pieces – both cut and uncut. The collection features more than 200 pieces from all over the world.
The Lizzadro Museum offers free admission every Friday with Senior Rates of $4 every other day. They have a great calendar of events on their website where you can find special traveling exhibition dates and other information. There are no amenities on site but the Elmhurst City Center is just a short walk away for food, drinks, or other fare. Make sure you spend some time taking in the dioramas covering the three first floor walls. The carved figurines are amazing!
740 E 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637
Opening its doors in 1961, the DuSable Museum of African American History is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected African-American institutions. After centuries of neglect, the rich and vibrant history of marginalized and overlooked Americans is told with dignity and passion within the walls of this cultural treasure. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the real history of America; told from the mouths of its most disenfranchised. There is a feeling of discovery that permeates this place and exhibits like Red, White, Blue, and Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Forces will open your eyes to things you’ve never known.
The Museum offers free admission to all visitors on Sundays with a Senior Rate of $7 ($5 for seniors living in Chicago) every other day. There are no restaurants on the premises but they encourage visitors to bring a lunch and enjoy it in their beautifully manicured gardens. There are few better places for a bite to eat in the whole city. Don’t forget to take in the Freedom, Resistance, and the Journey Toward Equality exhibit!
1852 W 19th Street
Chicago, IL 60608
The largest Latino cultural organization in the United States, the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA), resides right here in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. With a permanent collection spanning some 10,000 pieces, the Museum offers a glimpse into the illustrious past of the Mexican culture. Their rotating exhibitions are committed to presenting a diverse picture of Mexico, its history, and its people; both across the border and right here in the United States.
The NMMA provides free admission to all visitors every day of the year – the only major Chicago museum to do so. They have an incredible gift shop onsite, Tienda Tzintzuntzán, which carries all kinds of unique mementos. There are no restaurants on premises but you’re welcome to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds. Make sure to check out their calendar of special events!
1155 E 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
There are few places anywhere in the world, outside of the Near East itself, where a person can learn more about the Orient than the Oriental Institute located at the University of Chicago. Their collection spans the entirety of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the other bedrocks of early human civilization. With a 40-ton human-headed bull known as a lamassu from Sargon II’s capitol to bits of Persian history rescued from the looting and destruction of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the Oriental Institute has literally tens of thousands of artifacts that tell the story of us – from the very beginnings of our rise to greatness to the downfalls of our modern political systems.
The Oriental Institute offers free admission to all members of the public and asks only that those who can, or would like to, make a small donation to further the Institute’s mission. There is an amazing gift shop, The Suq, located inside that offers some of the most unique items you’ll ever find at very reasonable prices. Make sure to check out the Sennacherib Prism, a record in cuneiform script of the reign of King Sennacherib of Assyria – including his sack of Jerusalem!
All of the museums we’ve discussed here are excellent places to spend a day or two or even more. They each have something to offer that can be found nowhere else. So, start planning your first visit to one of these cherished institutions today!
Other Notable Chicago Museums & Cultural Centers