The 18 best museums in Chicago
Written by Taylor Walton

The 18 best museums in Chicago

Learn about art, science, history and beyond at the best museums Chicago has to offer.

Chicago is home to a world-class collection of museums and cultural institutions—all of which are worth visiting. Want to see premiere pieces from famous artists? Take a trip to the Art Institute or Museum of Contemporary Art. Love everything related to natural history and dinosaurs? Then the Field Museum is calling your name. Whether you enjoy art, science, history or architecture, the city’s many museums are some of the top Chicago attractions and provide a great way to spend an afternoon. And you don’t have to break the bank as most have free museum days or offer free admission all year round. So plan a day to explore the best museums in Chicago and get ready to learn a thing or two.

1. Art Institute of Chicago

One of the city's most well-known cultural buildings—thanks to the iconic pair of bronze lions that flank grand steps leading up to the entrance—the Art Institute of Chicago is just as impressive once you make your way inside. With almost 300,000 artworks in its permanent collection, you'll find thousands of paintings, sculptures, photos and drawings displayed throughout a sprawling complex of galleries and halls. If you're a first-time guest, make a beeline for Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (as seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—high and low culture is the best combo, after all) and the contemporary collection in the Modern Wing. Returning visitors can explore the Thorne Miniatures Rooms (reportedly a favorite of director Wes Anderson) in the museum's basement, as well as traveling exhibits devoted to the likes of Salvador Dalí and Van Gogh. There’s arguably too much art at this institution—at least, too much for one day—but we're not complaining.

2. The Field Museum

Originally founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum still packs ’em in with more than 20 permanent exhibitions covering 480,000 square feet. Guests come from all around the world to see towering dinos, marvel at ancient artifacts from a royal Egyptian tomb or relax in a Chinese rock garden hidden inside the Cyrus Tang Hall of China. While a gigantic titanosaur skeleton named Máximo now guards the lobby, you'll find the Field's former greeter, SUE the T. rex, residing in the “Evolving Planet” exhibit. There's something for everyone, and you can easily spend an entire day here

3. Shedd Aquarium

Guests must buy timed tickets online before visiting the Shedd Aquarium. Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this Chicago institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays and turtles of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks, mesmerizing jellies, adorable penguins (including the famous rockhoppers Wellington, Edward and Annie) and marine mammals like sea lions, otters and the beloved beluga whales. The aquarium boasts a number of permanent exhibits, making it easy to spend an entire day wandering through the Shedd. We recommend identifying a handful of must-see exhibits before you go to prioritize your time. Or just make a list and tick off the others on your next visit!

4. Adler Planetarium

The first planetarium in the western hemisphere is one of the city's most popular attractions. After you've explored the permanent exhibits and the dazzling sky shows in the Grainger Sky Theater, apply what you've learned about the skies and visit the Doane Observatory, home to the largest telescope available for public viewing in Chicago.

Written by

Taylor Walton

Taylor Walton

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