Chicago is a city renowned for its world-class culture and Museums. While New York’s Museums grab all the glory, Chicago offers some equally fantastic collections and in many cases, the equivalent even beats the New York offering hands down. We take a look at all of the Citys best offerings, from the headline superstars right down to the smaller and more intimate museums you can find. Our 10 Best Museums in Chicago list shows you the best in the City
Museums are not for everyone and conjure up images of endless boring school field trips traipsing around stuffy halls bored senseless. Not all museums are like this however and there is something in Chicago for everyone, young, old, cultured, or cool. You really can find something for everyone in Chicago.
Picking our top 3 was a hugely difficult task, all three are simply staggering museums, with an unbelievable number of phenomenal exhibits, really if you are heading to Chicago we would probably advise visiting all of the top three, then hit the ones on the rest of the list that appeal,
1 – Field Museum of Natural History
- Price: Adult – $29-$42 – Child(3-11) – $21-$30 – Seniors/Students $25
- Location: Museum Campus
- Average Duration: 3-5 Hours
The Field Museum just slips into the top spot above the Art Institute, Mainly as it is just a little more varied and fun. We love Museums but the Art Institute is a little “Stuffy” where the Field Museum just lets its hair down a little, plus it has Dinosaurs, and we all love Dinosaurs!
Let’s start with the Fossil Halls, The Museum has two standout Skeletons, SUE the Largest Trex Skeleton in existence, and Maximo, the Titanosaur, one of the Largest land Animals ever to exist! Cast from Bones found in Patagonia this 122ft long 28ft high goliath really brings home how humongous these beasts were. SUE, on the other hand, weighing in at approx 10 Tons gives you an appreciation of how terrifying they were!
It doesn’t end there the entire Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet are filled with examples of the history of life on earth. From the earliest fossils through the giant dinosaurs to examples of more recent history. If you or any of your little ones like Dinosaurs do not miss the Field museum.
This is just part of the Field Musem though! The Animal Halls take you on a tour of the modern Natural world with a huge array of habitat dioramas, Maneating Lions, Tigers, Bears, wolves, Elephants, rhinos, Giant Pandas, Antelopes, Giraffes Zebras, and many more. There is also the Ancient Egypt Hall with a full-size Egyptian Tomb, Hands-on Science and Play Labs, Gem hall, Meteorite Halls, Bug Adventure, and just So much more. On top of the regular exhibits are a selection of 3d Movies as well The place is packed with fun things to do and would suit families as well as anyone interested in the History of the natural world!
We could literally go on all day about the Field Museum and you may find your trip is the same. A 3 Hour stay is a brief visit and you could easily lose the full day exploring the exhibits, but we tend to spend around half a day and find that’s enough to see most things without getting too tired.
2 – Art Institute of Chicago
- Price: Adult – $25 – Child(<14) – free – Seniors/Students $19
- Location: Millennium Park
- Average Duration: 4-8 Hours
The Art Institute of Chicago is not just one of the Best Art Museums in the City, or even the country, the Art Institute can cut it against the best in the world. Outside of the Lourve and the British Museum, London. The Art Institute is right up there, at least as far as Art Museums go. Some may argue the Met in New York tops it but we actually prefer Chicago’s offering.
The reason we rate the Museum so highly is the combination of the incredible amount of artifacts and works of art on display, combined with the few select pieces that really stop you in your tracks and go wow! American Gothic by Grant Wood and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks along with pieces from Picasso, Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Jackson Pollock, Van Gough, and Andy Warhol! along with many others. These are really important works of art and can be really staggering to behold. Even for non-art aficionados to be in the presence of these pieces can be really moving!
On top of the Highlight pieces, there are over 300,000 pieces of art from right across the spectrum of human history. Art is far more than just paintings and this comes across in the Institute through exhibits of jewelry, sculptures, pottery, Photography, Fashion, and even Armor, and decorative weapons. Anything we have created over our history that’s Decoration has little purpose other than being pretty can be considered art and we have created an awful lot of that over the millennia!
The Art Institute brings this all together and allows you to walk through our history in a fascinating and thought-provoking way.
The Museum is absolutely huge and you could easily lose an entire day or two exploring the seemingly endless exhibits, a lifetime is probably not long enough to read every plaque, label, and snippet f information. However, the museum is a little stuffy at times and we prefer to enjoy it in half-day chunks. However for young kids that might even be too much.
3 – The Museum of Science and Industry
- Price: Adult – $21.95 – Child(3-11) – $12.95
- Location: Jackson Park, South Side
- Average Duration: 4-8 Hours
We feel a bit mean putting this in 3rd place as any other city this Museum would walk to first place, but this really shows the strength of the Museum line-up in Chicago! The 14 Arce, hands on, an interactive masterpiece that is the Museum of Science and Industry is the perfect day out for any family.
There are over 2000 exhibits and when you consider that some of these are a full-size Uboat Submarine, Diesel Locomotive, and replica Mineshaft it gives a good idea of the scale of the Museum. We tend to find the biggest complaint about the museum is that a single day is not enough to see everything! but also a Full day is seriously exhausting.
We love the Science storms Exhibit with its real-life tornado, Tesla Coils, and Tsunami maker. The Uboat exhibit is the only german Submarine in the United States. There are several Full-size aircraft including a Bowing 727! You can visit the Space Center with the Actual Apollo 8 spacecraft, A controllable Mars Rover, and a Lifesize Mockup of the Space Shuttle Atlantis!
As an adult, it is hard not to get excited by the place but for kids, it is seriously mindblowing!
4 – John G. Shedd Aquarium
- Price: Adult – $39.95 – Child(13-11) – $29.95
- Location: Museum Campus
- Average Duration: 2-4 Hours
Ok, we were not sure if the Shedd should make our list as technically it’s an aquarium, not a museum but it’s just s good we had to list it, and seeing as it’s housed in the Museum Campus we thought let’s just roll with it.
Museum or not it’s a world-class attraction and one of our favorites in the City. As an aquarium, it’s one of the best in the country and even would do well against international competition!
By Volume, it’s the second biggest in the country at over 5 million gallons, just behind the monster Georgia Aquarium with most of its volume used to house the Marine Mammals including Beluga Whales, Dolphins, Sea lions, and Otters in its 3 million Gallon Oceanarium.
It also has multiple Shark Tanks with Sandbar Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks Hammerhead Sharks, Stingrays, Zebra Sharks, and Saw Fish. There are also Turtles, Penguins, Caiman, Anacondas, Piranhas, Giant Pacific Octopus, and over 32,000 other aquatic creatures.
It is a fantastic facility and anyone who is into aquariums and aquatic creatures should find a lot of enjoyment here. The Aquarium can be visited quite a bit quicker than some of the museums above and 3-4hours is quite a comprehensive trip, we certainly would not stay much longer than that, and even a couple of spare hours will get you around 90% of the exhibits in a more whistle-stop fashion.
Lincoln Park Zoo – While the Shedd made the list we decided the Zoo was not Museumish enough to make it. You should still head there as it’s a fantastic attraction and being Free it’s right up there as one of the best attractions in the City, we just decided it’s not a Museum, but an Aquarium is… we don’t make the rules…actually we do…Whatever, onto number 5
Chicago Attraction Passes
We just want to interrupt the list at this point to mention that all of the Museums we have featured up until now and some of the following can all be visited on one of Chicago’s attraction passes. Either the GO Chicago Pass or the Chicago CityPASS both are great options for saving money on these museums along with a load of other top attractions such as Sky Decks and Bus Tours.
If you are interested we have reviews of both and a Full Comparison Guide here
5 – Chicago Cultural Center
- Price: Adult – $FREE
- Location: The Loop
- Average Duration: 1-2 Hours
The Chicago Cultural Center is housed in a stunning Landmark Building from the 1800s. Really the building itself is the main draw of the center and is one of the most beautiful in the city. Two Large domed ceilings, Carved out f pink Marble and glazed with stunning Tiffany Glass are the centerpieces. Elaborate Marble Staircases, Mosaics, Murals, and ornate pillars flourish the building with a sense of grandeur.
Inside is an ever-changing selection of cultural exhibits focusing on Diverse Contemporary art mainly from local artists. These can be interesting but are rarely must-sees unless it is something of specific interest to you.
Regardless, with an entry fee of $0, everyone should take a look at the center and marvel at the stunning architecture. There are many other amazing Free things to do in Chicago, take a look at more here.
5 Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour + The Robie House
- Price: Adult – $15 – $30
- Location: Studio Tour and the Robie House
Frank Lloyd Wright is known as one of the greatest American Architects in history. In a city renowned for its remarkable architecture, it is no surprise to find a homage or two to this Celebrated Son of Chicago.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour takes you to the Home and working studio of the great man. The building is now converted into a museum and homage to the life works of the architect showcasing some of his best and most celebrated works. The Studio is a little way out in Oak Park but this in itself is a destination and the neighborhood has over 27 Wright-designed homes to hunt out!
More centrally to City is the Robie House a preserved wright masterpiece now open to the public. There are not many Wright houses open to the public so this central Chicago work of art is a rare treat.
6 – Adler Planetarium
- Price: Adult – $35 – $65 Child – $8 – $25
- Location: Museum Campus
- Average Duration: 1-4 Hours
Situated down by the lakeside on Museum Campus the Plantarium boasts one of the finest views of the city Skyline. Once inside the Historic Landmark building the Planetarium is devoted to educating you about the wonders of the night sky.
The main attraction is the various Sky Shows that play out on the ceilings of the main planetarium’s Domed Auditoriums. these ultra HD 3D shows bring the Solar system to life as they explore different locations and themes of our nearest galactic neighbors. The 30-minute shows run regularly throughout the day and have a live narrator.
The Museum itself is dedicated to all things space and space exploration. It is a fairly modest museum that can be visited in just over an hour. The exhibits are fairly interactive and curious kids can find them fascinating. The main draw is definitely the shows though, and the incredible location!
8 – Chicago Children’s Museum
- Price: $19
- Location: Navy Pier
- Average Duration: 1-3 Hours
A Little break from the serious Museums, The Children’s Museum is more of a glorified play area for kids, and definitely younger kids at that. All the attractions are Hands-on and really fun for little ones, although fewer little ones may also find themselves interacting too! If you are the type of parent that can’t help “assisting” with your lids Lego then you will be right at home!
Learning is definitely optional but a few things might sneak in! and really the museum serves two purposes, one is an introduction at a younger age to museums showing they can be fun, and the other is to reward your kids for making them suffer through the endless paintings and stuffed animals in the other museums you have dragged them round!
As the Museum is on the Navy Pier you can further reward them with Candy Floss a ride on the Big Wheel and a fireworks show!
9 – Chicago History Museum
- Price: Adult – $19 Child (under 12) – Free
- Location: Lincoln Park
- Average Duration: 2-3 Hours
Just to clarify, as frankly, the name is horrible, the Chicago History Museum is a museum about the history of Chicago, not a History Museum in Chicago, we don’t think that is clear from the name! The Museum is way up in Lincoln park but Both the Park and the Zoo are an absolute must-see in Chicago so you can make a day of it and check out the Chicago History Museum too.
Chicago has a very rich and diverse history and the Museum pays homage to this with Exhibits on the Chicago Fire, American Transport and the role the city played as the Crossroads of America, and Abraham Lincoln who considered Chicago his second home.
The museum is informative and interesting and well worth taking an hour or two to educate yourself on the rich roots the City has been built upon.
10 – Richard H. Driehaus Museum
- Price: Adult – $20 Child (under 12) – Free
- Location: Magnificent Mile
- Average Duration: 1-2 Hours
Billionaire Banker Richard H. Driehaus gifted this period property to the City of Chicago and it has been set up as an exacting replica of how a turn-of-the-century property would have been run. The house is like a small moment of time frozen forever. And it is quite a moment at that.
The Stunning Mahar Gallery showcases the intricate and ornate Stained Glass Ceiling dome while the Main Hall’s’s gorgeous Staircase and landings offer a real sense of grandeur. There are a large number of selected works of art on display, again all donated by the museum’s founder, Driehaus.
This little slice of history is a wonderfully unexpected treat, just a few steps from the bustling magnificent mile, and should not be overlooked.
Have Your Say
Which of Chicago’s Museums have you Visited? Which did you think were worth it and which fell flat? Are you a huge Culture Vulture heading to the Art Institute? Or do you prefer the lighter side of things and head to the Museum of Science and industry? Let us know in the comments below!
Have you traveled with Kids? Did you take them to the museums? How did they handle the 300,000 artifacts on display in the Art Institute? And could they contain themselves when they met SUE? Again we would love to hear about your experiences so fire away below