17 BEST Museums in Chicago [August 2019]

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17 BEST Museums in Chicago [[date]]

Home to some of the tallest and most modern skyscrapers in the world, Chicago is often noted for its iconic skyline. There are very few buildings in the US that are as recognizable as Willis (Sears) Tower, the Trump International Hotel, and the Home Insurance Building.

However, there is more to this bustling city than its world-renown architecture. Chicago is also considered to have some of the best museums around. With over 60 different museums to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find something that appeals to you.

In this article, we’ll cover the coolest museums that call the Windy City home. From modern art galleries to small, bizarre museums, Chicago has it all!

#1 – Museum of Science and Industry

Science Museum

Museum of Science and Industry

Photo credit – enjoyillinois.com

  • Hundreds of interactive exhibits and installations
  • World renown rotating exhibits
  • Cost: $22 (adults), $13 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 3 – 4 hours

With over 14 acres of exhibit space, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is a fascinating experience for the whole family. It’s the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, which is made apparent once you step inside the sprawling building.

Here, you can be blown around by a simulated tornado, run in a giant hamster wheel, and even board a real U-505 German submarine!

 

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#2 – The Field Museum

Natural History Museum

The Field Museum

Photo credit – chicagotribune.com

  • See the largest dinosaur ever discovered
  • Geology, anthropology, and meteorology
  • Cost: $38 (adults), $33 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 3 – 4 hours

Sprawling over 480,000 square feet, the Field Museum is the ultimate museum for exploring the natural wonders of the world. Explore the tombs of Egypt, see what the Ice Age must have looked like, or even marvel at the rare bird collection.

While the Field Museum is home to many interesting exhibits and artifacts, but the 122-ft tall tyrannosaur is by far the biggest attraction. It’s the largest dinosaur that has ever been discovered!

#3 – Museum of Contemporary Art

Art Museum

Museum of Contemporary Art

Photo credit – 10bestmedia.com

  • Postmodern, surrealism, and pop art on display
  • Dance, theater and other contemporary art forms
  • Cost: Donation
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

Known as the MCA to locals, the Museum of Contemporary Art is an art lovers paradise. The museum contains thousands of Post WWII masterpieces created by some of the most famous artists on the planet.

Notable exhibits include works from Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Kara Walker to name a few. During your visit, make sure to visit the atrium. As you climb to the top of the staircase, you’ll have unparalleled views of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art along with 25 other attractions with the Go Chicago Card.

 

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#4 – National Museum of Mexican Art

Art Museum

National Museum of Mexican Art

Photo credit – TripAdvisor

  • Located in the ethnic Pilsen neighborhood
  • 10,000 piece of Mexican art
  • Cost: Free
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

Immerse yourself in Mexican culture with a visit to Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art. With over 10,000 paintings, sculptures, and objects, the museum covers over 3,000 years of art from both American and Mexican artists.

If you come in the fall, you can’t miss the Día de los Muertos exhibit. The museum sets up altars and pop-up style galleries dedicated to the dead.

Want to avoid the big crowds? Check out our guide to the best times to visit Chicago!

 

#5 – Chicago History Museum

History Museum

Chicago History Museum

Photo credit – WikiMedia

  • Learn about different times in Chicago’s history
  • Make your own Chicago style hot dog!
  • Cost: $19 (adults), $17 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours

Dive deep into Chicago’s history and learn about what makes the Windy City so unique. At the Chicago History Museum, you’ll find dozens of exhibits that retell the stories of Chicago’s history.

From the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, you’ll understand the different events that shaped Chicago into the city it is today. Younger visitors will also enjoy the fun, hands-on exhibits.

Book your ticket in advance to the Chicago History Museum!

 

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#6 – DuSable Museum of African American History

History Museum

DuSable Museum of African American History

Photo credit – smithsonianmag

  • Relics from slavery-era until present day
  • Promotes black culture and education
  • Cost: $10 (adults), $7 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours

African American’s have played a large and vital role in shaping Chicago’s future. And at the DuSable Museum of African American History, you can learn about the different events that impacted the past and future of Chicago’s African American citizens.

There are over 13,000 paintings, artifacts, and memorabilia on display that celebrate and promote black culture throughout the US.

#7 – Chicago Design Museum

Art Museum

Chicago Design Museum

Photo credit – choosechicago.com

  • Non-profit and volunteer-run art museum
  • You can only visit during one of the exhibits
  • Cost: Donation
  • Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours

Although it originally started as a pop-up, the Chicago Design Museum has transformed to become one of the newest landmarks in Chicago. It features a variety of rotating exhibits that focus on graphic design, costume design, architecture design, and more.

But most notably, the museum is complete community-based. It relies on volunteers for all aspects of the organization, from marketing to art curation, to exhibit design and security.

#8 – Art Institute of Chicago

Art Museum

Art Institute of Chicago

Photo credit – artsy.net

  • 300,000 pieces on all aspects of art and design
  • International and small local artists
  • Cost: $25 (adults), $19 (students)
  • Suggested duration: 4 – 5 hours

The Art Institute of Chicago is not just one of the largest museums in the US, but it’s also one of the oldest. Founded in 1879, the museum contains 30 different exhibits with over 300,000 works of art.

You’ll find everything from African and Asian art to modern design and sculpture. There’s also an impressive gallery on photography and textiles as well. Even if you spend the entire day here, you still might not be able to see everything the museum has to offer!

Skip the line and get priority entry with a Fast Pass ticket!

 

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#9 – Chicago Architecture Center

History Museum

Chicago Architecture Center

Photo credit – choosechicago.com

  • Over 85 different tours of Chicago
  • Boat, walking, or bus tours available
  • Cost: Varies
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

You can expect a museum of architecture in the city that invented the skyscraper! Unlike other traditional museums, the Chicago Architecture Center does things a little bit differently.

They offer 85 different tours around Chicago. Led by certified guides, you’ll be able to see the stunning, architectural masterpieces of the city in person. Take the Chicago iconic landmark walking tour, the Chicago neighborhood bus tour, or even a boat cruise down the Chicago river!

#10 – International Museum of Surgical Science

Science Museum

International Museum of Surgical Science

Photo credit – imss.org

  • Thousands of tools, photos, and objects on display
  • Eastern and Western medicine
  • Cost: $17 (adults), $9 – $13 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

Not for the faint of heart, the International Museum of Surgical Science examines the strange, scientific, and somewhat stomach-turning world of the medical world.

Although some things like the war wound exhibit or the room of skeletons might make you queasy, it’s actually a fascinating look into western and eastern medical history. There are over 7,000 artifacts, tools, and photos, which means you’re guaranteed to walk away learning a thing or two.

Have some time in Chicago? These are our favorite day trips from Chicago!

#11 – Adler Planetarium

Science Museum

Adler Planetarium

Photo credit – freetoursbyfoot.com

  • Learn about space, planets, and stars
  • Don’t miss Adler after Dark for adults
  • Cost: $19 (adults), $8 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

Although there are plenty of museums in Chicago that focus on our planet, the Adler Planetarium takes you far away from Earth! It covers a wide range of topics in astronomy and astrophysics.

And for those of you who are over 21, then you’ll be able to enjoy Adler after Dark.  Once a month, the museum transforms into a party teeming with cocktails, live entertainment, and free access to the planetariums exhibits.

Visit the Adler Planetarium and choose your favorite show with advanced tickets.

#12 – Chicago Children’s Museum

Children's Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum

Photo credit – urbanmatter.com

  • Hands-on exhibits
  • Play, make music, learn about science, etc
  • Cost: $15 (adults), $14 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

If you’re visiting Chicago with little ones, then head straight for the fun and exciting Chicago Children’s Museum. Filled with hands-on exhibits and creative installations, the museum is guaranteed to keep kids occupied!

Climb to the top of a treehouse, make your own art masterpieces, and even learn about Chicago’s skyscrapers. And while the museum is focused on children, adults can also learn a thing or two!

#13 – Chicago Sports Museum

Sports Museum

Chicago Sports Museum

Photo credit – WikiMedia

  • Memorabilia and interactive exhibits
  • Go head to head with the greatest sport legends
  • Cost: $10 (adults), $6 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours

Calling all Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and White Sox fans! The Chicago Sports Museum is the ultimate place for professional sports enthusiasts. Not only is the museum brimming with sports memorabilia, but it also lets you test out your own athletic abilities!

Jump along the side of Michael Jordan, see how a baseball is constructed, and even take a virtual drive on the Chicago Speedway. This action-packed museum is sure to delight any sports lover.

#14 – Museum of Broadcast Communications

Specialty Museum

Museum of Broadcast Communications

Photo credit – TripAdvisor

  • History of radio and television
  • See memorabilia from your favorite TV shows
  • Cost: $25 (adults), $20 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 2 – 3 hours

Take a peek behind the scenes and learn about radio and television at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. This quirky and retro museum examines the history of broadcast and how technology has developed over the last century.

See costumes, filming equipment, and other memorabilia from your favorite TV characters. For fans of comedy, don’t forget to stop by the Saturday Night Live Exhibit.

#15 – Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Architecture Museum

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Photo credit – architecture.org

  • The previous home of Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Guided tour of the inside of his house and studio
  • Cost: $18 (adults), $15 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 hour

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is a Chicago historic landmark that honors one of the city’s most famous residents. Considered one of the greatest architects of his time, Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of buildings, skyscrapers, hotels, and homes around the US.

He also designed the concept for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, where he lived with his family until 1909. During your visit, you can tour the house and visit the interior of the rooms that he designed.

#16 – The Oriental Institute Museum

Archeology Museum

The Oriental Institute Museum

Photo credit – news.uchicago.edu

  • Located in the University of Chicago
  • Near east archeological items
  • Cost: $18 (adults), $15 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 hour

Filled with archeological ruins and treasures, the Oriental Institute Museum contains artifacts dating back over 6,000 years. Thousands of objects from Egypt, Persia,  Isreal, and Mesopotamia are on display.

See the world’s oldest carpet, a 40-ton bull with a human head, and more. This rare glimpse into the world’s history sheds light onto how other cultures once lived.

#17 – Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Natural History Museum

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

  • See 200 different species of butterflies
  • Learn about botany, bugs, and nature in Lincoln Park
  • Cost: $9 (adults), $7 (reduced)
  • Suggested duration: 1 – 2 hours

Founded in 1857, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been wowing kids and adults for over 150 years. The museum focuses on the education of ecology, with several exhibits on plants, animals, and green living.

The highlight of the museum is by far, the butterfly house. Home to over 200 different species of butterflies, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum lets you get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.

 

FAQ

How many museums are in Chicago?

There are around 60 different museums within the city limits of Chicago. You’ll find everything from art and natural history galleries to small quirky science and memorabilia museums.

How many free museums are in Chicago?

Chicago is home to a handful of museums that are free to enter. However, you can still visit a museum that normally charges entrance by going on a free museum day. Most museums offer one day a month where admission is free of charge. And as always, Illinois residents can usually always visit for free.

What are the hours of Chicago museums?

Generally speaking, museums in Chicago open at 9 or 10 in the morning and close around 5 or 6 in the evening. While most museums are open during the weekend, some may be closed one day a week, usually on a Monday. Museums are also not open during national holidays.

What can I bring into Chicago Museums?

Bottled water is usually allowed, but eating and drinking other foods are prohibited in many museums. And while you can take photos, using flash or a tripod is often not permitted.

Final Thoughts

As the third-largest city in the US, Chicago is steeped in decades of history and culture. If you want to truly understand the significance of Chicago, then you need to spend time visiting one of the museums.

As you can see, this is just a sample of what Chicago has to offer in terms of museums. While this is a list of our favorites, we urge you to explore the city and find other places that spark your interest.

Visiting a Chicago museum will not only enhance your travel experience, but it also allows you to learn more about the culture and history of where you are. So make your trip to Chicago an exciting and educational one, with a visit to one of the city’s museums!

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About the Author Nicola Smart

Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!