20 Best Museums in Chicago You Must Visit

Last Updated on January 06, 2024 by Nikki Jain

There is a plethora of amazing museums in Chicago, but visiting all of them can be next to impossible. That's why we have come up with a list of the 25 best museums in Chicago so that you know exactly where to head once you arrive in the Windy City. Some of the Chicago museums are the largest and/or oldest in the country; others are dedicated to celebrating and displaying the contributions of immigrants to American culture; a few are the city's architectural treasures; and some are simply a lot of fun!

All these museums are quite different, but what we know for sure is that everyone would be able to find something to their liking and then have a wonderful time exploring, learning, and enjoying. By the way, don't forget to take advantage of the free museum days that most places mentioned below have! Without further ado, let's explore the best museums in Chicago.

Best Chicago Museums

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1: Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago
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Art Institute is definitely one of the best museums in Windy City and one of the world's largest and oldest art museums.

The museum’s collection contains over 300,000 works, ranging from the art of the Byzantine Empire and ending with contemporary American art. It is known for featuring one of the finest collections of art pieces produced in Western culture.

Here, you'll see Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Pablo Picasso’s The Oldest Guitarist, and many other incredible works.

By the way, the Art Institute is not only a museum but also a research institution that houses a science department, conservation laboratories, and the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries (one of the largest art history libraries in the States).

The famous western entrance to one of the best museums in downtown Chicago is conveniently located on Michigan Avenue and is guarded by two stunning lion statues (each weighs more than 2 tons).

The cost of general admission tickets starts at $26 for non-residents. If you are from Illinois, you can take advantage of the free admission on Thursday evenings.

Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

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2: Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry
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This gem is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, it's housed in the only remaining building from the 1893 World's Fair, the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

The museum has over 2,000 exhibits that are located on 14 acres. And the best part is that you wouldn’t have to silently observe the wonders – you can get involved in the fun in the most exciting way possible.

The visitors can run in a giant hamster wheel, board a 727 hanging from the ceiling, transmit their pulse to an enormous 3D beating heart, and much more.

You would have to pay $21.95 for an adult to see most of the permanent exhibits. However, do bear in mind that some of the experiences would require additional tickets (like the Coal Mine Tour or the U-505 On-Board Tour).

Address: 5700 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60637

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Also Read: Best Science Museums in the US

3: The Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History
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One of the largest natural history museums in the world attracts around 1.6 million visitors every year. It features nearly 40 million (!) specimens and artifacts, including the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex on our planet (just so you know, her name is SUE).

Initially, the collection grew out of the items on display during the 1893 World's Exhibition. Thanks to Marshall Field, who donated $1 million, many of the cultural artifacts and natural wonders ended up never leaving Chicago as the dream of a permanent museum became a reality.

The Field Museum is not just a museum. It also hosts scientific and educational programs and works with more than 150 scientists and researchers who travel all over the world in search of new discoveries.

Out-of-state adults would have to pay $30 for a general admission ticket, but it’s certainly worth it.

Address: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Chicago

4: Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium
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Plenty of Chicago museums are the best in the States in one way or another, and Adler Planetarium is no exception.

This recognized leader in science education is America's first Planetarium. Today, it is home to three full-size theaters, amazing exhibits, unique sculptures, and incredible terrace views.

Some exhibits allow you to fully immerse in the experience and launch a stomp rocket. A ticket with access to all exhibitions would cost you $19, but it might be worth paying $9 more to see one of the award-winning sky shows (the tickets should be purchased online).

If you're highly passionate about space, you can always head to the Collections Corner and chat in person with one of the collections staff. By the way, the planetarium is open late every Wednesday night – that's the perfect opportunity to get to know the sky above Chicago a little better.

Address: 1300 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

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Also Read: The Best Family Hotels in Chicago

5: Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium
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Back in 1930, when the Shedd Aquarium opened, the 5-million-gallon aquarium was the biggest indoor facility of this kind in the world. It only included 132 exhibit tanks at that time, but today Shedd Aquarium is home to nearly 32,000 animals.

Some permanent exhibits include the Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising, Waters of the World (the oldest galleries), and Wild Reef. However, Polar Play Zone and Stingray Touch are, perhaps, the most exciting areas in the museum.

The play area for children includes an interactive submarine model and underwater viewing of beluga whales and penguins. The Stingray Touch, just as the name suggests, allows you to touch the majestic creatures as they swim around the enormous outdoor exhibit.

The general admission fee for residents to one of the best Chicago museums is $19.95. Out-of-town guests can save by booking in advance.

Address: 1200 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

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Also Read: 25 Best Aquariums in the US

6: National Museum of Mexican Art

National Museum of Mexican Art

This museum is home to one of the largest collections of Mexican Art and Culture in the United States. Here, you'll enjoy a wide range of Mexican art forms, from ancient to modern (and on both sides of the border).

The first Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums features over 18,000 seminal pieces (paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography, and textiles). It also hosts various cultural programs, including dance, theater, music, symposia, etc.

The museum is located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the heart of the city's Mexican community. By the way, it's one of the not-so-many free museums in Chicago.

You can also find mini-workshop series on YouTube hosted by the museum's art educators. This will allow you to learn more about Mexican art and culture while making fun art activities using the materials you might already have at home (like sugar to create the stunning sugar skulls).

Address: 1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608

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7: DuSable Museum of African American History

DuSable Museum of African American History

DuSable is the nation's first independent museum dedicated to collecting, preserving, and studying the history and culture of Americans of African descendants and Africans.

The museum, which holds over 15,000 pieces, including sculptures, print works, paintings, and historical memorabilia, is located in the historic Hyde Park area.

It was named after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian of French and African descent, who established a permanent settlement back in 1779. This settlement and trading post later became known as Chicago.

The museum is home to United States slavery-era relics, archival materials (including the diaries of explorer Captain Harry Dean), 1960s Black Arts Movement works, and more. It is also an educational center with plenty of educational programs, both online and offline.

The tickets are priced at $14.50 for non-residents. Do bear in mind that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Address: 740 E 56th Pl, Chicago, IL 60637

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8: Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art
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One of the world’s largest contemporary art venues is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. The museum’s collection includes the works of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder, and many others.

All-in-all, the place is home to around 2,700 objects and over 3,000 artists’ books. The collection includes works from 1945 to the present.

One of the best museums in Chicago is also known for hosting the first US exhibition of Frida Kahlo and the first solo museum exhibition of Jeff Koon.

The MCA offers ever-changing exhibitions and programs and features an award-winning store, a charming restaurant, and a bar with an immersive art environment.

Make sure to check the online calendar of events before planning your trip to the museum (you might be able to enjoy a live performance or a conversation with an expert). The tickets are priced at $15; anyone 18 and under can enter for free.

Address: 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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Also Read: 20 Best Art Museums in the USA

9: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
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The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a natural history museum operated by the Chicago Academy of Science.

It focuses mainly on the natural history of the Illinois region and is famous for its spectacular butterfly house with over 1,000 inhabitants.

In fact, one of the museum's scientific efforts is breeding native butterflies for species population support in the area.

It is one of the Chicago museums hosting plenty of exciting events. For example, the Butterfly Haven yoga, animal feeding, critter connection, and daily butterfly release. Furthermore, over 100 educational programs are offered to children and adults.

This particular natural history museum is smaller than The Field, but as some guests have noticed, it offers a friendlier atmosphere and more interactive activities. It is a fantastic place to spend quality time with your family while surrounded by nature.

The tickets for out-of-state guests cost $17.

Address: 2430 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614

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10: Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum

The museum is the perfect stop for those interested in the past, present, and future of the city of Chicago.

From politics to sports, the Union Stockyards, and the Great Fire (during which much of the first collection was destroyed) – there is a lot to explore. In fact, there are over 52 million objects in the museum’s collections!

Some exhibitions include City on Fire, Back Home: Polish Chicago, and Chicago: Crossroads of America (where you'll get to look closely at car L No. 1 and even visit a jazz club).

If you'd prefer to avoid spending time inside, you can book a tour and explore the city with one of the museum's expert guides. There are quite a few different tours for you to choose from – Historic Old Town, Hyde Park Viaduct Murals, and more.

An adult general admission ticket will cost you $19 if you’re not from Illinois.

Address: 1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

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Also Read: The Most Unique Things To Do in Chicago

11: Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum
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The main goal of the Chicago Children’s Museum is to create a fun space where kids can play and learn. And that’s exactly what your children will get to do here!

One of the best museums in Chicago features dozens of hands-on exhibits that both kids and adults would love.

The Zoom Room has over 40 tracks allowing children to experiment with speed, distance, gravity, and force. The Cloud Buster is an outstanding 37-foot climbable construction where the kids will get to explore every nook and cranny.

The Dinosaur Expedition is among the most popular exhibits. This is where the little ones will become part of a Saharan expedition while digging bones in the excavation pit.

Tickets cost $19 per person.

Address: 700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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Also Read: The Best Children's Museums in the USA

12: American Writers Museum

American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum is an interactive museum that takes you on a journey through the American story from the writers’ perspective.

The museum's mission is to engage the guests in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our culture, history, and everyday lives.

The in-person permanent exhibits include several writer halls and galleries, one of which is the Nation of Writers – an exhibit that features an interactive timeline, a bookshelf that will allow you to engage all 5 senses, and a Word Waterfall.

You will also get to explore the intricacies of language through games and even try writing something for yourself (on a real vintage typewriter!).

The general admission tickets for adults cost $14.

Address: 180 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60601

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13: Smart Museum of Art

Smart Museum of Art

The art museum, which features over 15,000 objects, is located on the campus of the University of Chicago.

The objects from the permanent collection are often used in exhibitions and for courses taught at the university.

One of the most notable art pieces is the original dining room furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Robie House (a US National Historic Landmark that can be found on the campus of the University of Chicago as well).

The collection also includes Goya’s The Disasters of War, paintings by Louis Dupre, Jean-Baptiste Regnault, and works by Andy Warhol, John Chamberlain, and others.

The museum is free and open to the public.

Address: 5550 S Greenwood Ave, Chicago, IL 60637

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14: Glessner House Museum

Glessner House Museum
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Glessner House is a National Historic Landmark designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887.

This 'fortress' that stands at the corner of 18th Street and Prairie Avenue is an internationally known Chicago architectural treasure.

Some believe that the architect designed the house to be able to protect its inhabitants during America’s turbulent Gilded Age. However, the rough-hewn stones of the building’s exterior conceal a surprisingly inviting and cozy interior.

Today, the museum allows the public to learn more about the architecture and history of the Gilded Age in Chicago (as it’s one of the few original Prairie mansions that did not get lost over time). It is also home to a collection of the English Arts and Craft style and Japanese arts.

The guided tours of the fully restored building last 75 minutes and will cost you up to $20 per person.

Address: 1800 S Prairie Ave, Chicago, IL 60616

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15: Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park Art Center

The Art Center is the oldest alternative exhibition space in the city. It primarily showcases the works of under-recognized or emerging contemporary artists living in Chicago. For example, Ed Paschke, Ruth Duckworth, and Kerry James Marshall were exhibited in this museum early in their careers.

The front of the beautiful building on S. Cornell Avenue includes a 10-foot by 80-foot projection façade made out of glass that showcases large-scale digital artworks simultaneously inside and outside the Art Center.

The space is a lot more than just exhibition galleries. If you're interested in contemporary art, this is the perfect place to attend various classes and public events.

By the way, the Art Center is free to visit seven days a week.

Address: 5020 S Cornell Ave, Chicago, IL 60615

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16: Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

The founders of Intuit believe that influential art can be found in entirely unexpected places and made by unexpected creators. It is a museum of self-taught and outsider art.

This means that the creators who have their works featured in the museum faced marginalization, could not follow a traditional path of art making, or overcame personal odds in order to create their art piece.

Intuit is one of the only museums in the world that showcases outsider art.

The permanent collection includes the works of Joseph Yoakum, Mr. Imagination, Lee Godie, William Hawkins, and others.

Admission for adults is $5.

Address: 756 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

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17: National Hellenic Museum

National Hellenic Museum

The National Hellenic Museum is the second-oldest institution in the United States that is entirely dedicated to displaying and celebrating the cultural contributions of Greek Americans and Greeks. It is located in the heart of the city’s Greektown.

The museum's collection is truly fascinating and features items from 1200 BCE through today.

There is also an on-site library and archives home to over 10,000 books, as well as early-modern manuscripts and hand-written letters. Here, you'll find one of the largest archives of Greek-language newspapers in the country.

Tickets cost $10 per adult.

Address: 333 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60661

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18: Elmhurst Art Museum

Elmhurst Art Museum

One of the best museums in Illinois is located just around a 30-minute drive away from Chicago.

The Elmhurst Art Museum is dedicated to developing various contemporary art exhibits. Some current exhibits, for example, include Marvelocity: The Art of Alex Ross, Picasso: Fifty Years Later, and Superheroes in Wilder Park, which features 8 life-sized superhero sculptures.

Another goal of the museum is to celebrate and preserve a rare single-family home designed by the talented Mies van der Rohe (the McCormick House).

The structure of the actual museum is also an award-winning building with a dramatic glass entrance gallery and three museum galleries.

An adult ticket will cost you $18, but you will be able to enter for free if you happen to be visiting on the first Friday of the month.

Address: 150 S Cottage Hill Ave, Elmhurst, IL 60126

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19: Museum of Contemporary Photography

Museum of Contemporary Photography

This museum is located at Columbia College Chicago and is the only museum in the Midwest with an exclusive commitment to photography.

The place is home to over 16,000 images from more than 1500 artists from around the globe. You can take advantage of the docent-led museum tours and print viewings or simply enjoy the exhibit for free.

The permanent collection includes works of Ansel Adams, David Plowden, Walker Evans, Julia Margaret Cameron, and many others.

By the way, the museum's Fine Print Program is also worth mentioning as it allows you to collect the works of the artists you liked the most.

Address: 600 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

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20: Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

The Mitchell Museum focuses exclusively on the history and culture of North American native civilizations. The land that the museum occupies is the ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabeg, Odawak, and Bodewadmik nations.

Some of the items present in its collection date back to the Paleo-Indian period. All-in-all, there are over 9,000 objects featured in the museum, including the Great Lakes fishing decoys, traditional and contemporary dolls from throughout North America, Navajo weavings, and Cape Dorset prints.

Throughout the museum, you’ll find interactive tables with items that you can touch. On the second floor, you can climb inside a life-size hunting wigwam or play a few traditional games.

Tickets cost $8 per adult.

Address: 3001 Central St, Evanston, IL 60201

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FAQs

What is the most visited museum in Chicago?

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the most-visited museums in Chicago, with nearly 2 million visitors attending the place each year.

What are the big museums in Chicago?

The Art Institute of Chicago is also the largest museum in Chicago, with over a million square feet of exhibition space. Some of the other 'giants' include the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry.

What are the free museums in Chicago?

All the best museums in Chicago are free on certain days of the month. But there are also a few that are free year-round. For example, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Smart Museum of Art, Hyde Park Art Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

What are the kids' museums in Chicago?

The chances are high that your children will enjoy quite a few museums in Illinois, but Chicago Children's Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Field Museum, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum should definitely make it to the top of your list.

What are the most fun museums in Chicago?

Some of the best museums in the Windy City are also a lot of fun. You can end up having the time of your life touching the stingrays in the Shedd Aquarium, launching a stomp rocket in the Adler Planetarium, or transmitting your pulse to a giant 3D beating heart in the Museum of Science and Industry.

Wrapping Up

Chicago museums are certainly some of the city's main attractions. Whether you enjoy art, science, nature, culture, architecture, or history – the Windy City has something to offer everyone.

And the good news is that you wouldn't have to break the bank as some of the best museums in Chicago have free admission days, while others don't charge their visitors a penny all year round.

After lunch, spend the morning admiring the beautiful butterflies, attend a guided tour of one of the Gilded Age mansions, and enjoy the starry Chicago sky from the Planetarium in the evening. A whole day spent at the museums has never sounded so fascinating, right?

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