Top 12 Best Museums in Chicago

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Chicago is home to world-class museums that showcase art, history, science and culture. The city’s vibrant museum scene attracts over 55 million visitors each year who come to explore these institutions’ vast collections and exhibits. From the largest dinosaur ever discovered to Impressionist masterpieces, there is truly something for everyone.

Museum NameFocus Area
Field Museum of Natural HistoryNatural history and anthropology
Art Institute of ChicagoFine arts
Museum of Science and IndustryScience and technology
Shedd AquariumMarine life
Adler PlanetariumAstronomy and astrophysics
Chicago History MuseumChicago’s history
Museum of Contemporary Art ChicagoContemporary art
The DuSable Museum of African American HistoryAfrican American history
National Museum of Mexican ArtMexican art and culture
American Writers MuseumAmerican literature
The Peggy Notebaert Nature MuseumNature and science
The Polish Museum of AmericaPolish history and culture

This article explores the top 12 best museums in Chicago, from art institutes to historical societies. We will cover the must-see exhibits, fascinating collections and the overall experience of visiting each museum. Whether you are a local looking for a weekend activity or a tourist seeing Chicago for the first time, these museums will provide you with unforgettable experiences.

1: Field Museum of Natural History

Name and Location: The Field Museum of Natural History is located on a large campus near Lake Shore Drive at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago.

Collections and Exhibits: The Field Museum houses over 40 million artifacts spanning anthropology, botany, geology, zoology and other scientific pursuits across expansive galleries filled with ancient fossils, mummies, gemstones, replica environments, cultural history displays from around the world including diverse dinosaurs.

What to Expect: Guests explore immersive exhibits bringing natural history realms to life, including the towering brachiosaurus cast towering over Stanley Field Hall and the Ancient Egypt experience unearthing mummy mysteries as part of an epic scientific collection rivaling global institutions.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm with ticket pricing from $24. Free days offered monthly to Illinois residents. Accessible by car, CTA bus #146 or via the Red Line to Roosevelt stop.

The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world and the most visited museum in Chicago. Spread across 9 acres, its exhibits are drawn from a collection of over 40 million artifacts and specimens. The museum’s star attraction is SUE the T.rex, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered. Visitors can also explore replicas of Egyptian mummies, walk through a glittering gemstone exhibit, and see man-eating lions and gigantic man-sized birds in the taxidermy halls.

Permanent exhibits are broken down into themes like “Underground Adventure”, “Nature Walk”, and “Ancient Americas”. Make sure to explore Evolving Planet, a journey through 4 billion years of life on Earth. And don’t miss out on fascinating temporary exhibits like the Terracotta Warriors of China. From archaeology to zoology, the Field Museum beautifully showcases both cultural and natural diversity.

2: The Art Institute of Chicago

Name and Location: The Art Institute of Chicago occupies a grand Beaux-Arts building on 111 South Michigan Avenue along Grant Park in downtown Chicago, housing one of the oldest and largest art museums in the U.S.

Collections and Exhibits: The esteemed Art Institute collects iconic Western works spanning 5,000 years, including the largest holdings of impressionist and post-impressionist art anywhere with masterpieces from Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and iconic American artists like Hopper, Warhol and Wood.

What to Expect: Visitors view an Encyclopedia Brittanica’s worth of iconic paintings, sculptures, textiles, antiquities and more from revered artists across the Art Institute’s two million square feet of gallery space thoughtfully arranged for an extraordinary fine art experience.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10:30am-5pm (Thu-8pm), the museum sits steps from the Loop charging $25 admission. Timed-entry tickets help manage capacity and should be booked online in advance when possible.

Housing one of the oldest and finest art collections in the United States, the Art Institute is one of Chicago’s star attractions. The permanent collection has over 300,000 artworks, with especially impressive Impressionist and Post-Impressionist galleries. Masterpieces by iconic artists like Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh are complemented by works of Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock.

The moody Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks” is a must-see, along with Seurat’s pointillism classic “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The miniature Thorne Rooms recreate exquisitely detailed interiors from various historic periods. Along with the permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, visitors can admire the museum’s beautifully restored interior with vaulted skylights and marble halls. With so many artistic wonders, you’ll want to spend an entire day getting lost in this Chicago gem.

3: Museum of Science and Industry

Name and Location: The Museum of Science and Industry resides in the historic Palace of Fine Arts in Jackson Park located at 5700 South Lake Shore Drive along Chicago’s South Side lakefront Museum Campus.

Collections and Exhibits: Spanning 900,000 square feet, the museum features captivating science and technology exhibits including a working replica coal mine, model skyscraper, Omnimax theater, high-speed train, flight simulators alongside displays exploring genetics, energy, communications and transportation innovations across multiple enormous halls.

What to Expect: Patrons interact with over 800 awe-inspiring hands-on science installations illuminated with colorful lighting and atmospheric sound, including a stroll through a bio-dome replicating a Philippine rainforest or racing gegenary acceleration forces on the Transfer Track.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9:30am-4pm with extended Friday hours and ticket pricing from $21.95. Accessible via CTA bus, Metra, or plenty of parking garages nearby the Museum Campus location.

The largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry houses over 35,000 artifacts across 14 acres. Hear the story of the first nuclear reaction, explore a real German U-boat submarine, and witness chicks hatching daily in the “Genetics – Decoding Life” exhibit.

Guests can fly a simulated Boeing 727, experience an earthquake in the shake room, and even walk through a giant model of the human heart. With over 35 permanent exhibits, there are interactive science and technology experiences for all ages. Famous artifacts include the Apollo 8 capsule and the Pioneer Zephyr, an early streamlined diesel-powered train. Don’t miss seeing baby chicks hatch in the genetics exhibit and the elaborate model railroad when visiting Chicago’s shrine to science and innovation.

4: Shedd Aquarium

Name and Location: Shedd Aquarium overlooks Lake Michigan next to Soldier Field on Chicago’s Museum Campus at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive with waters dance and ripple through state-of-the-art galleries..

Collections and Exhibits: Over two million gallons contain one of the world’s most diverse aquatic collections including sharks, eels, stingrays, turtles, frogs, seahorses and jellies alongside to an Abbott Oceanarium housing beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins through magical displays recreating marine ecosystems.

What to Expect: From hypnotizing aquatic animals dancing through reef tank habitats to getting splashed by frolicking sea lions and belugas, visitors experience wildlife wonders through underwater viewing domes across themed galleries enhanced by special effarring free days offered monthly to Illinois residents. Accessible by car, CTA bus #146 or via the Red Line to Roosevelt stop.ects covering 4D films that immerse you beneath the sea.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9am-5pm. Admission fee $44.95; discounts for Chicago residents. Validate parking ticket at self serves kiosks to receive reduced Museum Campus garage rate or take CTA bus.

Get an underwater view of over 32,500 aquatic animals at the Shedd Aquarium, situated right on Lake Michigan. The oceanarium has an entire Caribbean reef with stingrays and sea turtles, while the Abbott Oceanarium has dolphins, whales, and sharks.

Don’t miss the floor-to-ceiling Pacific Northwest seascapes at the Polar Play Zone or watching trainers work with beluga whales. The aquatic show features synchronized swimming, trained dolphins and a flock of macaws. With two wings – the Abbott Oceanarium and the Aquarium proper – the Shedd houses one of the most diverse aquatic collections in the world. The Shedd is constantly updating exhibits and experiences, bringing visitors nose-to-nose with finned, flippered and feathered friends.

5: Adler Planetarium

Name and Location: The Adler Planetarium gazing across Lake Michigan near Northerly Island at 1300 South Lake Shore Drive as America’s first planetarium situated on downtown Chicago’s Museum Campus skyscrap overlooking Lake Michigan near Northerly Island at 1300 South Lake Shore Drive as America’s first planetarium s.

Collections and Exhibits: Permanent exhibits like The Milky Way and Planet Explorers lead visitors through the Solar System and deepest reaches using 75 worlds and scale models alongside astronomy artifacts, Drake Equation displays decoding alien messages, projecting Space Visualization Lab and extensive public telescope access to explore cosmic wonders across the glass globe theater.

What to Expect: Day or night, simulations allow stargazing discovery through multimedia and engineering marvels that chart astronomical insights across eras from Egyptian ruins to projections charting Apollo 11 details, rendered more impactful against real-time panoramas of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan seas.

Visitor Information: Open 9:30am-4pm with extended hours on show nights. Ticket pricing ranges $13-31. Validated parking available at nearby Museum Campus garages; accessible by CTA bus as well.

Travel through space and time at America’s first planetarium, opened in 1930. In the immersive dome theatre, learn about cosmic phenomena like black holes, watch live sky shows projected onto the 60ft dome ceiling, and discover stories of astronomical adventures.

Peer through vintage telescopes, explore the planetarium’s antique astronomical instruments, and touch a real meteorite. See the Milky Way come to life in brilliant color and watch the night sky change from day to night in minutes. Modern exhibits like the “Shoot for the Moon” display and the Planet Explorers interactive area make space engaging for kids. Far more than a stargazing spot, the Adler Planetarium brings the cosmos to dazzling life.

6: The Magnificent Mile

Name and Location: The Magnificent Mile represents the prestigious stretch of Michigan Avenue spanning from the Chicago River up through Oak Street in the exclusive Streeterville neighborhood downtown, concentrated with luxury shopping and prestigious landmarks.

Collections and Exhibits: As one of the world’s premier shopping, dining and cultural destinations, the Mag Mile houses acclaimed retailers like Cartier, Prada, Apple, alongside a dozen key attractions like 360 Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, the John Hancock Center skyscraper and Historic Water Tower to name a few while award-winning hotel and restaurants intermix along Chicago’s pulsing North Michigan Avenue spine through the sensational vertical vista.

What to Expect: Visitors traverse downtown encountering famous Chicago buildings, top museums, Broadway shows and haute haunts shimmering all aglow behind Chicago’s iconic architecture and stone reliefs exalting the Midwestern city core with vibrancy and artistic marvels at every block.

Visitor Information: The Mag Mile allows pedestrian exploration daily free of charge. Chicago Red Line stops at major intersections provide transit access.

Along Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile, the north stretch of swanky Michigan Avenue, are several top museums not to miss. The Chicago Water Tower is an iconic city landmark housing the City Gallery. This gallery highlights Chicago-themed works by local photographers and artists.

The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) contains over 5000 artifacts spanning ancient to contemporary art. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago collects modern visual artworks, with galleries of Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein. Lastly, the Chicago Sports Museum celebrates Chicago’s legacy as a sports capital with interactive sports simulator and trophies from every Chicago team. With this concentration of museums, the Magnificent Mile offers a well-rounded dose of culture, history, and Chicago civic pride.

7: National Museum of Mexican Art

Name and Location: The National Museum of Mexican Art resides in Harrison Park located at 1852 W 19th St in the Pilsen neighborhood as the country’s premier Latino cultural organization.

Collections and Exhibits: The museum’s permanent collection contains thousands of artifacts reflecting Mexican cultural heritage including folk art, photography, archaeological objects and contemporary pieces spanning muralist works, Day of the Dead ofrendas, textiles, pottery, video and more by noted artists from both sides of the border.

What to Expect: Exhibits radiate with vibrant artifacts from ancient to present-day Mexico across a dozen intimate galleries, enhanced by the Pilsen neighborhood’s rich Latino legacy visible beyond National Museum of Mexican Art’s windows overlooking Harrison Park through engaging displays that illustrate tradition.

Visitor Information: Free Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm; closed Mondays. Located across from 18th St Pink Line stop; street parking available in Pilsen area.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is one of the most prominent Mexican cultural organizations in the U.S., with a massive permanent collection of Mesoamerican artifacts, textiles, paintings and other Mexican artwork. Spanning ancient to contemporary, the museum’s mission is to showcase and preserve Mexican cultural heritage and contributions.

Current exhibitions include vivid Day of the Dead ofrendas, abstract works by Yolanda Gonzalez, and multimedia installations examining Mexican identity. Vibrant dioramas, ancient pottery, contemporary painting and stunning altars come together to immerse visitors in Mexico’s visual culture. The museum also hosts workshops, classes and family events that celebrate Mexican arts, food and tradition.

8: DuSable Museum of African American History

Name and Location: The DuSable Museum of African American History established in 1961 resides south of downtown at 740 E 56th Pl in Washington Park, as one of the country’s earliest independent institutions dedicated to Black culture.

Collections and Exhibits: The museum chronicles Pan-African history through a 15,000 piece collection emphasizing African American artworks, artifacts and archival materials documenting slavery eras, emancipation, reconstruction, 20th century artistic movements plus related sculpture, paintings and photographs that convey Black stories from across America.

What to Expect: Rotating exhibits cover influential genres, leaders and eras keeping cultural heritage enlivened through timelines, videos, music and oral accounts – spanning slave ship symbols to Motown artists, the Civil Rights movement and beyond across intricately-designed halls named for groundbreaking historical Black changemakers.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sundays noon-5pm; closed Mondays. Suggested $15 admission; free for underage 6. Metered parking available by Washington Park site.

Chicago’s DuSable Museum was the first independent museum dedicated to African American history and culture. Named for Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Chicago’s first settler, the museum provides an impactful chronicle of the African diaspora and African American experiences.

The permanent exhibit “A Slow Walk to Greatness” uses memorabilia, artifacts and multimedia installations to examine pivotal moments and figures. Galleries showcase African American art, history and culture through painting, sculpture and photography. Don’t miss the moving “Freedom Now” exhibits on slavery, the abolitionist movement and civil rights struggles. Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum continues to bring to light courageous stories and celebrate Black innovation and creativity.

9: International Museum of Surgical Science

Name and Location: The stone-faced International Museum of Surgical Science complex at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive exhibits over 10,000 artifacts spanning medical history within a historic Gold Coast manor.

Collections and Exhibits: Galleries feature rare medical tools, models and artwork interpreting two millennia of medical progress from ancient trephination skulls to iron lung machines alongside the Stettenheim Collection’s exquisite ivory and silver crafts among other instruments, archival films and interactive elements chronicling genetics, anesthesia, wound treatment and other advancements through ornate rooms accented by chandeliers and woodwork.

What to Expect: Guests traverse this mansion museum’s antique atmosphere viewing specimens in dimly-lit cases plus dramatic tableaux conveying grisly amputation scenes and battlefield triage moments that provide anatomical context piercing through the elegant yet eerie galleries’ Victorian medical scholastics.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10:30am-5pm except major holidays. Admission $15 Adults/$10 Kids 5-13 years includes informative audio tour. Validated parking available in small adjacent lot off Lake Shore Drive when spots remain.

Explore the fascinating world of surgery and medicine at this museum in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Set in an elegant mansion, its collection features rare medical artifacts and interactive exhibits spanning centuries. Highlights include vintage anesthetic equipment, fearsome surgical tools, and exhibits on cardiovascular treatment and wound care.

Discover how battlefront surgery evolved through different wars and even see vintage paintings guiding Renaissance doctors. The antique$_{\text{protected}}$ photography collection capturing early operations and medical treatments is intriguingly macabre. Don’t miss exhibits on nursing practices, childbirth methods, and 1930s hospital wards. From gruesome to promising, the International Museum of Surgical Science traces the gory and miraculous history of medicine.

10: Museum of Contemporary Art

Name and Location: The Museum of Contemporary Art resides at 220 E Chicago Ave in downtown Chicago, housing emerging and established contemporary works across a minimalist eight-story structure near Water Tower.

Collections and Exhibits: The MCA amasses over 3,000 modern paintings, sculpture, photography, video pieces, installations and mixed media post-1945 works integral to creative culture including Andy Warhol’s silkscreen along with diverse surreal, folk, pop and graphic styles by Picasso, Dali, Pollock, Lichtenstein and Cindy Sherman across a broad, floor-to-ceiling light-filled gallery and stage setting.

What to Expect: Provocative temporary exhibits energize theMCA’s soaring atrium engaging audiences with leading late 20th century and current daring artists across media through rotations from the permanent collection and beyond, balanced with classes, tours, films and talks expanding contexts around bold contemporary art.

Visitor Information: Open daily from 10am-5pm (Tuesday until 9pm) with ticket pricing at $15. Restaurant and store onsite. Accessible via multiple Chicago bus routes and Red Line to Chicago metro stop.

Dedicated to innovative modern art, MCA Chicago collects works from 1945 to the present day across all media. The light-filled galleries feature provocative paintings, sculptures, films, and performances that push boundaries and prompt discussion.

Past exhibitions spotlighted Dali’s Dreamscapes, the radical NYC art scene, and the thought-provoking works of Kerry James Marshall. The museum also hosts dance, theater and music that draw creative inspiration from the exhibitions. With excellent postwar and contemporary pieces, visiting MCA Chicago is an excellent way to tap into art’s experimental and expressive possibilities.

11: National Hellenic Museum

Name and Location: The National Hellenic Museum at 333 S. Halsted St in Chicago’s Greektown showcases the contributions of Greek and Cypriot Americans across 40,000 square feet just west of downtown.

Collections and Exhibits: Spanning ancient to modern day Greece, key holdings include Byzantine era artifacts, vintage immigration documents, traditional textiles and costumes alongside contemporary installations like The Koulentianos Family Collection’s exquisite pottery within the permanent exhibits interpreting four thematic pillars central to the culture: history, arts, culture and community.

What to Expect: Rotating displays further chronicle Greek influence from democracy to cuisine through rare maps, sculptures and paintings that provide engaging perspectives enhanced by the National Hellenic Museum’s architecture invoking an Acropolis aesthetic indoors against the dynamic Passalis gallery backdrop downtown.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, closed Sundays/Mondays. Timed tickets $10 adults/$8 seniors. Self-parking $14 weekdays/$10 weekends in adjacent garage.

Discover the stories and contributions of Greek heritage and culture at this dynamic museum in the vibrant Greektown neighborhood. Through interactive exhibits, presentations and cultural artifacts, visitors trace Greek immigration to America and learn about traditions.

Highlights include an exact Parthenon replica with Statue of Athena, artifacts from ancient and Byzantine Greece, and exhibits on Greek neighborhoods forming in American cities. Food lovers can explore the exhibit commemorating the immigrant history of Greektown’s famous flaming cheese dish saganaki. Celebrate Hellenic culture and Greek Americans’ profound influence with cooking classes, heritage workshops, musical performances and artisan demonstra${\text{protected}}$ons hosted at this hidden Chicago gem.

12: Chicago History Museum

Name and Location: The Chicago History Museum resides at 1601 N Clark St in Lincoln Park spanning 150 years of city memories and lore as the city’s oldest cultural institution.

Collections and Exhibits: Nearly 22 million documents and 500,000 artifacts convey Chicago stories like the 1968 protests along with pivotal moments shown through settlement-era clothing, antique commercial goods, architectural fragments a 20,000 year-old mammoth fossil juxtaposed beside a 1970s street art mural chronologically across atmospheric galleries filled with immersive scenes bringing the past to life.

What to Expect: Engaging displays tap into the Windy City’s reputation from fiery disasters like 1871’s Great Chicago Fire and gangster disreputes to triumphant ingenuity stories spotlighting famous Chicagoans pioneering innovations spanning BOARD to guitar amplifier technology through the vibrant melting pot.

Visitor Information: Open daily 9:30am-4:30pm with ticket pricing $19 Adults/$14 Kids. Validated discount parking in their public garage; multiple bus routes and Red Line Chicago stop access nearby.

Immerse yourself in Chicago’s storied past at this museum devoted to the city’s heritage and development. Spread over nearly an entire city block, the Chicago History Museum houses over 20 million artifacts chronicling the city from first settlements to the present day.

Displays spotlight Chicago’s legendary World Fair, the roaring 1920s, sports victories, and cultural milestones. Various timely exhibits use objects, archival materials, and multimedia platforms to discuss important issues, neighborhoods and activist movements. The extensive collection of Chicago costumes, architectural fragments, photographs, and decorative items provide intimate peeks into how Chicagoans lived and worked. For an engaging look at the people, innovations, triumphs and tribulations behind Chicago, this city history museum hits the mark..

Conclusion

Chicago dazzles with this amazing diversity of museums dedicated to art, culture, history, science and much more. Immersive, inspiring, and visionary – Chicago’s museums let you journey through space, ancient civilizations, human innovation, and artistic expression all in one city. Whether you devote an entire weekend museum-hopping or just have time to visit one or two, you are sure to be amazed by the fascinating stories and treasures on display. When visiting Chicago, make sure these incredible museums are part of your itinerary. You are sure to come away with memorable experiences and new discoveries.

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