Looking to visit the very best museums in Chicago? Chicago, IL has many amazing museums with a ton to offer visitors of all ages and interests.
Having lived in Chicago for five years, I’ve visited a ton of Chicago museums and know that they are some of the top attractions in the Windy City. The museums here truly are world-class and feature everything from art to architecture, money, war, nature, and more.
Let’s take a look at 20 of Chicago’s fantastic museums!
Table of Contents
- 20 Best Chicago Museums
- The Art Institute of Chicago
- Chicago Architecture Center
- Museum of Contemporary Photography
- Chicago Money Museum
- Chicago History Museum
- Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
- Pritzker Military Museum & Library
- Chicago Cultural Center
- Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
- The Oriental Institute Museum
- Smart Museum of Art
- American Writers Museum
- The Richard T. Driehaus Museum
- Chicago Children’s Museum
- National Museum of Mexican Art
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
- DuSable Museum of African American History
- The Field Museum
- Adler Planetarium
- Shedd Aquarium
- FAQs Museums in Chicago
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20 Best Chicago Museums
The Art Institute of Chicago
One of the top museums not only in Chicago, IL but the world
Approaching the Art Institute of Chicago, you’ll see the iconic duo of bronze lions at the front. You’ll love the more than 300,000 works in the collections, including ancient artifacts, impressionist works, and more.
There are also architecture exhibits, including Prairie school – a style of design reflecting natural patterns. Prairie school buildings appeared to hug the ground, imitating lines of the prairie horizon.
Enjoy the museum’s permanent collection, including Nighthawks and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Then, satisfy your hunger at the food trucks outside, along Michigan Ave. and Monroe St.
📚 Related Reading: The Loop, close to the Art Institute, is a great place to stay for first-time visitors to this city. Bookmark my guide on where to stay in Chicago to see more options.
Chicago Architecture Center
See impressive buildings from Chicago, IL and other cities!
The Chicago Architecture Foundation opened the Chicago Architecture Center in 2018. Walking into the building, you’ll see large-scale models of skyscrapers from all over the globe, as well as the Chicago Gallery.
The CAC is a nonprofit organization that offers 85 different tours, along with exhibits, talks, and courses. Most popular is a 90-minute walking tour that takes you through The Loop, where you can see the John Hancock Center, the Willis Tower, and other historically iconic buildings.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
Seeing the world through the eyes of contemporary artists
Located on South Michigan Ave., this museum is part of the Columbia College Chicago campus. Here, you can see the work of artists such as Ansel Adams and Irving Penn.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography has a permanent collection in addition to revolutionary new photography by artists all over the world. It’s a wonderful way to see the evolution of different types of photography.
There are also digital resources, such as the Midwest Photographers Project in the Print Study Room; this is a collection of portfolios by different Midwest photographers.
👉 Wondering what to pack? This epic Chicago packing list will make sure you only bring what you need and don’t leave anything important behind!
Chicago Money Museum
Money, money, money!
Anyone who’s interested in economics should spend some time at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Money Museum. You’ll get an up-close look behind the scenes of the financial system in the United States.
At the very least, you should see the displays of a million dollars – you may be surprised at how much space this takes up. You can also take tours during business hours, learning a lot about the history of money not only in the US but throughout the world.
Located on LaSalle St. and offering free admission, this is definitely a great stop. You’ll definitely want to check out the gift shop for some cool souvenirs.
Chicago History Museum
For anyone who wants to know more cool facts about Chicago
Once known as the Chicago Historical Society, this museum in Old Town allows you to learn more about the rich past of the city of Chicago. You can learn all about events such as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (which destroyed this museum) and the World Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Cool dioramas and hands-on galleries will teach you a lot about the city’s history. You’ll learn about everything from important historical figures (including Abraham Lincoln) to sports and the ingredients of a Chicago-style hot dog.
Anyone who needs to learn about Chicago events for a project can register for access to the Research Library – home to an amazing collection of publications, artifacts, and photographs.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Enjoy unconventional art forms
📍 Google Maps | Museum Website | Cost: suggested donation of $15 for adults, $8 for students/seniors/teachers (65+), free for children under 18 | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm, Wednesday – Sunday; 10 am – 9 pm, Tuesday
This museum has a fairly small permanent collection with most exhibits revolving around temporary special shows. Past examples include Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg and David Bowie Is.
The Museum of Contemporary Art on Chicago Ave. is home to not only paintings and sculptures, but unconventional art as well. Take in stunning stage performances and taste delicious seasonal culinary art.
Go to the gift shop and browse or buy some amazing, infamously quirky souvenirs. The restaurant-café is there for anyone who’s hungry after experiencing these contemporary works.
🏖️ Hitting the beach after the museum? My picks for the best Chicago beaches include something for everyone!
Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Learn about soldiers and military history
📍 Google Maps | Museum Website | Cost: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors/students/teachers, free for members, First Responders, Active Military, children under 12 | Hours: 10 am – 4 pm, Tuesday – Saturday
Located in downtown Chicago, IL, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library includes multiple stories of exhibits that preserve military history and educate the public on the subject. It has become a gathering place for veterans and active military personnel as well.
There are events that take place throughout the year, as well as rotating exhibits. You can see letters written by active soldiers, important photographs, medals earned during various battles, and more.
Chicago Cultural Center
Experience cultural events in the heart of Chicago
Located in downtown Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center was opened in 1897 as the original location of the central library in the city. It is considered one of the most impressive examples of Beaux-Arts style architecture in the United States.
In addition to the mosaic-dominated Washington Street Lobby and stained glass Tiffany Dome, it has been repurposed into a center that hosts special events. These include musical performances, cultural events, and free exhibits at all times of the year.
📚 Related Reading: If you’re planning on coming to the city in the winter, then this is a great time to visit museums. Read more about this in my guide on the best time to visit Chicago.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
A profound look at stories of struggle and courage during the Holocaust
📍 Google Maps | Museum Website | Cost: $18 for adults, $12 for seniors (65+), $8 for students (up to 22 years old with student ID), $6 for children aged 5-11, free for children under 5 | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm, Wednesday – Sunday
In 1981, Holocaust survivors created this small storefront museum in Skokie, after an attempted Neo-Nazi march. It is now a 65,000-square-foot facility, the world’s largest Holocaust museum.
This museum’s permanent collection includes over 28,000 items that were donated by survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants.
If you are interested in a detailed look at one of the darkest episodes in recent history, you can learn a lot from the photographs, artifacts, letters, clothing, and stories from Holocaust survivors that are showcased here.
The Oriental Institute Museum
For anyone who wants to enter ancient worlds for a day
Located at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, the Oriental Institute is committed to preserving and exhibiting artifacts from diverse ancient Middle Eastern civilizations.
There are artifacts up to 6,000 years old here, such as clay tablets from Persepolis, mummies, and the Megiddo Ivories (evidence for early internationalism in what is now Israel).
Smart Museum of Art
Diverse fine art on a university campus
Another great option for art lovers in Hyde Park, the Smart Museum of Art develops public programs and exhibits that encourage the appreciation of all sorts of art. There are both rotating exhibits that switch every few months and a permanent collection of about 15,000 works from artists such as Edward Degas and Andy Warhol.
You can check out the four galleries that are open for public viewing and private tours – contemporary art, European art, Asian art, and modern art.
American Writers Museum
Learn to appreciate books all over again
This museum is a great choice for any literary buffs out there. Located on Michigan Ave., the American Writers Museum showcases the power of the written word, as well as the diverse voices that define it.
It’s the only national museum that honors American writers and what they’ve contributed. You can learn about the histories of many of these inspiring writers and view their original manuscripts.
The Richard T. Driehaus Museum
Travel back in time to experience a Victorian world
📍 Google Maps | Museum Website | Cost: $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students with ID, free for children 12 and under, Active Military, and Museum members | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm, Friday – Saturday; 12 pm – 5 pm, Sunday
Located on Erie St. in the Gold Coast Historic District, this museum is all about showcasing art and architecture from the Victorian era.
In this museum, you can see breathtaking paintings, furniture, sculptures, and decorative arts from those times, as well as architectural materials and drawings in the archives.
Chicago Children’s Museum
Making science fun for kids and families
Located within Navy Pier, this is a great place for families visiting Chicago, IL. There are many interactive exhibits and hands-on science activities specifically for children. They can enjoy water play areas, arts and crafts, treehouses, jungle gyms, and sensory spaces where they’ll learn about fascinating scientific phenomena.
And of course, after the museum visit, you can spend some quality time at Navy Pier – riding the Ferris Wheel and eating at one of the popular waterfront restaurants.
National Museum of Mexican Art
Learning about Latin art and culture
Located in Pilsen, where Mexican street murals and art brighten the streets, the National Museum of Mexican Art is one of the largest cultural organizations representing the Latin community in the US.
There are more than 35,000 pieces of art here from both Mexican and American artists, including “Nuestra Historias,” a diverse and fascinating permanent exhibit.
Some of the artwork goes back to the BC era. You can learn quite a bit about historical events, modern social issues, photography, and more.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
An opportunity to learn about and get close to nature
This museum is located in the midst of gardens and prairies in Lincoln Park. You can see exhibitions that teach you all about ecosystems in Chicago, IL, in addition to the biology of different animals.
This institution offers a guided tour of the outdoor nature trail, and you’ll be amazed by the beauty of the butterflies in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven. The whole family can enjoy educational hands-on science labs and regular animal feedings.
DuSable Museum of African American History
A look at African American history and culture
Founded by Dr. Margaret Burroughs in 1961, this is the oldest of the independent African American museums in the country. You can see the role of African Americans and others who fought for racial equality in major happenings in the US.
There are over 15,000 artifacts and documents from the lives of important figures, including Langston Hughes and Ida B. Wells. You can look at colorful African American art, watch educational video screenings, and participate in discussions about African American history.
👉 Want more travel tips? Our full list of Chicago travel guides will help you fully plan your upcoming visit.
The Field Museum
Education about natural history all over the world
Some of the best of the city’s museums are located in the South Loop museum campus, located on Randolph St. and bordering Lake Michigan. The Field Museum is a part of this museum campus, with many fascinating galleries that are dedicated to natural history.
Here, you can see over 20 permanent exhibitions including priceless gems, a real preserved Ice Age mammoth, an ancient Egyptian tomb, and the largest and most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that you’ll see anywhere.
Afterward, I recommend having a drink at the bistro bar, located in a corner of the museum.
👉 Pro Tip: The Field Museum of the museum campus started out as a permanent memorial to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – a world’s fair that took place in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ introduction to the New World.
Take a trip to the ends of the universe
Another one of the great museums on the museum campus, the Adler Planetarium is the first planetarium in the western hemisphere. It is open now with no timed entry required.
Here, you can go to the Grainger Sky Theater for amazing sky shows, and then see the largest telescope available for public viewing in Chicago at the Doane Observatory. This is a great place for anyone who wants to learn about physics and astronomy. There are also special events, classes, and lectures.
For a fun day of learning about and interacting with aquatic creatures
The Shedd Aquarium is another of the museums that make up the renowned museum campus. Here, there are 32,000 animals, including dolphins, beluga whales, sea otters, and penguins. You can learn about amazing creatures from all over the world in seven permanent exhibits. Check out close-ups in the underwater viewing area.
The Shedd Aquarium also features a 4-D theater, live meet-and-greets, and a 360-degree walkaround replica Caribbean reef.
👉 Pro Tip: If it’s nice outside, the best way to get to the museum campus will be riding the Shoreline Water Taxi.
FAQs Museums in Chicago
What is the most visited museum in Chicago?
The most visited museum in Chicago is the Art Institute of Chicago, with 1,666,000 visitors in 2019. Second is the Field Museum, with 1,494,000 visitors in 2019.
What is the biggest museum in Chicago?
In terms of size, the biggest museum in Chicago is the Art Institute of Chicago, with over a million square feet of exhibition space. The Field Museum comes in second with 480,000 square feet.
Which museum in Chicago has dinosaurs?
For people who want to see dinosaur exhibits in Chicago, there is Dinosaur Expedition at the Chicago Children’s Museum and an exhibit at the Field Museum that contains famous dinosaur fossils and a well-preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I hope you enjoyed my guide on the best Chicago museums. As you can see, there is an endless number of exhibits to see when you visit this city!
But if you want even more to do, check out our guide on the best day trips from Chicago!