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What You Need to Know to Visit Shedd Aquarium

It's mind-boggling to consider that 71% of the Earth's surface is covered in water. Now, just imagine the variety and number of creatures thriving in the mysterious blue oceans, rivers, and lakes of this planet. Well, you don't have to leave everything to the imagination. In fact, you can see for yourself the magnificent beauty the water has to offer at the historic and renowned Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. Here, visitors can explore the vast number of animals living in and around the waters of the world.

Plan Ahead to Visit Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is one of Chicago’s most beloved attractions. Its historic architectural significance has even earned the aquarium its status as a National Historic Landmark. Because of its overwhelming popularity, it’s important to plan your visit to Shedd Aquarium. The experience is well worth the wait, but there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to minimize wait time and use those hours for more aquatic adventure.

Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium Tickets

Your first step in making the most of your time at Shedd Aquarium is to buy tickets in advance. It’s no secret that the Shedd Aquarium is known not only for its impressive exhibits, but also its really long lines. The Shedd Aquarium website recommends purchasing tickets online and in advance. Otherwise, you may be spending time in a line, and that’s no way to start the day. A variety of ticket options is available:

Ticket TypeCostBonus
General Admission
  • Adult $39.95
  • Child (3-11) $29.95
  • Upgrade to 4-D Experience for $4.95
Chicago Residents
  • Adult $19.95
  • Child (3-11) $14.95
  • Upgrade to 4-D Experience for $4.95
Chicago CityPASS
  • Adult $99.75
  • Child (3-11) $84.75
  • VIP entry to Shedd Aquarium
  • 4-D Experience included
  • 53% off admission Chicago's top 5 attractions
  • Penguin Encounter add-on for $40
  • Behind the Scenes Tour add-on for $20
  • Exclusive booklet coupons
Membership
  • Starts at $75 for the year
  • Upgrade to 4-D Experience for $2.95
  • Exclusive access to member events

Another benefit to purchasing your tickets ahead of time is that same-day online tickets have a $15-per-ticket express entry fee (express entry is included in Chicago CityPASS and memberships).

General Admission (and Chicago residents admission) includes access to the main-floor exhibits including Waters of the World, Caribbean Reef, and Amazon Rising. You can also check out the Amphibians special exhibit and Stingray Touch (summer only).

Shedd Aquarium Free Days

If you’re an Illinois resident, you can enjoy 52 free days at Shedd Aquarium each year. Admission includes all permanent exhibits, the Amphibians special exhibit, animal presentations, and the Stingray Touch. Reserve your tickets online and at least one day in advance, the earlier the better, and make sure to bring your valid ID. Check their calendar for the next free day.

Chicago CityPASS

The Chicago CityPASS is great for anyone who plans to see many of Chicago’s best attractions, and the package deal comes with some pretty impressive benefits, if we do say so ourselves. First, CityPASS provides access to Chicago’s top 5 attractions at a 53% discount. If you’re visiting from out-of-town, this is the best way to make the most of your Chicago adventure without overspending. But best of all, CityPASS includes VIP access so you can skip the main ticket line to Shedd Aquarium! CityPASS holders will get to enjoy all of Shedd’s permanent exhibits, animal presentations, Stingray Touch (summer only), and the 4-D Experience.

Turtles at Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium Exhibits

The Shedd Aquarium boasts an impressive variety of aquatic life. From the anaconda, piranhas, monkeys, and stingrays of the Amazon to the exotic coral of a Philippine reef, you can easily spend an entire day at the Shedd and still not see all the aquarium has to offer.

Caribbean Reef

Make your way to the Caribbean Reef and get a 360-degree view of the diverse life within. Say hello to a bright-eyed Nickel, a rescued sea turtle who made Shedd her new home in 2003. Diving sessions happen daily at 10:30am, 12:00pm, 2:00pm, and 3:00pm. Guests can ask divers questions during and after feedings. This is the perfect exhibit to begin your Shedd adventure.

Amazon Rising

In the Amazon, life is dependent on the rise and fall of the river. Yearly floods dictate how the region adapts, and you’ll get to see what it’s like to experience a year in the Amazon. Not only will you see many exotic creatures including piranhas, catfish and tambaquis in the river channel, you’ll even see how human homes in the Amazon are built to withstand the heavy floods.

Wild Reef

Become immersed in a stunning, award-winning exhibit that features a Philippine coral reef and the diverse life surrounding it. Colorful fish, impressive sharks, and smooth stingrays abound in this fascinating exhibit. Check out the incognito frogfish, whose unique sponge-like shape changes colors over time to blend in with the coral. The coral lab shows guests how Shedd Aquarium recreates reef conditions to make new coral and restore existing reefs around the world.

Shedd Aquarium Reef

Waters of the World

The Waters of the World exhibit features 76 aquatic habitats including oceans, rivers, lakes, wetlands, tropical islands and an underwater cave. This level of the aquarium boasts the most beautiful and unusual of water-dwelling creatures. Spider crabs, octopi, seahorses, map turtles, Mountain horned dragons and more await you in this astonishing exhibit.

Home on the Great Lakes

A part of the Waters of the World exhibit, Home on the Great Lakes features 60 species of Great Lake life. Learn how to make a difference in the sustainability of the Great Lakes ecosystem. You can even touch sturgeons, which are covered in plates as thick as armor. These fascinating lake creatures can grow up to 9 feet long and are bottom-feeders that vacuum up anything on the lake floor using their downward-facing mouths.

Abbott Oceanarium

Watch as dolphins, Beluga whales, sea lions, sea otters, and an array of fish and invertebrates greet you in the wonderful Abbott Oceanarium. The presentation in the Rice Amphitheater features many of the Oceanarium’s intelligent animals, and also educates guests on how animals are specially cared for at Shedd.

Amphibians Special Exhibit

Amphibians are cold-blooded animals that absorb water through their skin and come in a wide range of colors, patterns shapes and sizes. You can count on seeing at least 40 species of amphibians including frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians in this exhibit.

Shedd Aquarium Exhibits

Polar Play Zone

The Polar Play Zone is just one of the reasons Shedd Aquarium is a great thing to do with kids in Chicago. Kids can let their imaginations run wild as they jump into a penguin suit and explore the Icy South play area. There’s also a real penguin habitat featuring Magellanic and rockhopper penguins so kids can be inspired to be their best penguin when they suit up. End your polar play adventure with the underwater viewing galleries. Here you’ll get an up close look at whales, dolphins and sea otters as they swim in the mesmerizing blue.

4-D Experience

Add a movie to your Shedd visit! The 4-D Experience immerses you in a 3-D film with some splashing and other sensory effects to make the experience even more fun.

Food and Fun

If all the excitement of the deep blue sea has got your stomach grumbling, check out the Shedd Aquarium’s many dining options. The Soundings Cafe offers Starbucks coffee and pastries to get your morning energy levels up. The Bubble Net is a year-round restaurant that opens at 11am and closes two hours before the aquarium closes. You can grab a slice, burrito, burger or healthy salad, along with some vegetarian options and healthy alternatives for the kids. Deep Ocean Cafe is a seasonal eatery that is located right in the polar play zone. After the little ones have exhausted themselves as penguins, refuel with hot dogs, nachos, Dippin Dots, and more.

Get some popcorn at the popcorn kiosk, open from 11am until one hour before closing. Great for salty and sweet treats, this is a perfect place to stop for some grub before seeing the Caribbean Reef.

Bring Your Own Food

Looking to save money on your trip to Shedd Aquarium, or have a special picnic outing in mind? Shedd Aquarium’s Marine Munchroom has tables and chairs at the ground level entrance where you can enjoy your own home-cooked goodness (or some of Chicago’s great eats!). Outdoor picnic tables are available as well in Shedd’s lawn area if you want to enjoy a warm summer day.

Shedd Aquarium Hours

Shedd Aquarium’s summer hours are 9am to 6pm, 7 days a week, from June 11 to August 20. Winter hours are 9am - 5pm on weekdays and 9am to 6pm on weekends. The best time to visit Shedd Aquarium is early in the morning on the weekdays, especially Wednesday through Friday.

Check the Shedd Aquarium calendar for special hours before booking your tickets.

Parking and Getting to Shedd Aquarium

Chicago has a lot going on, and parking isn’t always easy when there are multiple events going happening. Concerts and sporting events tend to hike up parking costs, so take a look at this page to plan around such heavy traffic events. SpotHero is a great app that allows drivers to find, reserve and prepay for parking spaces. Plus, there’s a special $5 off promo code for Shedd visitors: SHEDDPARKING. Valet parking is available at $26 a vehicle, but this option isn’t available during certain Chicago Bears game days. For public transportation route information, visit this page for details.

Come enjoy the wonders of the water at Chicago’s renowned Shedd Aquarium. Open since 1930, this impressive attraction is home to 32,000 animals and is an adventure worth planning for.

Header Image: © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez