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Chicago

Top Museums In Chicago

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From the largest and most complete T-Rex to masterpieces and modern art, Chicago has it all. No wonder it’s called the "City of Broad Horizons," as top-notch museums aim to enlighten, educate and inspire. Whether it’s the vast collections at the Art Institute or learning more about planet earth and the solar system at America’s first planetarium it’s all in Chicago. Here are the most iconic museum stops to include on your itinerary.


Art Institute of Chicago

Visit the Art Institute of Chicago and you’ll understand why it’s considered by many to be one of the best art museums in the world – after all, it was named the #1 art museum in the world for 2014 by TripAdvisor. The second-largest art museum in the U.S., it’s notably home to the greatest Impressionist collection outside Paris, as well as the breathtaking Modern Wing, with its world-famous collections of modern and contemporary art.

What to See

Classics

  • See famous masterpieces like American Gothic and Nighthawks, plus works by renowned artists such as Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, Kandinsky and Degas.

Ancient Art

  • Explore over 550 works from 4,000 years of art in Of Gods and Glamour, located in the beautiful Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art.

Modern Masterpieces

  • See the Art Institute’s extraordinary collection of modern art, considered one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world and boasting some of the greatest icons of the period.

Global Collections

  • Travel the globe through galleries devoted to the art of ancient Greece, Japan, Africa, and the Americas.

The Lions

  • Say hello to the two magnificent bronze lions flanking the main entrance of the museum; the south lion stands "In an Attitude of Defiance," while the north lion is "On the Prowl."

What to Do

Audio Tour

  • Take advantage of the museum’s audio guide to learn the history and background of pieces in the collections.

Kids' Activities

  • Introduce your little artists to the museum’s collections with hands-on activities in the Family Room, or take advantage of the free art-making activities for children each weekend.

McKinlock Court

  • In between gallery visits, take some time to relax and get some fresh air in the beautiful McKinlock Court, and enjoy the centerpiece fountain, a replica of Carl Milles's Fountain of the Tritons in Copenhagen.

Eat and Drink

  • You’re sure to work up an appetite exploring the galleries; a variety of dining options on-site offer everything from quick pick-me-ups to gourmet fare.

Nearby

  • In the mood for shopping? The Magnificent Mile is home to numerous department stores, boutiques and three urban shopping centers: Water Tower Place, The Shops at North Bridge and 900 North Michigan Shops.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Established in 1967, the museum of contemporary art is one of the world’s largest contemporary art museums, housing art from 1945 on. It doesn't have any permanent exhibits, so while you won’t know what will be on display at any given time, it does add an air of anticipation.

What to See

The Art

  • The museum’s collection, which includes Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, and Alexander Calder, contains historical samples of 1940s–1970s late surrealism, pop art, minimalism and conceptual art, 1980s postmodernism, and contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, and video.
  • The museum is known for its ground-breaking special exhibitions of work by local, national and international artists, bringing in the most cutting-edge art created after 1945, including painting, sculpture, photography, video or other medium. One well-known example is the 2014 exhibit David Bowie Is, a 400-piece Bowie retrospective exhibition that is to date the museum’s most-attended exhibit.
  • The building itself is a piece of modern art, made of square metal plates with round bolts in each corner. It’s known for its signature staircase leading to an elevated ground floor. The full glass-walled east and west façades give a direct view of the city and Lake Michigan.

What to Do

Tours

  • Take a curator tour for an inside view of current exhibitions, free with admission.

Family Days

  • Bring the whole crew and see them create, tinker, experiment and learn about art.

Terrace Garden

  • Step outside for a breath of fresh air in the Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden, with stunning views of Lake Michigan.

Eat and Drink

  • The MCA Café is open every day except Monday and serves snacks and meals including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

Nearby

  • MCA Chicago is just a short walk from Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile, home to numerous department stores, boutiques and three urban shopping centers.

National Museum of Mexican Art

Located in the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community in the Pilsen neighborhood, the National Museum of Mexican Art showcases 3,000 years of artistry "sin fronteras," or without borders, representing both Mexico and Mexican communities in the United States.

What to See

The Art

  • The National Museum of Mexican Art is home to one of largest Mexican art collections in the U.S., with more than 7,000 important pieces ranging in time from ancient Mexico to the present; the museum also hosts rotating special exhibits. As you explore the art, be sure to take in the information about each piece offered by the curators; you’ll learn about the art and the artists, but also about the history and culture of Mexico.
  • The permanent exhibit Nuestra Historias: Highlighting the Mexican Identity displays what has been called by one of the museum’s curators "the best of the collection" and centers around the diverse stories of Mexican identity in North America. It includes Rubén Ortiz-Torres’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, a tricked-out low-rider lawnmower that pays homage to landscaping laborers, and Alejandro Díaz’s pink neon sign Make Tacos Not War.
  • Visit in early fall through early December and you’ll be lucky to catch the popular annual Day of the Dead exhibit. Part unearthly and part joyous, it celebrates the connections between this world and the next with folk art, painting and sculpture.

What to Do

Pick Up a Souvenir

  • The museum’s gift shop, Tienda Tzintzuntzán - Place of the Hummingbird, gets rave reviews. This isn’t your average souvenir shop; beautiful artwork, jewelry, textiles and more are hand-selected on shopping excursions throughout Mexico.

Special Programs

  • Check the museum’s website to find out what’s happening before your visit; a variety of film, literature, music and even culinary arts events are offered regularly.

Nearby

  • Pilsen is a neighborhood with an artful vibe; while you’re there, check out the amazing murals, some by internationally recognized street artists. The best place to explore is in the area bounded by 16th street to the north, the Chicago River to the east and Western Avenue to the west.
  • You’ll find some of the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago in Pilsen, thanks to the longstanding Latino community. Take your pick.

Museum of Science & Industry

MSI is well-known for its hands-on, interactive exhibits that get the scientific sparks flying. It’s the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 400,000 square feet of space and 35,000 artifacts, plus Chicago’s only five-story, domed Omnimax® Theater.

What to See

U-505 Submarine

  • This WWII German Submarine is an incredible piece of history with an amazing story behind it. Not only can you see this National Historic Landmark, but you can step inside it, learn about its capture and see over 200 artifacts.

How's the Weather?

  • Lightning, fire, tornados, avalanches, tsunamis, sunlight and atoms in motion… Science Storms is a super interactive exhibit that explores these natural phenomena with over 50 experiments you can participate in. It’ll change your answer to the question, "How’s the weather?"

All Aboard

  • If you’re a trains, planes and automobiles geek, you’ll love the Transportation Gallery. Walk through a real United 727, step aboard the engine of the Empire State Express 999, the first machine to break the 100 mph barrier, and explore plenty of other cool historic aircraft.

Baby Chicks

  • One of the most popular exhibits at the Museum is the baby chick hatchery – you can see the chicks peck their way out of their shells and take their first steps.

Omnimax Theater

  • Be sure to catch a scientific adventure flick in the Museum’s Omnimax Theater – after all, how often do you have the chance to watch a movie on a 5-story, domed, wrap-around theater?

What to Do

The Maze Will Amaze

  • Be sure to check out the super fun mirror maze, part of the Numbers in Nature exhibit. See if you can find the hidden mystery room — you might have to pull out some math skills!

Wow!

  • The Wow! Tour gives you special insights into some of the Museum’s most popular exhibits, like Coal Mine, the baby chicks, the 727 and more. Plus you get a behind-the-scenes look at the Museum’s offices and other areas not open to the public. You can choose this tour as an option if you purchase an Explorer ticket (or Chicago CityPASS).

Eat and Drink

  • MSI has multiple dining options with offerings that include pizza, sandwiches, stir-fries, salads, pastries, snacks, Starbucks coffee and, on the weekends, even an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Nearby

  • MSI is located in Hyde Park, and area that’s home to University of Chicago, the Obama residence, and Washington Park, among other well-known landmarks. It’s a great place to walk around and explore.

The Field Museum

One of the largest natural history museums in the world, The Field Museum is renowned for its collections of more than 20 million specimens and artifacts. The Field has more than 400,000 square feet of space, giving visitors room to comfortably explore the large halls that house interactive exhibits examining cultures and environments from around the world and back in time.

What to See

Inside Ancient Egypt

  • Visit two authentic rooms from a 5,000-year-old tomb and see one of the largest collections of mummies in the U.S.

The Tsavo Lions

  • Explore the gripping story of the man-eating Tsavo lions, who terrorized an African village in 1898, killing 135 people; the lion’s skulls and skins were used to create the life-like mounts you’ll see in the exhibit.

Underground Adventure

  • Get creepy and crawly — you’ll see the world from a critter’s point of view and explore worm tunnels and soil chambers.

Hall of Gems

  • The exquisite rare jewels and gold objects in the Grainger Hall of Gems will take your breath away.

What to Do

Make a Memory With Sue

  • Take a photo with Sue the T.rex. She’s the largest, best-preserved and most complete T.Rex ever found — over 90% complete.

Special Programs

  • Add a free docent-guided tour to your museum visit, meet a scientist or go behind the scenes with the museum’s wide selection of programs and events.

See a 3D Movie

  • Get into the thick of the action at a realistic and riveting 3D movie.

Eat and Drink

  • The Field Bistro menu serves breakfast (muffins, fresh fruits, and hot items) and lunch (hearty soups and salads, burgers and a build your own pasta bar) featuring locally grown or produced products showcasing the bounty of the region, as well as local craft beer and wine.
  • The Explorer Café serves kid-friendly options including chicken fingers, mac & cheese and pizza as well as more grown-up items like salads, sandwiches and chili.

Nearby

  • The Field Museum is located on Chicago’s museum campus along with two other must-see Chicago sights: Alder Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium.

Adler Planetarium

Known as America’s first planetarium, the Adler Planetarium has been open since 1930. It’s full of scientific entertainment, with three full-size theaters, compelling space science exhibitions, and one of the largest and most significant collections of antique scientific instruments and print materials in the world. Located in Chicago’s Museum Campus, the Adler is situated on Lake Michigan and boasts awesome views of the lake and the city skyline.

What to See

Mission Moon

  • Check out the actual Gemini 12 space capsule where astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell spent four days - it was tight quarters! You can also listen to the actual communications that took place between Mission Control and the crew of Apollo 13.

Atwood Sphere

  • Visit the Atwood Sphere and see what the night sky looked like over Chicago in 1913, without the light pollution we have today.

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass

  • Learn about the evolution of telescopes, and see some cool historic telescopes going back to 1600 – including a 22-foot-long antique telescope from 1675 that visitors can look through.

Touch the Moon
  • In the Exploring Our Solar System exhibit, you can touch a piece of the Moon, Mars, Ceres and Vesta, and talk to scientists on hand to answer questions.

Immerse Yourself

  • A sky show (or two!) in one of the Alder’s theaters is a must-see; from a tour of the solar system to a search for new planets, the immersive technology will take you on a journey.

What to Do

For the 21+ Crowd

  • Alder holds their adults-only Adler After Dark event from 6-10pm on the third Thursday of every month, with a new, fun space-related theme each time. Explore the museum, see unlimited shows and enjoy special programming... and did we mention cocktails?

Experiment

  • Feeling scientific? Visit the Community Design Lab, where you can turn marshmallows, popsicle sticks, duct tape, shaving cream and more into space experiments. It’s great for kids, too.

Eat and Drink

  • Grab a bite to eat while you enjoy the view of Chicago’s skyline at Café Galileo’s. Options include flatbreads, sandwiches, salads and wraps, plus a kids menu (the "Pigs in Space" panini sounds good to us!).

Nearby

  • The Museum Campus is also home to The Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium – but don’t forget to take some time to walk around, explore and enjoy the amazing views!

If you're looking to visit the best Chicago museums, use Chicago CityPASS. You'll save nearly half off combined entrance fees to some of the top museums and tourist attractions in Chicago. CityPASS holders also get to skip most ticket lines. Chicago CityPASS includes admission to Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Skydeck Chicago, Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago, and 360 CHICAGO or the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Some special exhibits are not included with the CityPASS and may require an extra fee.

CityPASS can be purchased online or at any of our participating Chicago attractions. Use Chicago CityPASS and discover the top museums and things to do in Chicago.

Museumof Contemporary Art Photo Credit
National Museum of Mexican Art Photo Credit

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