Art Institute of Chicago: Everything You Need to Plan Your Visit
On Michigan Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s historic downtown, between the iconic lions—frankly named "stands in an attitude of defiance" and "on the prowl"—lies nearly a million square feet and approximately 330,000 pieces of art to explore. These works span a wide stretch of time, ranging from antiquity to modernity. With so much to see, in order to maximize your visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, it’s imperative to plan ahead. Lucky for you, we’ve developed a guide to make your planning a breeze.
Art Institute of Chicago Hours
The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum Shop are open daily from 10:30am-5:00pm, with extended Thursday hours until 8:00pm.
Art Institute of Chicago Tickets & CityPASS Savings
In order to bypass lines, which can be long, it is recommended that Fast Pass tickets be purchased online in advance of your planned visit. For an extra $10, Fast Pass customers forego the general admission line and enjoy expedited access to permanent collection galleries and non-ticketed special exhibitions.
While Fast Pass tickets facilitate streamlined access to the museum, keep in mind that general admission tickets are always discounted to Illinois residents and further discounted to residents of Chicago.
You can save 51% on Fast Pass admission to the Art Institute of Chicago and four more top Chicago attractions with the Chicago CityPASS. This is a great option for out-of-towners looking to explore the best of what Chicago has to offer at the lowest price. You can purchase booklets or printable/mobile vouchers online or at the museum admission counter for the same low price. Visitors using the Chicago CityPASS receive a free audio guide at the Art Institute, too.
For an up-to-date look at all Art Institute of Chicago prices, be sure to visit the Admission Information section of their website.
Art Institute of Chicago Free Admission Opportunities
Great news for parents looking to nourish the minds of budding art enthusiasts: children under 14 years of age always access the museum for free!
Free museum access also extends to families who are current LINK or WIC cardholders, as well as Illinois educators and home school parents who apply for an educator admission request.
Chicago residents can use their Chicago Public Library card to check out a pass for free general admission, and general admission is free for all Illinois residents on Thursday evenings from 5-8pm.
What to See at the Art Institute of Chicago
For the most comprehensive experience, visitors should plan to spend a full day at the museum. However, if you have limited time, there are a few attractions you should definitely see:
European Painting Collection
Considered one of the finest in the world, this gallery plays host to Impressionist works by Monet and Gauguin—giving you a chance to see them up-close (or far away, for comparison). Works by Renoir and van Gogh round out this impressive collection with something for every taste.
Thorne Miniature Rooms
Get a gander into the rooms of Europeans ranging from pre-Renaissance to the 1930s, as well as American homes from the colonial era to the early 20th century. These meticulous models are built on the scale of one-inch to one-foot, giving incredible detail and an appreciation for design and decor through the ages.
The Vitale Family Room
This is a great starting point for those looking to incorporate hands-on participation to their museum experience. Families, particularly those with children ages 3-12, are encouraged to utilize the digital tool JourneyMaker to create their own unique tour of the museum based around one of eight storylines ranging from Time Travelers to Strange and Wild Creatures.
Arms & Armor: Medieval and Renaissance
The Art Institute is home to a collection of intricately designed armor spanning several centuries from France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Collecting paintings, sculpture and photography from 1945 to the present, this collection is comprised of over 1,000 works of art by such modern masters as Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and more.
With 400+ pieces of art ranging from masks to beadwork and textiles, the art and artistry of the African continent is highlighted. The AIC’s collection of African ceramics is the largest of its kind in America.
Ancient & Byzantine Art
This enormous collection of 5,000 works including sculptures, mosaics, jewelry, coins, and more features 4,000 years of enthralling ancient art from Egypt, Byzantine, Greece and Rome.
Art Institute of Chicago Parking and Transportation
Art Institute of Chicago is located just one block east of the Loop and is easily accessible via public transportation. If you choose to drive, valet service is available at the Modern Wing entrance for a fee of $28 due at drop-off; bear in mind that payment is cash only, and rates and availability are subject to change during citywide events. There are multiple public garages located around the museum as well, including Millennium Park Garage and Grant Park North Garage, both of which offer accessible parking.
The Art Institute is committed to making its programs and services accessible to everyone. The museum is wheelchair accessible, and manual chairs are available at the checkrooms free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis.
Audio guides compatible with t-coil hearing induction loops are free for visually impaired visitors and their escorts. Sign language and sighted guide tours are also available with prior arrangement.
The Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery and handheld TacTiles Kits offer low-vision visitors a means of experiencing art through touch. To ensure that accommodations can be met on the day of your visit, review the accessibility portion of the Art Institute’s website.
Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago with Children
For those with little ones, be aware that backpacks and backpack style baby carriers are not permitted. The museum is stroller accessible, however, and offers free stroller rentals on a first-come, first-served basis. Bulky bags (every parent has one, right?) can be checked for just $1, and courtesy bags are available to carry essentials and valuables.
Dining at the Art Institute of Chicago
While there is no shortage of places to eat on and around Michigan Avenue, the museum offers a variety of dining options within the building.
- Make reservations to enjoy a refined dish at Terzo Piano, headed by award-winning chef Tony Mantuano, or opt for quick-order options by the same chefs at Caffè Moderno.
- Families with young children may want to check out the Museum Café, whose kids menu is rooted in the sure-to-please classics (think peanut butter and jelly and chicken fingers).
- The Museum Café also extends seating into the courtyard during warm weather.
Before Your Visit
Because the Art Institute is a dynamic institution, one of the best ways to ensure that your visit meets your expectations is to do some quick research on the current museum happenings before your visit. Look into collection updates to see what’s new and what’s currently off view, explore current exhibitions, and visit the calendar to check for special programs, talks and tours that might be of interest to you or your group.