First Time Visitor’s Guide to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry
Remember when proving a point required research at a library? Now, modern technology and the world wide web give you the power to settle debates in seconds. Yet, for all of the power of the internet, there are still many things that search engines can’t tell you. Some things you just have to see for yourself. At the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, curiosity and the thirst for knowledge inspire innovation. The exhibits encourage questions and spark conversation by immersing you in the technological, scientific and industrial achievements that have changed our world and continue to help it to evolve.
It’s almost not accurate to call it a museum. Gone are the days of dusty exhibits of the past—the Museum of Science and Industry has ushered in bold new interactive exhibits brimming with excitement more fitting of the 21st century. As one of the top things to do in Chicago, many claim that you simply can’t visit Chicago without visiting MSI. So, what’s a must-see at the museum?
The Coal Mine is museum’s very first exhibit and has been a favorite since its inception way back in 1933 (and is still raved about!). Here, you can descend the mine shaft into a coal miner’s world to learn about the machinery and mining methods that have changed over the years.
Take a tour of Old Ben No. 17, a real mine relocated from southern Illinois, and learn about the evolution of mining technology, from the pickaxe to longwall machines. This (quite literally) immersive exhibit will give you the perspective of a miner, allowing you to dig deeper into the sights and sounds of the coal mine as it was in 1933. By contrast, you’ll also see it as a modern coal mine is today and learn about the dangers and engineering feats that went into harvesting coal -- then and now.
Take a brave leap into the past on the legendary U-505, a World War II German submarine that eluded American and Allied ships for years until she was captured. U-505 was then hidden to convince the Germans that the sub had sunk. It was this subterfuge that, ultimately, helped the Allied forces to win the war. The real U-505 has been a part of the museum since 1954.
If you take the guided on-board tour, you’ll take a deeper dive and learn why this massive submarine was a wartime force to reckon with, and why its capture needed to be kept secret. You’ll also witness U-boat technology first-hand, as well as have a chance to explore the underwater living quarters on this submarine where enemy forces bunked during WWII.
The Whispering Gallery is set up so that you can whisper to a friend or loved one from across the room and they’ll hear it. How does it work? Brass footprints tell you where to stand. For a direct, clean message, whisper directly into the focus point of the curved dish in front of you and hear it for yourself.
The fun (and scientific explanations) doesn’t stop with a whisper that can be heard from an amazing distance, however. Try whispering along different points of the curved walls. Some spots will add an echo. Discover the science of sound and follow the sound waves through the room in this entertaining, interactive exhibit.
Baby Chick Hatchery
One of the most favorite exhibits in the museum, the hatchery in the Genetics exhibit lets you watch real baby chicks hatch out of their shells in real time. While most people focus on how cute the babies are, the chicks help scientists understand genetics, including genetic engineering and preserving the genes of rare chicken breeds. This exhibit is a special favorite of kids.
Science Storms is a bright and colorful exhibit that will drive you to question and explore the natural phenomena of the world. Step into the control booth of a tornado, create a tsunami, or see a 20-foot Tesla coil in this hands-on adventure that details the science behind storms of all sizes, as well as the causes and effects of nature unleashing her fury.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: A Transportation Gallery
Getting from point A to point B hasn’t always been as easy as it is today. See the planes, trains and automobiles of yesteryear and discover the engineering and innovation that came in the wake of advancing technology. Get your heart racing in a flight simulator or hop aboard the 999 Steam Locomotive for a captivating trip through the past. Look up and you’ll see the planes that dotted the sky in the years of early aviation in this exhibit that serves as a timeline of transportation through the years.
Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze
It’s amazing how many patterns exist naturally on this planet, but it’s even more amazing when you get to see them all in one room. At the Numbers in Nature exhibit, you’ll see how math and nature work together to create some of the world’s most beautiful patterns. The mirror maze seems endless with the dizzying pattern, but you can find your way out if you continue to explore and apply your newfound knowledge. Plus, the maze make for a great photo!
While the Museum of Science and Industry has always had future-focused exhibits that draw repeat visitors throughout the years and even decades, it also hosts temporary exhibits made specifically for this time and place. These temporary exhibits draw crowds from all over the world and are particularly fun! While they often come with an extra cost, people generally say they’re worth every penny.
Robot Revolution is one of the Museum of Science and Industry's current temporary exhibits; it explores modern robotics and allows you to get close to the robots of today. Play a spirited game of Blackjack or Tic Tac Toe against a robot, make faces at citizens made of circuitry, and see robot technology up close and personal. The Robot Revolution is a fascinating exhibit for adults and children and is at the museum through February 4th.
Brick by Brick
LEGO lovers will (carefully) jump for joy at the Brick by Brick exhibit, a collection of 13 giant LEGO scale replicas of the world’s greatest engineering and architectural feats. See the intricate LEGO version of the Roman Colosseum and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Want to do more than look? You can also participate in building challenges that will bring out your inner architect, as well as your inner child. This exhibit is on display until January 7th.
Museum of Science and Industry Details
To fully experience the Museum of Science and Industry, it’s best to plan ahead—it’s easy to spend hours here. The museum is open from 9:30am to 4pm daily, and if you check their website, you’ll find that select dates have extended hours. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The Museum of Science and Industry offers discounts for purchasing your tickets online (bonus: you’ll save time in line!). Certain exhibits and activities require an additional cost, including temporary exhibits, the on-board tour of U-505, Coal Mine, WOW! Tour, Giant Dome Theater films, Fab Lab, and Future Energy Chicago. You can reserve your spot in advance online if you want to visit one of these popular exhibits as they sometimes sell out. For special offers, visit the discounts page on the Museum of Science and Industry website. You’ll find a list of free admission days for Illinois residents and additional on-going discounts.
We might be biased, but we believe the best way to see the Museum of Science and Industry and get the best price is with CityPASS. With CityPASS, you’ll save on admission to five of Chicago's best attractions. CityPASS perks at the Museum of Science and Industry include entry to one of the extra ticketed exhibits or a film at the domed five-story MSI Theater, plus a free motion simulator ride.
The Museum of Science and Industry is in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, right next to Lake Michigan, just minutes from downtown. If you’re traveling by car, parking can be a bit pricey at $22 per vehicle. However, the lot is conveniently located at the northwest corner of the building so you can park and head straight into the adventure that awaits you.
If you plan to take public transportation, there are bus routes that will take you one block north or west of the museum, leaving you with just a short walk both ways. The Metra Electric Line has trains running to and from downtown Chicago and stops two blocks from the museum’s north entrance.
Low Sensory Early Exploration
MSI offers Low-Sensory Early Exploration. Low-Sensory Early Exploration are free events where guests can explore featured exhibits in a less crowded and more sensory-friendly environment. Plus, the entire Museum will be altered to be more sensory-friendly until noon! On these days, they offer additional accommodations including a designated quiet space.
Tips and Tricks for a Better Visit
- Head online: To make the most of your visit, plan ahead and scope out as many exhibits as you can online. Since there’s so much to see, it will help you get a feel for which exhibits are must-sees for you and your family and help you to block off enough time to check them out in depth.
- Give yourself time: Previous visitors have mentioned that they wished they had more time to explore. To be sure you have plenty of time to see everything the museum has to offer, especially if this is your first time visiting, try to get to the museum early so you’re not rushing through any of the exhibits.
- Make reservations: Tickets for temporary exhibits and films can sell out. Make reservations for any special shows or exhibits that you really want to see.
- Don’t skip Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor! Located on the main level in Yesterday’s Main Street, getting your favorite flavor in a cone, sundae or shake will give you much needed energy to continue exploring and learning.
- Take a vintage photo: After your ice cream cone and silent movie, take a photo of your experience in 1910 Chicago at the Old Time Photo Studio in Yesterday’s Main Street.
The Museum of Science and Industry has a nearly infinite amount of exhibits to see, sure to bring out a sense of wonder and zest for knowledge in visitors of all ages. However, it’s no wonder why the Museum of Science and Industry is one of the best museums in Chicago. Adults and children will have a great time exploring the museum and its staggering array of exhibits that cover nearly every facet of innovation—past and present—from transportation to agriculture. Show up early, tap into your scientific side, and have fun!