City Guide / Chicago

A Local’s Guide to the 15 Best Museums in Chicago

By Kailey Hansen | Aug 30, 2022
The lion statue at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the best museums in Chicago.

Chicago is more than just brunch and baseball—it’s also the place to encounter a 40-foot-long T. rex and some of the most famous paintings in the world. The Chicagoland area is home to over 60 museums, celebrating different traditions, showcasing art, and even shedding light on the technology of the future.

The museum scene in Chicago is one of the best, which is only fitting for a city so in tune with arts and culture. Whether you want to take a gander at a Picasso painting at the Art Institute or learn about conservation at the Shedd Aquarium, there’s an activity calling your name here.

While tickets are required for many of the larger museums downtown (a CityPASS might be worth your while if you’re planning to visit multiple), others offer free admission.

Whether it’s art, history, or sports that strike your fancy, these 15 fantastic Chicago museums have something for everyone:

The best art museums in Chicago

Chicago Art Institute entrance and lion sculpture

1. The Art Institute of Chicago

Ranked as one of Trip Advisor’s top attractions in 2022, the Art Institute of Chicago remains a beloved staple of the Windy City. Visiting this hotspot will give you the full Chicago experience, as it’s located downtown in one of the most popular areas, The Loop. The Art Institute is surrounded by other notable sightseeing opportunities, such as Grant Park, Cloud Gate (colloquially known as “The Bean”), The Symphony Center, and the theater district.

This must-visit art museum has become a world-renowned haven for art lovers. Though its exhibitions house items from across the globe, the Art Institute prides itself on its massive collection of 19th-century French impressionism artwork. There are also exhibits dedicated to Asian culture and ancient Rome—just to start!

Believe it or not, you might be familiar with this art museum already, as it’s one of the many famous movie spots you can find in Chicago. It features Georges Seurat’s iconic “Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte”, which appears in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when Ferris’ friend Cameron becomes enthralled by this painting. Other notable paintings to see in its galleries include “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, “The Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso, and “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet.

Admission is $25 for adults, $19 for seniors (65+), students, and teens, and free for children age 13 and under.

Tips From a Landing Member

“This museum is far more than just a scene in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (although I do recommend recreating your Ferris Bueller moment in front of “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”). Block off a rainy or extra-hot summer day to wander the museum.”

— Becca, “Tales of a Digital Nomad: How I Spent the Summer Living in Chicago

2. Museum of Contemporary Art

Located in the heart of Downtown Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art is surrounded by fine dining, upscale shopping, and some of Chi Town’s most impressive architecture. While you’re in the area, get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center or shop till you drop at Water Tower Place.

MCA’s wide range of artwork spans from photography to pop art to minimalism. In its contemporary art exhibitions, you will find avant-garde, experimental exhibits that utilize all forms of media—visual, music, and even performance! As you stroll through this art museum, catch a glimpse of Andy Warhol’s “Jackie Frieze” and Jeff Koons’ sculpture, “Rabbit.” This museum features some of the best artwork from current creators, which means you’re sure to leave your visit with a new favorite artist in mind. The MCA also offers workshops and classes.

Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for seniors, students, and teachers, and free for youth age 18 and under.

3. National Museum of Mexican Art

Just outside Downtown Chicago lies the Pilsen neighborhood, a mecca for delicious, Mexican-inspired eats. The neighborhood boasts an array of great food options, which means your trip to this museum is a crime without grabbing a bite from a local joint.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is an amazing and powerful way to learn about Mexican history and culture. The museum features textile art, artifacts, paintings, photography, sculptures, and visual performance, with over 3,600 years of history spanning its diverse exhibits.

Wander through a special Frida Kahlo collection, view artwork by Chicago-based illustrator and muralist Carlos Cortéz, or learn about the Day of the Dead during the museum’s seasonal experience in October. Those looking to dive deeper into the museum’s exhibitions can book a guided tour, available year-round.

Admission to the NMMA is always free!

4. Museum of Contemporary Photography

Just blocks from the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Photography is located at Grant Park in Downtown Chicago. On a day with good weather, pair this museum visit with a trip to see the gorgeous Buckingham Fountain.

Founded by Columbia College Chicago, the MoCP features over 16,500 pieces of photography from over 1,500 artists. A highlight is the “Changing Chicago” exhibit, which features images taken by 33 photographers capturing the everyday existence of city and suburban locals in 1987.

You’ll also find work by photographers who changed the course of the industry, such as Dorothea Lange, famous for her photos during the Great Depression.

Admission to the MOCP is free, but online reservations are encouraged.

The best history museums in Chicago

Field Museum

5. The Field Museum of Natural History

Located in the Downtown Chicago’s’Museum Campus, where visitors can easily hop from one cultural landmark to the next, the Field Museum remains one of the busiest and most popular museums in the city. Explore natural history in all forms as you venture through ancient Egypt, a hall of gems, a collection of dinosaur fossils, and plenty more artifacts.

Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by the Field Museum’s leading lady, Sue, a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex, with nearly 90% of her bones preserved and intact. From here, dive into the history of meteorites, discover plants from across the globe, and learn about the Pokagon Potawatomi people who used to inhabit the land we know as Chicago.

General admission for Field Museum visitors is $29, with upgraded experiences available for $36 or $48 (all-access pass).

6. Chicago History Museum

Nestled amid Chicago’s charming Lincoln Park neighborhood, this museum is a must for those wanting to learn more about the Windy City. The Chicago History Museum is situated near the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, endless boutique shopping, and a plethora of excellent brunch spots!

Learn about pivotal moments in Chicago history with historical exhibits, a fashion collection, and even a section dedicated to local food (yes, you’ll leave with a wealth of knowledge regarding the Chicago-style hot dog!) Visit “City on Fire: Chicago 1871,” which chronicles the events leading up to the Great Chicago Fire, and “Chicago: Crossroads of America,” an interactive experience with a jazz club and old-school public transit car.

Admission is $19 for adults, $17 for seniors and students, and free for Illinois residents under age 18 or non-Illinois residents under age 12. All veterans and active duty military receive free admission.

The best science museums in Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

7. The Museum of Science and Industry

Situated in the Hyde Park neighborhood, just seven miles from Downtown Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry is the “largest science center in the Western Hemisphere.” This expansive museum boasts 14 acres of wonder, including a gallery of airplanes, a wartime submarine, an exhibit on Black architecture, and a baby chick hatchery. It’s also home to a towering 40-foot makeshift tornado!

If you aren’t into science, think twice about writing off this museum. There is something for everyone, with exhibits ranging from transportation mechanics to farming technology. Enjoy a stroll down “Yesterday’s Main Street,” reminiscent of the 1900s, walk through a recreation of a coal mine, or visit a space center to learn about the future of space exploration.

General admission is $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children ages 3–11. Visitors can pay extra for access to special exhibits.

8. Adler Planetarium

Located in Downtown Chicago’s Museum Campus, the Adler Planetarium neighbors Northerly Island, a peninsula on the coast of Lake Michigan. It’s a gorgeous spot for sightseeing the lake or catching a concert at the outdoor Huntington Bank Pavilion.

A visit to the Planetarium brings outer space a little closer to home with exhibits that are truly out of this world. Learn about astronomy and the science behind cosmos, stars, and other galactic mysteries, or experience a unique look at the sky with Chicagoland’s largest public telescope.

This piece of high-tech machinery captures over 7,000 times the light capable by the human eye, making it possible to view objects trillions of miles away. Wednesdays nights are the real deal—the Planetarium stays open late until 10 p.m., meaning it’s the perfect time to head to the Doane Observatory for stargazing.

Admission is $19 for adults and $8 for children ages 3–11. Access to an Adler Planetarium Sky Show is available at an additional cost.

The best children’s museums in Chicago


9. Chicago Children’s Museum

Enjoy Chicago’s lakefront with a visit to Navy Pier, one of the most popular attractions in the city. This 3,300-foot pier is home to various restaurants, a beer garden, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a massive Ferris wheel, and the Chicago Children’s Museum!

For kids, a day at the Children’s Museum means endless possibilities. Climb the Cloud Buster, a 37-foot-tall explorative structure, captain your own boat as you set sail for an imaginary Lake Michigan, create a masterpiece in the art studio, or drive a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus in Kids Town.

Families will also come face-to-face with a life-size suchomimus dinosaur, and little paleontologists can live out this hype by digging for fossils.

Admission to the Chicago Children’s Museum is $19 per person (children and adults).

The best cultural museums in ChicagoThe colorful, artistic, entrance sign as your enter into Chinatown in Chicago, Illinois.

10. Chinese-American Museum of Chicago

A visit to Chicago’s Chinatown is a must. Check out Chinatown Square, a multi-level outdoor mall with the best Asian eats (and live performances on certain dates), catch a glimpse of the Nine Dragon Wall mural (a replica of artwork in Beijing), and visit the neighborhood’s beautiful library with a feng-shui inspired layout.

It’s also worth a visit to the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, where guests can explore exhibits like “Great Wall to Great Lakes: Chinese Immigration to the Midwest,” which chronicles the story of families venturing to America from China. In addition, the museum’s “My Chinatown: Stories from Within” features real stories from Chinese-American Chicagoans. As the only one of its kind, a visit to this museum is well worth your while.

The suggested donation for admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

11. DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center

Seven miles from Downtown Chicago is the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, located in the neighborhood of Washington Park. Established in 1961, this museum has long been celebrating Black culture and history with its expansive collection of over 15,000 artifacts. Learn about rich tradition, past and present, with an array of unique exhibits and educational programming all year round.

On your journey through the DuSable Museum, you’ll discover the story of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor elected in 1983, and view artwork by South Side native Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs. The DuSable Museum’s special events range from jazz concerts to film screenings.

Admission is $14.50 for adults, $5 for children (ages 6–11), and $11 for seniors and students. Children under age 6 can visit for free.

The best museums in Chicago: Honorable mentions

A beautiful shot of Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

12. Shedd Aquarium

This isn’t the sort of aquarium where you see a couple of jellyfish and call it a day—the Shedd does it big! Located on the Museum Campus in Downtown Chicago, guests can expect to spend a good chunk of their day at this aquatic institution.

Learn about different types of underwater ecosystems, from the Caribbean reef to the Amazon rainforest and the Great Lakes. In addition to seeing the amazing creatures that call the Shedd their home (penguins and dolphins, to name a few!), guests will also have the chance to learn about ocean conservation and animal rescue. Guided encounters—such as feeding a stingray or meeting a beluga whale—are available at an additional cost.

General admission is $39.95 for adults and $29.95 for children aged 11 and under.

13. Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio

Located just outside of Chicago lies the vibrant suburb of Oak Park. This charming area is so close to the city that it’s easily accessible by public transit, including Metra and L trains. In addition to its urban vibes and close proximity to Downtown Chicago, Oak Park is most known for being home to beautiful architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Choose your style when it comes to planning the Wright experience. Guided tours through Wright’s Home & Studio explore his life and work. Outdoor tours are also available (as a standalone experience or added on to your Home & Studio tour), allowing guests to see historic architecture throughout the neighborhood.

Prices vary depending on the type of tour you choose at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio experience.

14. Chicago Botanic Gardens

Immerse yourself in an outdoor museum just 30 minutes outside of Downtown Chicago. The Chicago Botanic Gardens, located in the suburb of Glencoe, span over 300 acres of land with 27 peaceful gardens.

Learn about plant species, horticulture, and the science of conservation as you stroll through an English garden, Japanese garden, rose garden, native prairie plant garden, and more. The Chicago Botanic Gardens also hosts fun year-round events, including fitness classes, live music, and guided bird walks!

Ticket prices vary depending on the day and can be found here.

15. Chicago Sports Museum

Sports fans will have a field day (pun intended!) at the Chicago Sports Museum, located along the Magnificient Mile, one of the largest main streets in Chicago. The “Mag Mile” is Downtown Chicago’s historic shopping district, which includes the Water Tower Place mall, where this not-so-hidden gem resides. If you’re hungry for a bite to eat, snag a resi at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch, the partnering restaurant that provides good food and complimentary museum tickets with the purchase of a meal.

In the wake of the Chicago Cubs’ unforgettable World Series win in 2016, this museum proudly showcases the city’s “largest collection of 2016 World Series memorabilia,” including Kris Bryant’s cleats and Addison Russell’s Game 6 grand slam ball.

Check out the interactive “Measure Up” exhibit to see how you measure up with famous Chicago athletes like Scottie Pippin, dive into sports-related mysteries with the “Forensic Sports” exhibit, and learn about curses and superstitions behind some of Chicago’s most beloved teams.

Admission is free with a valid purchase from Harry Caray’s, or $10 for adults, $8 for college students, and $6 for seniors and children (ages 4–11). Admission is always free for children aged 3 and under.

Thinking about moving to Chicago?

If you’re looking to spend an extended amount of time in the Windy City to explore these Chicago museums at your own pace, experience all the Windy City has to offer with a Landing membership. Members enjoy flexible leases and fully furnished apartments in some of the most vibrant and exciting cities across the country. Browse Landing’s available apartments in Chicago, IL, today!

Looking for other ideas to make the most out of your time in Chicago? Read about Landing member Becca’s experience spending the summer in the Windy City!

Kailey Hansen

Kailey Hansen is a freelance writer and communications professional based in the land of deep-dish pizza. She has lived in both the city and the suburbs of Chicago and enjoys writing about the amazing things the Windy City has to offer. When she's not dishing about the best places to grab a slice of deep-dish, you can find her writing (and obsessing) about binge-worthy TV shows for BuzzFeed and why cats are the best (and absolutely outlandish creatures) for Rover's blog, The Dog People.