The Coolest Museums in Chicago
To learn more about science, history, art, or anything really, look no further than these local museums.
If all you know about Chicago’s museum scene is that one clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, allow us to educate you. Chicago isn’t just home to some of the best and most prestigious museums in the world, it’s also home to some of the best, smallest, coolest, and most offbeat ones as well. So whether you’re looking to take in paintings by the masters, have some hands-on experiences with science, delve deep into the gory past of surgical procedures, or immerse yourself in Chicago’s own history, we have you covered with all of Chicago’s coolest and best museums.
Adults with an interest in the history of kink, don’t worry, Chicago has you covered too. Founded in 1991, The Leather Museum & Archives is a mainstay in the Chicago museum scene, focusing on fetish, kink, BDSM, queer, and, yes, leather, history. Currently, they're hosting “Queer Love and Desire,” a poetry workshop that meets every Thursday from 5:30 - 7 pm until March 9.
What to know before you go: The museum is open on Thursday and Friday from 11 am - 7 pm, Saturday from 11 am - 5 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm - 5 pm. Admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for students, seniors, and military personnel. Admission is free on Thursdays.
When you think about museums in Chicago, the Art Institute immediately springs to mind. It’s the second-largest art museum in the country, and features two ‘Gram-worthy lion statues at the entrance perfect for selfies. The treasure trove of work inside includes everything from African art to medieval armor to architecture and design. Current and upcoming exhibitions include “Landscape in Light: The Tiffany Window at the Art Institute of Chicago,” “Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
What to know before you go: The Art Institute of Chicago is open 11 am to 5 pm daily (until 8 pm on Thursdays). Admission is $25 for adults, $19 for seniors, students, and teenagers, and free for anyone 13 or younger, with discounts for Chicago and Illinois residents. Admission is free for Illinois residents on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays from January 9 through March 24, 2023.
If the modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago isn’t enough, lovers of modern art can’t miss the Museum of Contemporary Art. In fact, the building itself (home to the MCA since 1996) is a modern marvel and an ode to Chicago in both its nods to famous architects from the Chicago School and in its design, which was inspired by the city’s grid system. Featuring a collection that includes Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and countless more modern art heavy-hitters, the museum will leave you dazzled for hours.
What to know before you go: The Museum of Contemporary Art is open 10 am to 9 pm on Tuesday and 10 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Suggested admission is $15 for adults, $8 for seniors, students and teachers, and free for anyone 18 and younger.
The Pilsen neighborhood in itself is rich with Mexican murals and culture, but the National Museum of Mexican Art holds a 10,000-piece permanent collection by artists from both Mexico and America, offering a 3,000-year overview of works that often go overlooked in the American art world. Enjoy folk art, photography, sculpture, paintings and more, and make a visit here a priority during October for the museum’s Día de los Muertos exhibit, which features altars and other Day of the Dead art.
What to know before you go: The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is always free.
Don’t let the fact that this museum is on the Columbia College Chicago campus discourage you; it is one of the most famous photography museums in the entire Midwest, and it features an impressive collection of works by the likes of Marina Abramovic, Ansel Adams Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn, and countless more. A current highlight is the “Refracting Histories” exhibit, a collective project by eight artists using the form of photography to redirect and reinterpret the status quo.
What to know before you go: The Museum of Contemporary Photography is open 10 am to 5pm Monday-Saturday and noon to 5 pm Sunday. Admission is always free, and there are free resources like docent-led tours and educational guides available on the museum website.
The Design Museum of Chicago, initially planned in 2012 to be a pop-up inside the Block 37 mall, has grown and moved to the Expo 72 building. The museum, which is run largely by young, energetic volunteers, represents a perfect foil to institutions like the Art Institute that have been around for more than 100 years, proving that in Chicago, there’s plenty of room for old and new. Don’t miss their “Free and Open Chicago” exhibit, a celebration of free, public spaces in Chicago where the impact of design is unmistakable.
What to know before you go: The Design Museum of Chicago is open 10 am - 6 pm Tuesday-Saturday and from 10 am - 5 pm on Sunday and Monday. Admission is always free.
While the Chicago Architecture Foundation has been around since the 1960s, the foundation opened the Chicago Architecture Center in 2018 in a prime location overlooking the Chicago River. In addition to the architecture tours CAF has become known for, the center features nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibition space including an interactive Chicago Model and a permanent skyscraper exhibit. Currently, the “City In A Snow Globe” exhibit asks visitors to imagine public lakefront projects that would breathe life into our lakeside areas even in the winter months.
What to know before you go: Admission is $7 for adults, and $5 for children, and is included in the price of all walking, bus, and L tours. The center is open from 10 am - 4 pm from Friday through Monday.
The American Writers Museum is relatively new to the Chicago museum scene, having opened in 2017, but it is already becoming a Chicago institution. Nestled on the second floor of a Michigan Avenue space, the museum takes visitors through the history of countless important American writers, including Ida B. Wells, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, and more. There are even collections on punk zines and a few tables full of typewriters (touching is encouraged here). It's one of the more unique—and tactile—experiences Chicago’s museums have to offer. They also offer a variety of virtual experiences so you can visit the museum from the comfort of your own couch!
What to know before you go: The American Writers Museum is open 10 am to 5 pm Thursday through Monday. Admission is $42 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, and free for children 12 and younger.
Chinatown is a favorite stop among visitors to Chicago, and the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago is a must-see both for tourists and for locals. With a permanent exhibit that tells the story of Chinese immigration to the Midwest, plus rotating exhibits on things like Chinese clothing, art, and more, this museum is sure to teach visitors something new about an important culture that has been rooted in Chicago's community for more than 100 years.
What to know before you go: The Chinese-American Museum of Chicago is open from 9:30 am - 2 pm on Wednesday and Friday, and from 10 am - 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.
The Field Museum is not just one of the biggest and best museums in Chicago—it’s one of the biggest and best natural history museums in the world. This is one of those museums you can spend all day inside, getting lost in the most magical way through three floors and almost 500,000 square feet of exhibition space. And, fun fact: The museum itself came out of one of the most important events in Chicago’s history, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Come here to see everything from dinosaur bones, to Native American pottery, to mummies, and more, and leave with a sense of how the world around you came to be.
What to know before you go: The Field Museum is open 9 am to 5 pm daily. For Chicago residents, basic admission is $18 for adults, with discounts for students, seniors, and children. Check online before you visit—the museum also offers free admission days throughout the year.
Supplement your visit to the Chicago Riverwalk with a visit to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum. Learn how your favorite riverside mimosa spot came to be through a detailed history of the river and its importance to Chicago. If you don’t want to spring for a pricier boat tour, this museum is a great way to experience Chicago’s famous waterway.
What to know before you go: The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum is currently closed for the season, but will reopen in May 2023. Regular hours are Wednesday - Sunday 10 am - 5 pm, with Sundays being pay-what-you-can admission days. Regular admission is $6 for adults, and $5 for seniors, students, and children. Kids under 5 get in free.
The Museum of Science and Industry somehow makes 400,000 square feet seem small when you think about everything they managed to pack inside, including interactive exhibits on weather, transportation, energy, genetics, farming, space, and more. Here you'll about science in a historical sense as well as where the field is heading in the future, and do it all while having an absolute blast, no matter your age. Oh, and don’t worry, the baby chicks will be back in early February.
What to know before you go: The Museum of Science and Industry is open 9:30 am to 4 pm Admission is $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children 3 - 11. Check online before you visit—sometimes the museum offers free days throughout the year for Illinois residents.
The International Museum of Surgical Science is one of the coolest niche museums Chicago has to offer, but, fair warning, if you’re easily icked out, this one might not be for you. This museum is the only one in North America devoted to surgical sciences, featuring exhibits on everything from polio to war wounds to ancient gynecological tools. It may be easy to think of this museum as morbid and scary, but in reality, it offers a deep, necessary, and respectful history of surgical science, which the developed world likely takes for granted today.
What to know before you go: The International Museum of Surgical Science is open 9:30 am to 5 pm Monday - Friday and 10 am to 5 pm Saturday - Sunday. Admission is $19 for adults and $15 for seniors, students, educators and members of the military, $11 for children ages 4 - 13 and free for children 3 and younger. You can also save $1 by booking your ticket online in advance.
Adler Planetarium offers everything you’d expect from a museum dedicated to astronomy, and is in fact, the first planetarium in America. Be sure to keep your Wednesdays open for Adler At Night, where the museum keeps their doors open until 10 pm, with special sky shows and hands-on activities perfect for date night. Better yet? Admission is free for Illinois residents on Wednesdays.
What to know before you go: Tickets must be purchased online prior to your visit, and are $19 for adults and $8 for children. Adler Planetarium is open 9 am to 4 pm daily, but is closed to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Named for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian who is credited for establishing Chicago in 1779, the DuSable Museum of African-American History celebrates African-American history, culture, and art through world-class exhibits and programming, including permanent exhibits highlighting African-Americans in the military and telling the story of the African-American experience, from the Transatlantic Slave Trade through Reconstruction, the Great Migration, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, and the US’s first black president.
What to know before you go: The DuSable Museum of African-American History is open 11am-4pm Wednesday through Sunday. For Chicago residents, admission is $12.50 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, $4 for children ages 6 - 11 and free for children 5 and younger. Be sure to check online for discounts and free admission days.
Chicago is known as a great place for professional sports, from the legendary Jordan Bulls to the lovable losers who are even more lovable when they win the World Series. The Chicago Sports Museum is a must-see for any sports fan, featuring fun challenges and simulations like testing your leap against Michael Jordan’s or your grip against Kyle Long’s. The museum also features a forensics section where you can examine things like the evolution of a baseball’s construction over time. And, of course, there’s plenty of sweet game-used memorabilia sure to make any sports fan drool.
What to know before you go: The Chicago Sports Museum is open 11:30 am to 7 pm Monday - Thursday, 11:30 am - 8 pm on Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 6 pm on Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and children ages 4 - 11, and free for children 3 and younger.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications is one of the quirkier museums Chicago has to offer. It features exhibits you might expect, like the one on Saturday Night Live. But it also makes room for Chicago hero Svengoolie, whom you must learn all about to make any trip to the city complete. Though the museum first opened its doors in 1987, it has only been at its current (and largest) location since 2012, making now a better time than ever to experience this Chicago gem.
What to know before you go: The Museum of Broadcast Communications is open from 10 am - 5 pm from Thursday to Sunday. Admission is $14 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.
Jane Addams was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Hull-House Museum celebrates the social change she and her colleagues made in this very space in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Addams founded the Hull House as a social settlement for changemakers. The work that came out of the house includes initiatives for immigrants and juveniles.
What to know before you go: The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum is open 9:10 am to 4:50 pm Tuesday - Friday. Admission is a $5 suggested donation.
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