Chicago’s mega museums attract millions of visitors every year to admire the world’s largest dinosaur, the most impressionistic paintings outside of France and other superlatives.
They are joined by several smaller places with local, provocative and sometimes free collections that amaze just as much.
Here are the 10 best museums in the city. Note that many places are closed on Monday, Tuesday and/or Wednesday.
Art Institute of Chicago: Best for Endless Masterpieces
The second largest art museum in the United States is packed with attractions. Edward Hopper is alone nightjars and Grant Wood’s american gothic star in side-by-side galleries. A few corridors, Georges Seurat A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte hangs near heaps of Monet and Renoir in swirling colors.
It takes a while to peruse the Impressionist paintings – there are more here than anywhere else in France – but armor, miniature dollhouse-like rooms and a modern wing of Warhols and Picassos await you beyond. .
Tickets must be reserved in advance. Download the free app for DIY audio tours through the treasury.
Museum of Science and Industry: ideal for curious minds
The Museum of Science and Industry does not mess around with its hectares of exhibits. There’s a WWII German U-boat to climb aboard and feel its cramped quarters, and a fake tornado to ward off and feel its swirling fury.
The life-size coal mine shaft, Apollo 8 lunar module, a maze of mirrors, and infamous body slices (corpses displayed in half-inch-thick pieces) also stimulate curious minds. It’s the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, so plan to have your brains bent for several hours.
Then, explore the historic grounds of surrounding Jackson Park.
DuSable Museum: Best for Black History
The tiny Smithsonian-affiliated DuSable Museum is overlooked among Chicago’s collections, and that’s a shame because it has a powerful story to share. Learn about the experiences of African Americans, from slavery to the civil rights movement, and about race relations in the city.
Then see what high-tech exhibits are here, like a virtual reality immersion into the 1963 March on Washington. Advance reservations are required.
Outside, the museum’s sculpture garden opens onto the sprawling Washington Park.
National Museum of Mexican Art: Best Freebie
Located in the bustling district of Pilsen, the Museum of Mexican Art is the most important center of Latinx art in the country. And it’s 100% free. Wander through the collection to see skeleton-rich folk art, psychedelic paintings, colorful beads, and politically charged pieces.
Then exit to continue the visual blitz. Murals of praying virgins, Frida Kahlo, Aztec serpents and more burst onto community buildings, turning local streets into an improvised outdoor gallery that will overload your eyeballs. It is an ideal destination for small budgets. Lots of modest taquerias in the neighborhood mean you can eat here on the cheap too.
Chicago History Museum: Best for Local Knowledge
Did a cow really start the Great Fire? How did Al Capone make alcohol? Who invented the electric blues? The Chicago History Museum has the answers. It tells the story of the town via multimedia screens and particular artifacts, such as the bell carried by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow (the aforementioned alleged fire starter).
Major exhibits cover Chicago as a center of workers’ rights and public protest, and as Abraham Lincoln’s second home when he came to power (don’t miss his deathbed).
If you arrive after hours, hop on the Jaffee History Trail. The short interpretive path behind the museum has eight stops that describe Chicago’s indigenous past and other topics.
Field Museum of Natural History: Best for Dinosaurs
The Chicago Hall of Natural History is home to many wonders – mummies, gemstones, totem poles and 500-pound stuffed lions, to start. The world’s largest dinosaur, a Titanosaur named Máximo, lives in the lobby. Feel free to pose for a selfie with him even though you might struggle to fit him into the frame.
Meanwhile, Sue the T. rex and her toothy companions threaten the second-floor galleries, where sensor stations let you experience the sound and smell of the towering creatures. Cannibal pitchforks and meteorites also have their place among the museum’s 40 million artifacts.
Chicago Children’s Museum: Best for Kids
Young people go wild in the buzzing, loud and colorful Chicago Children’s Museum. Interactive exhibits like Dinosaur Expedition (where kids dig “bones”) prove irresistible for those under 10. Cloud Buster’s 37-foot-tall steel, wood, and rope structure appeals to daredevil climbers, while Tinkering Lab’s real hammers, nails, and other tools appeal to budding builders.
Bonus: The museum is located on Navy Pier, a half-mile-long wharf-turned-carnival with a Ferris wheel, carousel, funhouse maze, and splashing fountain among its many entertainments, so you can enjoy it. make a day.
Museum of Contemporary Photography: ideal for a quick visit
It’s easy to swing into this small downtown museum, part of Columbia College Chicago, and see what the rotating permanent collection is showing. You might see works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Harry Callahan, Sally Mann, Ai Weiwei, Robert Capa, or any of 1500 other top contemporary photographers in the hideout. The provocative exhibits change quarterly and cover topics ranging from democracy to gun violence to global migration. It’s free and takes about half an hour to view.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio: the best for genius design
For the first 20 years of his career, architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in the suburb of Oak Park, a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago. The home and studio where he developed the Prairie style have been preserved, and fans from around the world come to visit and admire its dramatic horizontal lines, art glass windows and exquisite wood decor.
Wright also designed many of his neighbors’ homes, so you can walk around and admire more of his work. Buy a map from the museum shop or book one of the neighborhood walks.
Chicago Architecture Center: ideal for fans of skyscrapers
Chicago is where the world’s first skyscraper arose, and the Architecture Center has the secrets. The galleries include a cool interactive model of the city’s famous skyline, as well as oversized models of tall buildings from around the world and information about the technologies used to raise them.
The center’s popular boat tours depart from the docks just outside; book one and you’ll also get a discount on museum admission.