Chicago museums are among the best in the world - and a perfect choice to start if you are wondering what to see in Chicago. An American metropolis whose reputation as an art loving city has traveled worldwide, Chicago is home to over 70 museums specialized in retracing the history of different scientific, social and artistic fields. From natural history, to cultural centers dedicated to specific Chicago communities, Windy City has a wide range of attractions to offer.
Address: 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637 (Hyde Park)
For residents of Illinois: Chicago Museum of Science and Industry - Free Days
Review:The impressive building that currently houses Chicago Museum of Science and Industry has served along the years as headquarters of different other Chicago museums and cultural centers. Nowadays, this gem of Neo-Classical architecture is home to rich permanent and temporary collections displaying almost 35,000 science, technology and industry related exhibits. One of the museum’s most interesting sections is a plaster mock-up illustrating the way a town’s mainstreet used to look like in the past, with all its shops, restaurants, bakeries and groceries as well as the local movie theatre. Stepping into the U-505 submarine (another unique exhibit this Chicago museum offers) is a facinating experience for kids and grown-ups equally. The Art of the Bicycle exhibition allows the museum’s visitors to picture and better understand how this vehicle evolved during the two centuries that have passed since its invention. All in all, a visit to Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is a fun and educational experience. You should reserve at least half a day for it, but you will have to come back a few times if you want to try all the interactive installations in place.
Address: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605-2496
For residents of Illinois: The Field Museum Chicago Free Days
Review: Housed by an impressive classical building built for a world fair at the beginning of the 20th century, The Field Museum is a real gem among all Chicago museums, deserving at least half a day. During your visit, you will enjoy the museum’s rich thematic collections displaying dinosaur fossils and stuffed animals coming from different eras and witnessing a different stage of natural evolution. Sue the T-Rex makes the Field Museum’s central attraction. The Creatures of Light exhibition will make the young one’s delight as they will have the opportunity to admire the multi-colored blinks and glows of all sorts of insects and animals. The kids will also enjoy the 3D movies conceived especially for them. As an adult, you will be fascinated by the combination of history studies and modern technology in Images of the Afterlife. This section of The Field Museum clearly proves how technological advances can help with the study of ancient civilizations. The CT scans of two Egyptian mummies helped the experts recontstruct the facial appearance these people featured during their lives.
The closest metro station to get to The Field Museum is Roosvelt on the Red Line, but you will have to take into consideration the 15 minutes walk across the park. Entrance ticket prices vary depending on the collections you want to visit and the shows you want to attend. If you are around on the second Monday of each month, you can visit The Field Museum for free.
Address: 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605
Currently the Adler Planetarium doesn't offer free days
Review: The oldest planetarium in the world and one of the most important Chicago museums, Adler Planetarium has its doors open for all astronomy lovers as well as for those willing to discover the wonders of the out of Earth space. Built during the 30s, Adler Planetarium is housed by a magnificent pink marble edifice facing the lake, and whose façade is decorated by zodiac plaques. At its construction time it was a real marvel of the technological field. After undergoing a complete renovation at the end of the 20th century, during which were added two projection rooms and some exhibits rooms, Adler Planetarium has become even more interesting. Nowadays, it functions more as a museum, housing permanent and temporary exhibitions, and featuring a lot of multimedia projections. In front of the building, you can admire Henri Moore’s cast bronze sculpture “Man Enters the Cosmos”.
Address: 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60610 (Gold Coast)
Review: Housed by a charming mansion built in the early 20th century, the International Museum of Surgical Science is a must-see for all those interested in the history and evolution of science in general, and of the medical field in particular. A rather small place, this Chicago museum allows its visitors to picture the way medicine looked like more than half a century ago and to understand how much this area has evolved since 1954. However, this kind of museum is not for eveyone. Therefore, before deciding to visit this hidden gem, you should ask yourself if a historical perspective on the surgical field and medical imagery is one of the things that would interest you. If you are still in doubt, better visit the Museum of Surgical Science on a Tuesday, when the entrance is free of charge.
Address: 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (Hyde Park)
Review: A visit to this Chicago museum is a must for all archaeology and history lovers. Despite what you might thing, the Oriental Institute Museum is not about the cultures of the Far East. Instead, here you will find a rich collection of antique exhibits recovered during different excavation projects in the Middle East: Egyptian mummies, Persian artifacts, Babylonian items, antique pieces of jewelry and even a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The entrance to the Oriental Institute Museum is free of charge, but you can donate a few dollars to support the museum. You will have to pay $5, though, if you want to rent an audio guide. This insignificant amount of money is totally worth spending as the guide provides visitors with detailed explanations on the museum’s exhibits. A truly hidden gem, this small sized museum located inside the University of Chicago campus makes a fascinating discovery and a great way of spending 2-3 hours of your Chicago vacation.
Address: 4325 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60613
Review: A passionate of architectural history, Stuart Granned succeeded to gather during his career an impressive collection of artifacts recuperated from Windy City’s past landmarks (important edifices and regular residential buildings equally). One of the off the beaten path Chicago museums, Architectural Artifacts, Inc. makes a fascinating discovery for all those willing to relive long gone ages and to visualize the atmosphere of a home in the past centuries Chicago. From door handles to fireplace mantles, the range of architectural artifacts on display in this museum’s hall is really impressive. Besides, if you are into vintage interior design, you can find some valuable games in the adjacent store. The Atrium Events hall is often home to weddings and other private and corporate events. This is actually how many of the museum’s visitors discover the priceless landmark hidden in the middle of the city.
Address: 376 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60610
Chicago River Museum - Fee Days
Review: Bridgehouse is one of Chicago museums that are often overlooked by visitors. However, a visit to The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum located in one of the towers ajacent to the Chicago River bridges is an educational experience as well as ascenic one. Here you will learn all sorts of interesting bits about the engineering techniques used to build the bridges on the iconic Chicago River as well as about the reversing of the river’s flowing direction. Besides, while climbing the stairs, you will have the opportunity to get some great views over the river that so much influenced Windy City’s evolution into what it is today. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, you can watch here the process of bridge lifting. These events are the activity peaks for Bridgehouse Museum.
Address: 721 N. Oakley Ave., Chicago, IL 60612 (Northwest Side)
Admission:Donation - $5
Review: Located on West Superior Street, the Ukrainian National Museum opens its doors every day at 11 AM to all those interested in discovering this country’s history and culture. Made up of more than a thousand objects, this Chicago museum’s collections include instruments and tools that were used within Ukrainian traditional folk arts, to cultivate the land or to perform household activities. Besides, the museum’s second floor is home to an impressive collection of coins and stamps sponsored by the Selfreliance Ukrainian American Credit Union. Another interesting room you can visit on the 2nd floor is the one dedicated to Senator Walter Dudycz, as a sign of appreciation for his efforts to obtain funding for a Ukrainian museum in Chicago. The entrance to the Ukrainian National Museum is free of charge, but a $5 donation will be highly appreciated.
Address: 6500 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629 (Southwest Side)
Review: Chicago being home to the largest Lithuanian community outside the country’s borders, there could be no better American city where Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture to be located. No matter if your genealogy tree contains some Lithuanian descendants or not, if you are into history, this is a Chicago landmark with its collections containing artifacts from different periods of the country’s history, newspapers, pictures and other types of documents archives, explanatory mural panels is not to be missed. This Chicago museum’s owner, Mr. Balzekas is often greeting the visitors himself, providing them with detailed and passionate explanations about the exhibits and the long and troubled Lithuanian history. If you are traveling with kids, you will be glad to find out that Balzekas Museum has a even special section dedicated to your young ones.
Address: 5211 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640
Review:Located in Andersonville (one of Windy City’s most charming suburbs), Swedish American Museum makes an interesting discovery for locals and tourists as well. A small sized Chicago museum, it is home to different types of collection that retrace the life of the Swedish community in the States. On the first floor, you will find an art gallery. On the second one, you can make a trip back in time, while admiring rooms decorated in the style of the 18th and 19th century. The upper floor is home to Brunk Children's Museum dedicated to the very young ones. Here they can have fun in a play house while trying their hands at cooking on a historical stove, fishing and even building a tree house. As a museum, you can explore the place in 1-2 hours maximum, but if you are visiting this Chicago landmark with your kids, it’s worth planning to spend here a few hours. They will certainly have a blast.
Address: 984 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 (Northwest Side)
Review: The oldest Chicago museum dedicated to an ethnical group, the Polish Museum of America is a must for all those willing to learn more about the history of an important community of immigrants living in Chicago. Located on Milwaukee Avenue, this fascinating museum includes all sorts of exhibits (old pictures, artifacts, books and documents) related to the Polish community’s past. A very interesting section is the room dedicated to John Paul II, while the Paderewski room (not always open to the public) is worh of larger scale museums. No matter if you are a long time Chicago resident or just visiting Windy City, a visit to the Polish Museum is recommended if you are a history buff.
Address: 610 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605 (The Loop)
Review: Although it's not considered one of the best Chicago museums, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies makes a great discovery for all those interested in Jewish culture and history. Located in a very modern building on Michigan Avenue, Spertus Institute is considered by some less of a museum and closer to a cultural center. Indeed, Spertus Institute offers a wide range of cultural services including a library, theatre performances, movie watching events and lectures. The award winning edifice that houses this Chicago Institute of Jewish Studies impresses by its façade for whose construction 726 sheets of glass bearing 556 different shapes were used. While visiting the museum, take the time to admire the panoramic views over Grant Park and Lake Michigan that you can get from the upper floors of the building.
Address: 333 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60661
No free days
Review: A Chicago museum that opened its doors to the public in December 2001, the National Hellenic Museum is still in its early days, and its collections need a lot of improvement before it can satisfy all its visitors. However, this landmark located in the heart of Chicago’s Greek Town is worth a visit if you want get informed on the story of one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Displayed on two floors, the National Hellenic Museum’s collections include different types of exhibits like ceramic pots, metal tools, pieces of jewelry and old books. The museums functions also as a cultural center, providing the Greek American community with different types of services like Greek language lessons and cultural events. If you are traveling with kids, or if you are a Chicago family looking for some educational things to do, a visit to the National Hellenic Museum might be a great idea.
Address: 1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Formerly the Chicago Historical Society) (Gold Coast)
Go Chicago Card
Chicago History Museum is the place to go if you want to feel like traveling back in time and to find out lots of interesting bits about the city's past. The permanent exhibition - Chicago: Crossroads of America - will take you through the city's walks of life at different points in time: the fur trade Chicago was famous for during the first 3 decades of the 19th century, the Great Fire that devastated Second City in 1871, gangsters' era with Al Capone as central figure, etc.
A must-visit if you want to get an insight into the Windy City's life and understand how Chicago became the metropolis it is nowadays, this is also one of the most family-friendly Chicago history museums. Kids will be entertained by fascinating stories about famous landmarks (bridges, sky-scrapers, historical buildings, etc.), will engage into all sorts of activities like preparing hot dogs, catching fly balls, riding a bike on a wood-paved alley. Girls will certainly enjoy exploring the fashion of the 60s through Ebony Fashion Fair.
Address: 800 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60622 (University Village / Little Italy)
A highly educated and very influential woman, Jane Addams was one of the settlement movement's pioneers. One of the ideals she militated for was broadening the gap between the rich and the poor, but she also got involved into the fight for women's and immigrants' rights. In 1856 she established the Hull House which played the role of a nursery and a kindergarten center for children whose mothers had to go out to work, of unofficial unemployment office as well as of cultural and educational center.
Located in the heart of a residential area inhabited by immigrants of different European origins (Italians, Irish, Poles, Russians, Greeks and Germans), Jane Addams' Hull-House Museum is the place to visit if you are interested in the evolution of social work in the USA and if you want to find out how the immigrants coming from various ethnical backgrounds contributed to the American culture. One of the most interesting Chicago history museums, Jane Addams' Hull-House remains till today a venue for cultural events (lectures, concerts, philosophical debates, film screenings, etc.).
Address: 5358 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
A gold mine for all those interested to find out less known yet fascinating facts about the area's past, Edgewater is one of Chicago history museums worth visiting at leisure. Take the time to listen to the guides' stories if you want to fill your suitcase with juicy stories about contemporary politicians or famous gangsters who were once lived in this northern neighbourhood of downtown Chicago.
Operated by an intellectual community founded in 1988, Edgewater Historical Society Museum has a permanent exhibition that includes documents, photographs, and objects of various kinds. A special corner is dedicated to Edgewater Beach Hotel - a legendary landmark in Chicago demolished almost half a century ago. Temporary exhibitions and tours focus on specific aspects of the area's past: criminality, fashion, ethnicity, etc.
Address: 225 Greenwood St Evanston, IL 60201
Admission: from $5
A historical building dating from the end of the 19th century, Charles Gates Dawes House is one of the most impressive Chicago history museums by itself. This mansion's general appearance and architectural details bear a striking resemblance with Loire Valley castles. Once inhabited by Charles Gates Dawes (a former American Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner), this beautiful mansion has rich interiors decorated with original Renaissance pieces of furniture.
Evanston History Center (formerly known as Evanston Historical Society) organizes upon appointment group tours of Charles Gates Dawes House as well as walking tours that allows tourists and locals to admire houses built by famous architects and to get an insight into Evanston's past.
Address: 1800 South Prairie Ave, Chicago, IL 60616 (Near South Side)
Admission: from $10, free on Wednesdays
An open plan building with a very simple facade, Glessner House is one of Chicago history museums that plunges visitors into 19th century America, recreating the atmosphere by means of architectural and interior decoration details. Erected between 1885 and 1887 according to the famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson's revolutionary design, Glessner House was conceived as home for John Glessner's family.
While touring Glessner House Museum, you can admire the sumptuous Dining Room where the agricultural tools manufacturer and his wife, Frances Macbeth, used to entertain their guests, their Master Bedroom and bathroom, the servants' rooms, the kitchen as well as the interior courtyard. The interior design in most of the rooms bears William Morris' signature. Glessner House Museum teaches visitors a valuable history lesson and provides them with an insight into the private life of a rich American industrialist at the end of the 19th century.
Address: 6418 N Greenview Ave, Chicago, IL 60626
Admission: from $10
A hidden gem among Chicago history museums, LA&M has on display artifacts, as well as works of art depicting the leather community's evolution. The Leather Archives and Museum is certainly not a place for bashful visitors given the abundance of sexuality related exhibits. Some would argue it is not a kids friendly venue either unless you are ready to answer questions about fetishism practices and sado-masochist sexual inclinations.
Those interested in the leather movement's history will find the documents and photos displayed in the Leather History Timeline section extremely useful. For the same type of visitors LA&M has included among its walls a resourceful library. A special corner is dedicated to Fakir Musafar - the founder of the modern primitive movement. The forms of alternative feminine sexuality are explored in-depth throughout The Leather Archives and Museum's collections.
Address: 230 South LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60604-1413, inside Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
It is a well known thing that money talks to all ages. The same is true about Money Museum - one of the best Chicago history museums to visit with your entire family. Adults can learn here useful things about the evolution of currency as a concept, about inflation rate and many other financial topics. Kids will have a blast playing with money, making their own dollar bills and having themselves photographed while holding 1 million dollars in their hands. Moreover, everyone can have all these pictures sent over by email and upon leaving you can take away a souvenir - a bag with over $300. Don't fantasize, the bills are shredded.
Address: 360 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60610 (Near North Side)
Admission: from $12
The Museum of Broadcast Communications has the merit of being the only place in the USA where you can find a Hall of Fame Gallery dedicated to radio personalities. Besides, a visit of the MBC is a plunge back in time in the history of television. Television buffs will enjoy the exhibits pertaining to old TV shows like Garfield Goose or I Love Lucy. A picture in front of Oprah's original doors will be a great souvenir. A different landmark among Chicago history museums, the MBC is very entertaining as you can try your hands at being a news presenter.
Address: 40 E. Erie St., Chicago, IL 60611 (Near North Side)
Admission: from $20
Housed by an impressive building dating from the Gilded Age, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum is one of Chicago history museums you should not miss, especially if you are interested in architecture and interior design. The remarkably preserved and renovated mansion with its sumptuous and heavily decorated interiors plunges visitors into the life of the wealthy Americans at the 19th century. Once the residence of Samuel Mayo Nickerson (banker, industrialist and trader), this building has a long history and was many times threatened with demolition. In 2003, it became the Richard H. Driehaus Museum due to the contemporary businessman and philanthropist's efforts and to his investments in the renovation works.
Address: 740 East 56th Place, Chicago, IL (Southwest Side)
Review: Focusing entirely on the Afro-American community’s history, this cultural center is unique among all Chicago history museums. Situated in the Hyde Park region, Du Sable Museum of African American History has its doors are open to anyone willing to get informed on this community’s culture, art and history. Founded by Dr. Margaret Burroughs, this small sized, but very interesting museum first functioned in her own home. The name this African American history museum bears takes after the first Afro American settler of Chicago, in whose honor the institute was created. The highlight of any visit to Du Sable Museum are the collection focusing on Harold Washington (the first member of the Afro-American community to have been elected mayor in Chicago).
Address: 104 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
Review: Located on Michigan Avenue, Pritzker Military Library is an often overlooked gem that reunites interesting collections of various kinds related to the history of the military field. An interesting Chicago history museum to visit if you want to understand more about military conflicts and about the role the Armed Forces play withing the contemporary American society, this institution also functions as a library, being the only one in America that focuses on army related documents. Despite Pritzker Millitary Library’s obvious value, you have to take into consideration some downsides: the museum’s collections might seem to eclectic for your taste, while if you want to use its information center, the hall might seem really small and crowded.