Whether you’re just visiting or you’re a local pondering how to spend a day off, you’d be remiss if you didn’t dig into Chicago’s museums. We’ve got a world-class museum scene—while the Art Institute makes us an international destination, our science, history and nature institutions make up some of the best attractions in Chicago. From Hyde Park to Pilsen to the Loop, these are the ten best museums in Chicago.
Oh, and, while you’re at it, make sure you take advantage of free museum days. Talk about a no-brainer.
The best Chicago museums
If you’re into exhibits loaded with interactive bells and whistles, this expansive Hyde Park locale is your ticket. The museum’s focus is broad, with permanent displays that include the popular mirror maze in the "Numbers in Nature" exhibit, the whiz-bang "Science Storms," plus the old favorites: A restored U-505 German submarine, a simulated coal mine and a vintage diesel-electric train.
You don't have to look any further than Pilsen to find one of the largest Latino cultural organizations in the U.S. Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art and explore its 6,000-piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits, performing arts showcases and educational programming that represents an illustrious Mexican culture.
Though it’s staffed by world-class researchers at the forefront of their field, the museum’s real draw will always be the virtual-reality trips through time and space in the Sky Theater, which features the "highest resolution and quality possible." Themes usually center around the known and unknown universe and how humans have engaged with it throughout history. The recently renovated "Mission Moon" exhibit allows visitors to see the Gemini 12 capsule and learn more about the early days of the space race. For some after-hours fun, check out the monthly Adler After Dark parties.
Not so long ago this vibrant museum was the stodgy ol' Chicago Historical Society, which let you cull through thousands of archived photographs and curio. Well, that library still exists, but joining it are several permanent and temporary exhibits, the largest of which is "Chicago: Crossroads of America," a treasure trove of historical objects, including a chunk of the original Fort Dearborn. Other exhibits include “Sensing Chicago” (kids swarm around the giant Chicago hot dog) and revolving displays that explore the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Not into the cutting edge installations at the Renaissance Society? Art-lovers visiting the University of Chicago have more than one option for seeing art on campus, including the Smart Museum of Art which houses the college's collection of fine art and antiquities. The institution works with art scholars to develop exhibits and public programs that help spread the appreciation of art in all its forms.
From prairie and river ecosystems to the biology of Ice Age–mammals, nature and its conservation, the focus at this Lincoln Park museum situated alongside a lagoon is vast and varied. Hands-on interactive displays on marsh and river ecosystems engage kids, while the thousand fluttering beauties of the 2,700-square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven appeal to all ages.