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14 Best Museums in Chicago

Are you ready to be engulfed by culture? Then Chicago is the place. Not only is this megalopolis one of the most exciting cities in the world, it is also home to a fantastic collection of museums. From high-tech architectural shrines to superb painting collections, rich immigration history, and natural wonders, the city has many wonderful things to offer. Definitely not a destination for a quick layover, Chi-town is for unhurried exploration. Few other places in the world rival it in terms of its cultural possibilities. Here are the absolute best museums to visit in Chicago.

Field Museum of Natural History Field Museum of Natural History
Credit: Field Museum of Natural History by KiwiDeaPi via Wikimedia Commons

Field Museum of Natural History

Boasting more than 40 million specimens and artifacts from around the world, the Field Museum of Natural History is firmly placed in the pantheon of the greatest museums in the United States. Here you can travel in space and time across centuries of the planet’s existence. The fan-favorite section is the one devoted to dinosaurs. The lovingly named Sue (honoring Sue Hendrickson, the explorer who found it) is the world’s largest T-Rex skeleton ever discovered. The museum’s centerpiece Stanley Field Hall is home to another impressive dinosaur, Maximo the Patagotitan. You can travel to ancient Ancient Egypt here too, visit the Ancient Americas, find yourself in a Carboniferous forest, and see Tsavo Man-Eaters, Africa’s extinct lions. It’s a fantastic museum adventure for the whole family

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
Credit: Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago by GualdimG via Wikimedia Commons

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Strict, modernist architecture designed by Berlin-born architect Josef Paul Kleihues conceals one of the most definitive gatherings of post-WW2 art in the world. The exhibitions here are displayed on a rolling basis so it’s always exciting to come back. The collection includes the works of such celebrated artists as René Magritte, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Jasper Johns. Be sure to see the incredible symbol of the MCA, the mesmerizing north staircase inspired by the Acropolis in Athens. Also pay a visit to the museum shop-it’s incredible. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio by Teemu008 via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

A wonderful chance to have insight into the life and the creative process of the American visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his home and studio is among the top points of interest for everyone interested in architecture and design. The first house was built on this property in 1889 and was subsequently remodeled and reconstructed by Wright to its present-day form. You can tour the building with an excursion, visiting the Studio of the architect, the octagonal library, and various rooms. It is a very inspirational Chicago place to visit. 

American Writers Museum American Writers Museum
Credit: American Writers Museum by americanwritersmuseum.org

American Writers Museum

One of the recent additions to Chicago’s exciting museum landscape, the American Writers Museum is all about the celebration of the craft of wordsmithing. Innovative and interactive, combining historic objects with state-of-art digital signage, it would be a great place to explore for those who love to read. It is one of the most future-oriented museums in the city and being inside is a dazzling, immersive literary experience. The absolute must is a row of the old typewriters used by such giants of American literature as Orson Welles, Truman Capote, and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, there is a library and a reading hall and it might be the best place in the world to have a reading session. 

National Museum of Mexican Art National Museum of Mexican Art
Credit: National Museum of Mexican Art by nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

National Museum of Mexican Art

Chicago exists because of the many immigrants that came to Lake Michigan. The National Museum of Mexican Art highlights the arts and history of Mexicans, Latinos, and Chicanos to promote the border-less celebration of cultures. The only Latino culture museum that is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, it offers an impassioned journey through Mexican history, starting from ancient times and up until today. It touches upon the “Mexicanidad” as a whole, as well as features a section devoted to the Mexican experience in the US. There are art pieces of both Chicago-born Mexican artists and international names. Also, it is completely free

Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago
Credit: Art Institute of Chicago by ajay_suresh via Wikimedia Commons

Art Institute of Chicago

Surrounded by elegant gardens and sporting magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture against tall skyscrapers in the background, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the most popular museums in the world. Housing more than 300,000 works, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for all art aficionados. It is here that you find the most definitive collection of Impressionists and Post-impressionists that can only compete with Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Come to the Art Institute of Chicago to be inundated by the beauty of the masterpieces of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh. 

Museum of Science and Industry Museum of Science and Industry
Credit: Museum of Science and Industry by Igor Fedenko via Wikimedia Commons

Museum of Science and Industry

Be prepared to spend some time in this palace of technology, there are more than 70 halls, 2 levels, and more than 2,000 exhibits. Like many major museums in Chicago, the one devoted to science and technology is among the largest in the country. At the entrance hall, you’re greeted by the 1934-constructed, diesel-powered Pioneer Zephyr train and it only gets more exciting from here. You’ll see a German submarine U-505, Apollo 8 spacecraft, Mercury-Atlas 7 spacecraft and a lunar module trainer, a 999 Empire State Express steam locomotive, World War II warplanes, and a 3,500-square-foot The Great Train Story scale model depicting the transportation from Chicago to Seattle. Undoubtedly, this is the museum for hours, if not days, of thorough exploration. 

Chicago Architecture Center Chicago Architecture Center
Credit: Chicago Architecture Center by architecture.org

Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago is considered the birthplace of the Skyscraper, although New York tries to claim it as well. Either way, this city knows a thing or two about design. Conveniently located at the start of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile at the entrance of the Illinois Center with great views of the Chicago River, the Chicago Architecture Center is a great spot for design lovers and those interested in how the Windy City got its trademark skyline. Inside you’ll find the super-sized models of the famous skyscrapers from around the globe. You can also join one of the tours led by architecture docents through the center for a chance to dig even deeper into Chicago’s history. The center is known for its world-renown architecture river cruise that is considered the ‘Top Boat Tour in North America’ and a top activity when visiting Chicago.

Shedd Aquarium Shedd Aquarium
Credit: Shedd Aquarium by Lance Anderson via Unsplash.com

Shedd Aquarium

Whether it’s a romantic date, a visit with the family, or casual marine life observation, going to an aquarium is always an unforgettable experience. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is one of the most impressive places of its kind on the planet. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, it houses a whopping number of 32,000 animals and takes you on a fascinating journey underwater. Extremely photogenic and visual, it’s a great spot to snap a few selfies with the colorful aquarium inhabitants. You’ll travel to the Caribbean, the Amazon, and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as see the cute beluga whales, funny penguins, and sea otters. There’s also a fantastic 1991-inaugurated Oceanarium and a 4D Theater for an enhanced visual experience. 

Henry B. Clarke House Museum Henry B. Clarke House Museum
Credit: Henry B. Clarke House Museum by Teemu008 via Wikimedia Commons

Henry B. Clarke House Museum

For a more boutique and intimate Chicago museum visit, head to Henry B. Clarke House near Michigan Avenue. It is officially the oldest existing house in the city, built in 1836 in a Greek Revival style. The house has been moved twice during its lifespan and now features a small but heartwarming museum that gives you a chance to see what the Windy City life looked like in the 19th century. 

The City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower The City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower
Credit: The City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower by Ed Schipul via Wikimedia Commons

The City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower

Another great free museum on the list, the City Gallery is set in the iconic 19th century Water Tower, an intricate piece of the old Chicago in the heart of the Magnificent Mile. Inside you’ll find a small but pleasant display of local artists and photographers. Visiting the City Gallery is one of those local experiences that give you a truly authentic cultural fix. The exhibitions change on a rolling basis and you have a chance to enter a Gothic Revival building. What’s not to like about this place?

Museum of Illusions Chicago Museum of Illusions Chicago
Credit: Museum of Illusions Chicago by moichicago.com

Museum of Illusions Chicago

Some museums are more fun than others. That’s definitely the case for the Museum of Illusions Chicago, a fun-filled experience for the whole family. It takes the job of entertaining visitors seriously and features not 5 or 10, but 80, exhibits that twist your imagination and serve as an amazing background for Instagram pictures. You will stand on a ceiling in a rotating room, get hypnotized by the kaleidoscope, walk through the vortex and infinity tunnels, and ultimately have a fulfilling time at one of the most amusing museums in Chicago. 

Chicago Botanic Garden Chicago Botanic Garden
Credit: Chicago Botanic Garden by Solstice Hannan via Unsplash.com

Chicago Botanic Garden

Many cities have a botanic garden, but Chicago has a unique one. Here, the park (also serving as a living plants museum) spans over 9 islands. Come for a fresh air break and relax from the steel skyscraper-filled city buzz among the 27 fantastic display gardens connected by picturesque pathways and bridges. Keep an eye out for the extra-scenic Japanese Garden. The park is open all year round, but spring is one of the best times to visit.

Oriental Institute Museum Oriental Institute Museum
Credit: Oriental Institute Museum by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Oriental Institute Museum

Treat the inner adventurer in you at this excellent museum institution devoted to the artifacts of the Near East. Founded by the American archeologist and Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in 1919, it is a treasure trove. Quite literally, it exhibits the marvelous objects from the ancient civilizations such as preserved statues from the Persepolis, a statue of Tutankhamun from Egypt, and Sumerian figures. 

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