14 Museums You Have to Visit in Chicago

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Whether you’re new to Chicago or planning a staycation, we’re lucky to have some of the most amazing museums in the world. You’ve probably heard of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. Those are both amazing and they make our list. But what you might not know is that there are a wealth of different types of museums, small and large exhibits, scattered throughout the city and suburbs.

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. It’s one of the things that makes us so unique. You can catch the flavor of the different nationalities that settled in areas through the architecture and remnants of the people from long ago. But it merges with newer arrivals for a flavor all its own. We like that about us and we have a special place for honoring different experiences, from our own history to the histories of the world at large.

For this post, we came up with a list of fourteen different museums that you absolutely should check out. And we didn’t even really scratch the surface. You can find a museum or exhibit for any type of culture and nationality. If you want history to come alive, Chicago gives you a lot of options to explore.

If you’re thinking about gifts for a special someone, the gift of experience is always a fantastic idea. Treat a friend with a virtual GiftYa card that they can use for their next amazing visit to one of the city’s many museums. Or use the card for your own trek through the weird, wild, wonderful, and gorgeous offerings that the many museums provide.

The Art Institute of Chicago

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We’d be lying if we didn’t say this was one of our favorite museums in the city and it’s world renowned. We are lucky to have this gem right in the heart of downtown Chicago. You can wander through the museum for hours upon hours and never have enough time to see everything. They have special exhibits you can view featuring some of the most influential artists in history. If you’re a resident, you might stop in for a few hours here and there. But if you’re only visiting, plan a whole day because there really is a lot to see and you don’t want to miss it.

The Art Institute is also located in one of the prettiest areas of the city. It’s next to Millennium Park, so you can take a walk over to see why it’s so famous. Most tourists and residents alike will stop to take their photos in front of the lions that flank the front of the building.

Naper Settlement

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This one you may not have heard of, but you should check it out. It’s an especially interesting museum for kids. In fact, local school children often have field trips to Naper Settlement. Located outside of the city, Naper Settlement sits on 13 acres. The past comes alive to bring you the truth of the time period as the living museum features people dressed in period clothes showcasing how life was really lived during the long ago past of the area.

There’s plenty to see here and it’s an immersive experience.

The Field Museum of Natural History

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The Field Museum is also one of the most famous museums in the world. Between that, the Art Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry, you can stay busy for a very long time. If you’re visiting, it would be difficult to choose just one.

This museum spans time periods and cultures and offers a massive collection. Sue is probably the most famous exhibit here. She is the largest and most complete T. Rex skeleton in the world.

Shedd Aquarium

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Shedd Aquarium offers an amazing opportunity to learn more about sea life. It’s an aquarium but it’s one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, so we’re classifying it as a museum even though it’s technically not. But it is a fantastic place to visit and learn about sea life. The staff and educational opportunities here are truly one of a kind.

Museum of Science and Industry

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This is probably one of the most amazing museums in the world to bring kids to. Or the young at heart. Or anyone who likes anything. Almost everything here is interactive and amazing. You can find the fairy castle, which has been here for years but is still a favorite attraction. Currently they the Marvel Universe of Super Heroes.

You’ll get a bit of everything at this museum. From pop culture to truly amazing scientific discoveries, to the innovations of today and yesterday.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

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We should have listed all the Architectural museums, but we settled on our most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We do absolutely encourage you to check out architectural boat tours and other exhibits, though. Chicago has been an innovator of architecture and there is a ton to learn about the beauty of building here. Which explains our gorgeous skyline.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio preserves his original architectural studio and offers great insights to the genius of his designs.

Oriental Institute

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The Oriental Institute is a teaching museum in the University of Chicago. It’s got an amazing sampling of artifacts from the middle east. It’s truly a treasure trove for any budding historian and it spans thousands of years of history.

American Writers Museum

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The American Writers Museum is a newer museum, but it’s got such amazing exhibits. It’s located on Michigan Avenue and it’s smaller and more intimate than some of the massive museums you can find. But the displays are truly amazing for anyone who loves literature. You’ll find your favorite American writers and displays of different tools of the trade throughout the years. A great find for any writer or budding writer.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

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The Art Institute does have contemporary art but this museum is dedicated solely to the contemporary. It often features local talents, and you’ll get a wide variety of disciplines of art, from video installations and photography to any mixed media you might think of. If you want to see what the new art scene looks like, this is the place to be. You should also check the schedule because they host talks with local artists that are amazing.

National Museum of Mexican Art

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Chicago has a rich heritage and this museum gives voice to all of the amazing Mexican, Latino, and Chicano artists with their own venue. It offers a fantastic collection of art and culture for everyone to enjoy.

DuSable Museum of African American History

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The DuSable Museum of African American History has a wide variety of exhibits from the African American community. The mission of the museum is to promote African American achievements and to offer education and appreciation for the culture. This museum offers a robust collection of truly amazing work.

Chicago Sports Museum

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Chicago is well known for its sports culture so it’s no wonder we have a whole museum devoted to it. This is an interactive museum located on the Magnificent Mile. You can see artifacts from the games, and some of the most well-known professional athletes in Chicago history. All the Chicago teams are represented to give every type of fan something fun and exciting to see. And there are plenty of photo opportunities to share your experience with friends on social media.

Chicago History Museum

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Chicago has a wealth of history. From the stockyards to the Great Chicago Fire, to Fort Dearborn, to the World’s Fair (2 of them). The Chicago History Museum gives you a way to dive into the history that makes this city truly unique. Learn about your own neighborhood or the whole of the community. See where we started so you can get a good taste of where we’re going.

The museum was founded by the Chicago Historical Society and is in Lincoln Park. You’ll find some amazing things that you didn’t know about the city of Chicago and have a chance to revisit some well-loved stories.

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

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The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is one of the most popular school field trip destinations for students in Chicago and the suburbs. Many schools pair this trip with learning about the Holocaust and reading books, such as The Diary of Ann Frank.

The museum began as a small storefront opened by Holocaust survivors. Today, it spans thousands of items donated by survivors and their ancestors to preserve their legacy and tell the world the story of what happened so that we will never forget. It’s the third-largest Holocaust Museum in the world.

If you’re visiting Chicago, some of these should make your list. If you live here, start a bucket list of museums, and add these to it because there is so much to see. And there are so many great museums we didn’t get to on this list. The interactive Children’s Museum at Navy Pier is a great one to bring your kids to, but so are any of these.

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