Chicago is home to some of the best museums and exhibits in the world, offering an eclectic mix of exciting exhibitions throughout the year as well as an array of remarkable permanent artworks and artifacts.
Though they don’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg to see, experiencing all these world-famous institutions in Chicago can feel like it is taking a toll on the bank account. Luckily for locals, the many museums and attractions in the Windy City habitually announce Illinois resident-free days throughout the year.
It’s an all the more rewarding experience seeing some of the world’s most awe-inspiring wonders for absolutely zero cost than paying $30 or more a go, right? We’ve rounded up the free museum days Chicago has to help you navigate without spending a penny.
The first thing you must know about all the free museum days Chicago has is that the discount typically only applies to Illinois residents.
However, admission at many museums is free or discounted for active U.S. military personnel and veterans, Illinois POWs, Chicago firefighters, Chicago police officers, students, and Illinois teachers. So if any of those apply to you, ask at the ticket booth and bring a valid occupational I.D.Children and their families can also access free admission to several museums through a Kid Museum Passport from their local Chicago Public Library!
In addition to an Illinois identification card, most museums and attractions (but not all) accept the following as valid ID: Illinois lease, Illinois library card, Illinois student ID with photo, Illinois utility bill, Illinois work ID or check stub, and Illinois driver’s license. Be sure to check each museum’s free admission policy before you arrive.
Here are the upcoming free museum days across Chicago:
One of the world’s oldest and largest art museums, the Art Institute of Chicago is undoubtedly one of the city’s most renowned museums. Since its founding in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago has flourished into one of the world’s most recognized art museums.
The museum is permanently home to over 300,000 works of art, including such pieces as American Gothic by Grant Wood, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, The Bedroom, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh and The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso. Illinois residents can enjoy them free on certain days of the week!
🗓️ When: Thursday evenings, 5–8 p.m., May 18–August 31
📍Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
📲 Reservation: Required before you go to the Art Institute of Chicago
2. Field Museum
Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History also lays claim to being one of the largest museums of its kind on the planet. Having opened in 1894, its collection grew from many items on display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to the reported mammoth collection of nearly 40 million artifacts and specimens that is houses today.
Today the museum continues to expand and develop, researching “the objects in our collections, as well as document previously unknown species, conserve ecosystems in our backyard and across the globe, educate budding scientists, invite cross-cultural conversation, and more—all to ensure that our planet thrives for generations to come.”
🗓️ When: August 29, September 5, 12, 19, 26, October
📍Address: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
Yet another superlative museum, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (aka MSI), holds the title of the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest science museums in the world.
Offering a focus on the future of science and science education, it has enthralled and entertained nearly 200 million people since opening in 1933. The museum is home to over 2,000 exhibits displayed across 75 major halls, including uniquely interactive experiences for those who enjoy a more physically engaging museum outing.
A full-size replica coal mine, a German submarine U-505 captured during World War II, the first diesel-powered streamlined passenger train, and the command module of Apollo 8 are some of the incredible permanent residents of the MSI.
🗓️ When: August 28—29, September 5—6, 10—12, 17—20, 26, October 3, 9, 10, 17, 24, 31, November 7, 10, 14, 28
📍Address: 5700 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60637
The Adler Planetarium is a public museum dedicated to astronomy and astrophysics that was the first planetarium in the United States. Part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, it is located on the northeastern tip of Northerly Island, a stone’s throw from both the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium.
Now boasting a shiny new dome roof on its 80-year-old dome and a new telescope in the Doane Observatory, which holds the title of the largest public telescope in the Midwest, the Planetarium also reopened with the news that it would be offering Illinois residents free museum days!
🗓️ When: Every Wednesday evening from 4:00 pm–10:00 pm
📍Address: 1300 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
After opening in 1930, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium was, for years, the largest aquarium on the planet until it was superseded by the Osaka Aquarium in Japan in 1990. Since then, it has fallen several places due to many aquariums opening in the last couple of decades.
With the aquarium’s 100th anniversary in 2030, however, it has launched a $500 million 8-year project that will “prepare Shedd for the next 100 years, transforming the aquarium’s historic galleries, accelerating aquatic science and research, and equitably expanding access to nature for all.”
The 5 million US gallon aquarium is still at the forefront of world aquariums holding roughly 32,000 animals, including one of the broadest ranges of aquatic species anywhere in the world. The aquarium wows over 2 million guests a year with unforgettable encounters up close face-to-face encounters with marine life such as belugas, bluegills, stingrays, and surgeons.
🗓️ When: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in September and October.
📍Address: 1200 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
📲 Reservation: Required before you go to the Shedd Aquarium
6. The Chicago History Museum
Founded in 1856, the Chicago Historical Society’s first building and much of its collection were burned to the ground during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After that, it moved around for years while purchasing significant items like the bed on which Abraham Lincoln died and George Washington’s compass.
In 1932 a $1 million building was constructed in Lincoln Park to house the Chicago History Museum and mark the city’s centennial. It still stands at North Clark Street in Lincoln Park on the ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers.
A major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration, and civic engagement.
🗓️ When: August 15—17, September 4, 13, 27
📍Address: 1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
7. The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center
The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, formerly the DuSable Museum of African American History, is the oldest independent African American museum in the United States and has been open for over 60 years.
Dedicated to studying and conservating African-American history, culture, and art, it houses more than 15,000 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, print works, and historical memorabilia.
The museum consistently hosts special exhibitions, workshops, and lectures highlighting works by particular artists, historical events, or collections on loan from individuals or institutions. The free museum days Chicago has for Illinois residents is every Wednesday.
🗓️ When: Every Wednesday
📍Address: 740 E 56th Pl, Chicago, IL 60637
8. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
First opened in 1967, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is today one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to contemporary art.
With more than 2,000 works, it seeks to engage audiences of today and tomorrow with work and ideas of living artists that explore the historical, social, and cultural context of the art of our time.
🗓️ When: Every Tuesday
📍Address: 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
9. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center serve to honor the survivors and victims of the Holocaust. Its founding principle is: “Remember the Past, Transform the Future.”
The Museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the memories of those who were lost and teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference.
It facilitates a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions but also organizes educational programs and initiatives that promote human rights and the elimination of genocide.
🗓️ When: The last Friday of every month
📍Address: 9603 Woods Dr, Skokie, IL 60077
10. The National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art is another first-class museum. Home to 3,000 years’ worth of creativity from Mexican and Mexican-American artists, it is the largest museum of its kind in the United States.
Located in Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community, NMMA is a rich, immersive art experience with several incredible exhibitions and collections of Mexican culture.
The museum also hosts several special events throughout the year, such as the “Día de Los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball,” “Sor Juana Festival,” “Mercado Navideño- Christmas Market,” and more!
🗓️ When: Free all year
📍Address: 1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608
11. The Museum of Contemporary Photography
As the only museum in the Midwest devoted to photography, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography offers unparalleled work from national and international photographers. It’s one of our favorite free things to do in Chicago.
After beginning its collection in the early 1980s, it has grown to include over 16,000 objects by over 1,500 artists. The free museum days Chicago has for Illinois residents are daily, as are exhibitions and docent-led museum tours.
🗓️ When: Free all year
📍Address: 600 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605
The Garfield Park Conservatory, located on the west side of Chicago, is an environmental marvel. As one of the world’s largest indoor gardens, this is one of our favorite free museum days in Chicago.
The Palm House and Desert House offer exceptional sights indoors. At the same time, 10 acres of sprawling gardens await exploring outdoors, where guests can stroll through rainforests, desert landscapes, and rows and rows of magnificent flowers.
The conservatory also puts on several events throughout the year, including yoga in picturesque environments, beekeeping classes, flower shows, composting demos, and more! Some of these events are free, others require a ticket or suggested donation, but admission to the conservatory is always free.
🗓️ When: Free all year
📍Address: 300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624
📲 Reservation: Required before you go to the Garfield Park Conservatory
13. Chicago Cultural Center
This magnificent downtown building once served as the city’s first public library. The building alone is reason enough to visit. Home to the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany Dome, there’s a ton of history in the expertly crafted walls of the CCC.
The building was completed in 1897 as a public library and a civil war memorial. It was built with incredible materials such as rare imported marble, polished brass, mother-of-pearl, and colored stone. The 38-foot-diameter Tiffany dome has over 30,000 pieces of glass and was restored in 2008.
Today, it is open to the public seven days a week, while frequent exhibitions and public events are also usually entirely free.
🗓️ When: Free all year
📍Address: 78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
If you’re the sort to delve into the science of thinking and analyze your personality and those of others, Mindworks might be the ideal day out for you.
Mindworks is the world’s first discovery center and working lab dedicated to behavioral science in the heart of Chicago’s cultural corridor. Hands-on exhibits showcase behavioral science’s powerful, real-world impact, and visitors are incited to participate in regular studies of human behavior. Thanks to generous philanthropic support from PIMCO, Mindworks is also free all year round.
🗓️ When: Free all year
📍Address: 224 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60604