my favorite museums in chicago birthmay featured image

My Favorite Museums in Chicago BirthMay 2021

Hello everyone! Today, I wanted to share my favorite museums in the city of Chicago!

So National Museum Day (in the US anyway) is May 18th, so I did miss it last week, but I figured I’d still share this list with you. After being closed due to the pandemic, I figured I’d try to help out museums get some more attention, since they’re some of my favorite places to visit. I also have lists of my favorite museums in other places I’ve visited such as Mexico City, Barcelona, and more so let me know if you’re curious about those! I was thinking of sharing them throughout the week of May 18th next BirthMay but that’s a whole year away. So I can do them earlier if you want!

Oh, all photos of these places were taken prior to the pandemic. I haven’t been to any of them since the pandemic began in 2020, sadly, but they should be following any current mask mandates by the state of Illinois.

Oh! If you’re new here (newer than May 2020) you might be wondering, what’s BirthMay? Well, every year I blog every day in May because it is my birth month. I just figured it was something fun to do, and it has proven to be really enjoyable for me. This will be the fifth BirthMay on my blog! No matter how many BirthMays you’ve been through with me, thank you for being here this BirthMay and thank you for your support!

My Favorite Museums in Chicago

Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium Belugas

The Shedd is my absolute favorite! I’ll admit this one is pricey, so I went more often when my sister gave me free entry tickets due to her volunteering there prior to the pandemic. But if you’re only in the area for a little bit, or even if you are in the area and haven’t been in awhile it’s always a fun one and worth the money in my opinion.

At the Shedd there are different exhibits for different ocean, sea, and lake life. There is anything from clown fish to an anaconda to octopuses to sharks and more. In the summer they’ll have a “touch the stingray” exhibit outside where you can (safely) pet stingrays. My favorite thing is to go with my sister who will give me all the fun facts on the animals as she used to volunteer in sharing facts with guests. However, I also loved visiting on her volunteer days as she volunteers behind the scenes now and was able to get me special tours of her areas. Now she can’t take me behind the scenes anymore sadly and I don’t think the Shedd is currently doing special tours but in normal times they would sell tickets to behind the scenes tours and they were super fun.

The Shedd also used to do animal encounters, which were pricey but also fun. I recommend doing those if you’re celebrating something special or someone in the family is super into oceanography in the future when those return. But you don’t need them to have fun! Other additional fee experiences include their shows in their theatre but I’ve never done any of those.

The biggest draw of the Shedd is their aquatic show. I don’t remember how often the shows happened but it was often throughout the day and they were such a good time. I remember that they did require a timed entry ticket, but were included in the ticket price (they used to be extra but the Shedd leadership wanted to make them more accessible to everyone). The shows usually include a little game time with kids picked from the audience before it starts. Then typically 3-5 animals are featured prior to the main bit of the show. I’ve seen sea lions, penguins, an owl, and a hawk, but I might be forgetting some. Then the main show will start with the dolphins and end with belugas. I say usually because the shows can change! The animals are sometimes not in the mood to perform, so that has to be respected. I’ve seen a show where the dolphins decided they were over it and not cooperating with the trainers so they were allowed to go back to their regular tank and the belugas had extra time in the show. But it’s always fun and it’s an amazing treat when there’s a baby dolphin or baby beluga in the mix too.

Field Museum

SUE the TREX Field Museum

This is Chicago’s natural history museum and so worth the visit! The building used to be part of Chicago’s World Fair and it’s gorgeous. All the wings are super cool too. There are areas dedicated to animals of the region and world, Native Americans, the Americas in general, a room dedicated to gems, and a really cool and newly renovated extinction exhibit.

SUE the T-Rex is featured above, which I think is the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. SUE is famous for also being a funny Twitter personality, which I greatly enjoy. They have many other cool skeletons and fossils as well as some interactive areas too. Sometimes there will be scientists working throughout the museum and may be available for questions from visitors. Although, I can’t say if they are currently doing that, as I think they probably stopped that during the pandemic. I’m sure if they aren’t, they will restart eventually.

The museum will also regularly host featured limited-time exhibits for additional fees. They are always really cool but the rest of the museum is so good that those special exhibits aren’t necessary to fully enjoy the experience.

Both the Field and the Shedd are located in the south loop on the “Museum Campus” right next to each other. If you have the time/budget/energy I would recommend doing both on the same day!

Art Institute

art institute of chicago

Another great one! This museum is also really big and super cool. There’s so much art in here! They have a huge permanent collection but also feature many temporary exhibitions. The temporary ones are usually an extra fee, so I don’t think I’ve ever done those. I would probably pay for some really cool ones, but the thing is that they change their temporary exhibits quickly, so I usually don’t even get the chance to go when they do catch my interest.

This is the museum that I would consider the most “typical” of what you would expect from an art museum but still really cool. Additionally, it is probably the most well known in the city and located right in downtown, so it’s super easy to get to.

Museum of Science and Industry

I know I have a photo of MSI already on my blog, but my photos aren’t loading properly so I wasn’t able to find one. Sorry about that! But MSI is the most interactive of the museums on this list. If you have curious kids or just love hand-on museum exhibits, this is the one for you! Well, after the pandemic because… well… germs. But I love this museum so much!

They have permanent exhibits featuring trains, science experiments, and sometimes you can see little baby ducks or chicks being born. There are permanent exhibits that do cost a bit extra like the submarine they have. They also regularly feature a paid temporary exhibit which is typically split in two so you do one half on one end of the museum and then go across the main hall to the second half. I loved the Disney-Pixar temporary exhibit and I believe they have a Marvel one at the time of writing this that I’ve heard is really good too.

This is the museum that’s probably the hardest to get to because it’s so far from downtown but well worth the trip. Like the others, they typically have had employees and volunteers share with special little demonstrations to share that are science based. This is always a fun museum to visit.

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center February 2019

I stumbled upon this FREE museum once and have gone many, many times since. This building is gorgeous, and used to be the old public library. It is always super fun to visit. To my knowledge, none of the exhibits are permanent, so I always see something new when I’m there. I’ve seen exhibits on the musical Chicago, as pictured above, but also seen social justice themed exhibits or environmental activism ones too. They are always tied to Chicago in some way too. Either the issues they explore are focused on Chicago and/or the artists are from Chicago.

I believe they had tours but I never went on one as they weren’t at convenient times for me. Sometimes their room with their Tiffany glass ceiling, which is stunning by the way, will be blocked off due to a scheduled event, but when it is open it is jaw dropping. All of the building is to be honest as the architecture is perfection. It can be a bit tricky to navigate the building at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can easily find your way around.

Oh! NPR’s StoryCorps also records out of this building so that’s a fun little tidbit.

So there you go! Those are my favorite museums in Chicago. The city has tons of museums scattered around though, many of which I haven’t visited, so there’s bound to be something for everyone. If you have a favorite museum in Chicago, feel free to share it with me!

Thanks for reading!


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