Chicago rarely disappoints when it comes to museums. The city is packed full of amazing institutions that you could spend weeks exploring. Museums are the best safe space for learning beyond the classroom, and so many make the process fun and interactive. Whether you’ve lived here your entire life or you just moved in, there’s always something new to discover. But if you’re on a tight budget, it can be hard justifying an admission price for every new exhibit, or every time you want to get lost in thought with Sue at your side. That’s why The Culture Trip put together a comprehensive roundup of every day you can visit a Chicago museum for free between now and the end of 2016. If you mark your calendars now and plan ahead, you can see every bit of the city’s best culture without spending a dime.
The following days are free for all Illinois residents with a valid ID. A driver’s license is most common, but many museums also accept library cards, student IDs, and even passports.
Illinoisans know that you can visit The Field Museum over and over again without running out of things to see. It’s a terrific starting point when stamping your Chicago museums passport. Expect all things natural history, both domestic and international. One of their biggest highlights greets you at the front door: Sue the T-Rex is the largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, and her presence commands the great hall of the Field. Sue Hendrickson uncovered the dino in South Dakota in 1990 and sold it for the highest price ever paid for a dinosaur fossil – $7.6 million.
Free day: September 17-19; October 2, 16, 30-31; November 27; December 3-4, 18
All science enthusiasts and industry junkies should redirect themselves to Hyde Park for the Museum of Science and Industry. It has everything from an interactive coal mine exhibit to a small-scale model of downtown Chicago and seemingly endless activities. MSI puts on great programs for teachers, field trips, and the general public to help inspire a new generation of innovators and thinkers. See their temporary exhibit Brick by Brick that offers interactive LEGO building and displays through February 2017.
Free days: September 19-23, 26-30; October 4-6; November 3, 10; December 1
Shoot for the stars and stay awhile when you visit the Adler Planetarium. Its placement on the very tip of Museum Campus’ peninsula makes you feel like you’re sailing on the lake, but its interior is all about the outer space atmosphere. The Adler has exhibits on the solar system, the universe, astronomy, telescopes, and so much more. They excel in educational films that you can view during your visit – their incredibly popular Cosmic Wonder is definitely one not to miss.
Free days: October 10; November 11; December 3-9; Bank of America Days*
If you long to be under the sea, the Shedd Aquarium is the place for you. Get to know all your favorite aquatic creatures from as far and wide as the Caribbean Reef and the Arctic to as close by as those in the Great Lakes. They offer special opportunities like dolphin shows, behind-the-scenes tours, penguin encounters, and more. You can even spend the night at the Shedd with their Spooky Seas Overnight event on October 28th. The evening will include interactive fun for kids ages 5-12.
Free days: September 19-20, 26-27; October 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 25-25, 31; November 1, 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 28-29; Bank of America Days*
Maximize your culture intake with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, widely recognized as one of the best art museums on Earth. You’ll see world-famous artists represented in priceless collections. Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Edward Hopper all have masterpieces hanging on the walls of the AIC. But it’s more than just paintings. Check out the photomontage exhibit of Soviet propaganda artist Aleksandr Zhitomirsky or the kid-favorite Thorne Miniature Rooms.
Free days: Every Thursday from 5-8pm; Kids under 13 are always free; Bank of America Days*
Set aside an entire day to get lost in the Chicago Children’s Museum. And since it’s located at Navy Pier, there’s no chance you’ll run out of family-friendly things to do. The museum has enough for kids of all ages to enjoy, including simulated dinosaur digs, tinkering labs, craft studios, and even structural design workshops.
Free days: Every Thursday from 5-8pm; First Sunday of every month for kids under 15
This is your one-stop shop for all things Chicago. The Chicago History Museum will teach you everything you have ever wanted to know about the city’s past and present. It ‘cares for, showcases and interprets millions of authentic pieces of Chicago and U.S. history.’ Current exhibitions includeLincoln’s Undying Words and Chicago Authored.
Swing down to the South Side for the DuSable Museum of African American History. It has preserved and celebrated the rich history of African-Americans in Chicago for more than 55 years. It’s named after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian man who in 1779 ‘established the trading post and permanent settlement which would become known as Chicago.’ Their collection of art and historical material is supplemented by lectures, programs, and temporary exhibits for anyone looking to learn more about black history in Chicago.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum opened in 1999 to ensure that Chicago’s urbanites didn’t lose their connection to the natural world. It provides an island of nature, flora, fauna, and more in the center of the cement block city. The museum is incredibly kid-friendly and interactive, offering more hands-on science instruction than any other institute in the city. It brings the outdoors in with its Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, and forces the indoorsy out onto one of its signature nature trails.
For all things Greek, there’s nowhere else to visit but the National Hellenic Museum. Take in Chicago’s long Greek history after exploring the quaint Greektown neighborhood or after dining at one of its best and most authentic Greek restaurants. Catch their Olympic Revival: The 1896 Olympic Games exhibit that ran all summer in honor of the 120th anniversary of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
BofA has partnered with museums across the country to offer free admission to cardholders as a part of their Museums on Us program. On the first full weekend of every month, simply present your BofA debit or credit card and receive one free admission at participating institutions.
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