The 7 Best Museums in Chicago

Kevin Whipple / © Culture Trip
Kevin Whipple / © Culture Trip
Photo of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor5 June 2019

“The Second City” may have been surpassed by Los Angeles in terms of population, but it’s still hot on New York’s heels when it comes to culture. Visit these Chicago museums for an afternoon of education and beauty.

The Field Museum

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Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Chicago Illinois IL USA
The Field Museum houses artefacts from around the world | © Steve Skjold / Alamy Stock Photo
The origins of The Field Museum’s 40-million-strong collection of artifacts and specimens date back to the World’s Columbian Exposition – a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. After its conclusion, the artifacts were given a permanent home, and The Field Museum was born. Its landmark building on the shore of Lake Michigan has become a world-renowned institution that hopes to use relics of the past to create a more harmonious future for society and the planet.

Chicago History Museum

Museum, Shop
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Chicago History Museum building, IL, USA.
The Chicago History Museum was restored to its former glory following the Great Chicago Fire | © Serhii Chrucky / Alamy Stock Photo
The city’s oldest cultural institution has a storied past. Founded in 1856 by the Chicago Historical Society, the museum burned down in the Great Fire of 1871. Three years later, another devastating blaze incinerated the remains of its collection. Things began looking up in 1920, when the Society bought paintings, manuscripts, and artifacts from the estate of confectioner Charles F Gunther, including a compass owned by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed. A century later, the Chicago History Museum continues to dedicate itself to telling the story of Chicago and its people through engaging exhibits covering music, film, design, fashion and historic events.

Art Institute of Chicago

Museum, Art Gallery
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The Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing on Monroe Street in Chicago USA
© Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo
Once a fine art school as well as a museum, the Art Institute of Chicago sprang from the city’s attempt to rebuild after the Great Fire of 1871, which decimated 3.3 square miles and killed 300 people. As the museum expanded and evolved over the years, it amassed a global collection of artwork from countries including Brazil, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, South Africa, India and Sudan. In its Classics Collection you’ll find familiar gems including Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave, Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom.

Museum of Science and Industry

Building, Museum, Theater
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Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL, USA.
The Museum of Science and Industry is a perfect place for an interactive day out with the family | © Henryk Sadura / Alamy Stock Photo
Children and kids-at-heart love the Museum of Science and Industry, whose mission statement includes “encouraging the inventive genius” in every visitor. One of the largest science museums in the world, it fills its 400,000 square feet with hands-on exhibits including a World War II submarine, Boeing 727 aircraft and a movie screen large enough to rival IMAX. Equal parts educational and entertaining, the museum’s artifacts, digital displays and interactive experiences will appeal to visitors of any age.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Museum, University
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The renowned Oriental Institute and museum at the University of Chicago, one of the nation's highest regarded universities, Chicago, IL. USA.
The renowned Oriental Institute and museum at the University of Chicago hosts debates and lectures in its halls | © Bruce Leighty / Alamy Stock Photo
When it was founded in 1919, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago was a research laboratory that aimed to track humankind’s progress from its origins to the early 20th century. These days, it’s a world-renowned center for study that showcases rare recovered artifacts and art from ancient Far Eastern civilizations. As you’d expect from such a scholarly institution, the museum provides in-depth tours of its collections, as well as talks and symposia to satisfy your inner geek.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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Exterior of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL, USA.
Explore the natural world at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park | © Serhii Chrucky / Alamy Stock Photo
In a city with one of the most famous urban landscapes in the world, there’s a need for Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – an institution that aims to help nurture a connection between the people of Chicago and the natural environment. Besides the beautiful permanent exhibits like the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, the museum is known for hosting stellar family-friendly events, from critter meet-and-greets to kombucha-brewing workshops and yoga classes suitable for all ages and levels.

Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago

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MCA museum of Contemporary Art with Lake Michigan in the background in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago showcases art from the 1920s through to the present day | © EQRoy / Shutterstock
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago exhibits work from living artists that spans diverse media, from video to sculpture and from installations to performance. The museum aims to engage the community by creating an environment that fosters curiosity, spotlights the creative process and illuminates the way art is influenced by social, political, and historical contexts. Join a gallery tour at 6pm daily to shed more light on individual pieces that are sure to capture your attention.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Kelly Bradshaw.

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