Planning a trip soon to Chicago with the family? Whether you're staying for a weekend or a week, no doubt it can get pretty expensive when you add up the expenses of lodging and dining out every night. Chicago offers plenty of cool free attractions, but if you're looking for something more educational, many museums offer free or discounted entry. Here are some of the most significant.
Those who enjoy star gazing should appreciate Adler Planetarium, which is located on the Chicago Museum Campus along with the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Just note that while the space science exhibitions are free during "discount days," the museum's sky shows are not.
Every Day Discounts
Illinois teachers (pre-K through 12), active police and firefighters, veterans, and active military personnel receive free general admission with ID; students and seniors with ID receive a discount; Chicago residents, with proof of residency, also receive discounts on admission.
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world's premier art museums, housing a collection that spans 5,000 years. It showcases a tremendous collection of art in a number of different mediums, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, photographs, video, textiles and architectural drawings. The Art Institute also plays host to a number of traveling exhibits, such as works by Monet and Van Gogh.
General admission is free to Illinois residents 5-8 p.m. every Thursday throughout the year.
Children under 14 receive free admission--unless they're part of a large group. Chicago teens under the age of 18 get in free.
Active-duty military and their families receive free admission to the museum from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is available to current Illinois educators, including pre-K–12 teachers, teaching artists working in schools, and homeschool parents.
LINK and WIC cardholders receive free general admission to the museum when they present their cards with a valid photo ID.
Chicago Children's Museum
Nestled in at one of Chicago's top tourist attractions, Navy Pier, the Chicago Children's Museum offers three floors of entertainment for the kiddies, including permanent and traveling exhibits. The museum is geared towards the younger set.
Free admission for visitors 15 and under the first Sunday of every month.
On Thursdays from 4-8 pm, groups of up to 4 people pay $14.95.
Veterans and active military receive free admission every day.
There is a discounted admission price for teachers, firefighters and police officers with a valid form of employment identification.
Illinois families that are in possession of an EBT or WIC card get a discounted admission of $3 for up to 6 people.
Chicago Sports Museum
The museum, located in Water Tower Place, is comprised of 8,000 square feet and offers an interactive, high-tech experience, unique sports memorabilia (think Sammy Sosa’s corked bat), and an impressive collection of local sports artifacts. The Hall of Legends gallery highlights an array of “play with the legends” baseball, basketball, football and hockey interactive games, such as "defending the goal" with Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.
Restaurant guests are admitted free of charge and it's free for children two and under.
DuSable Museum of African American History
DuSable Museum of African American History on Chicago's South Side is home to a collection documenting the history and culture of African Americans in the United States. In March 2016, the Smithsonian Museums granted DuSable affiliate status, which means that the Chicago institution now has access to Smithsonian’s artifacts and traveling exhibits. It is the second Chicago cultural institution to be granted this prestigious affiliation; Adler Planetarium is the other.
Free every Tuesday, year-round.
Free admission for all active or non-active Military Duty Personnel and kids under five.
The Field Museum's collection of biological, anthropological, natural and historical items is one of the largest and finest in the world with more than 20 million specimens. The museum also hosts excellent touring temporary exhibits.
Basic admission is free for active military personnel and Illinois teachers (pre-K through 12th grade).
Chicago residents who live within city limits receive $5 off admission.
Families with valid EBT (Link) or WIC cards from any state receive $3-per-person basic admission for up to six people.
Built for $3 million in the 1930s, the Museum of Science and Industry opened as the first interactive museum in the North America. And that's what makes the museum such a fun time. It's not about merely gazing at boring displays, but rather a hands-on approach to the learning experience. Whether it's hearing a mere whisper travel across a long hall or touring a genuine U-505 submarine, there are sensory experiences galore.
There are select free days for Illinois residents. Here is the schedule.
Active duty military, Illinois POWs, Chicago firefighters, Chicago police officers and Illinois teachers (pre-K through 12th grade) receive free Museum Entry for themselves by showing a valid occupational I.D. when purchasing tickets onsite.
National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture
Get ready for Puerto Rican pride on display at the nation's largest cultural institution dedicated to their rich history and culture. The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture opened in 2001 and since then has focused on many aspects for the community, including visual art exhibitions and hands-on arts workshops.
Admission is free.
National Veterans Art Museum
There is no other museum like NVVAM in the country, and perhaps, the world. While other institutions fill their halls with the artifacts of war, this Chicago museum is filled with the human experiences of war captured, examined, and expressed through art. NVVAM's collection has more than 800 pieces representing more than 170 artists, three floors of exhibit space, and a theater space named in honor of comedian Bob Hope.
Free admission daily.
John G. Shedd Aquarium shares the esteemed Museum Campus with Field Museum of Natural History and the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum. Donated to Chicago by Shedd, who was the second president and chairman of the board of Marshall Field & Company, the revered Chicago institution opened in 1930. Since that time, it has added several permanent exhibits to the main aquarium, effectively doubling its size. The Shedd Aquarium boasts a National Historic Landmark designation and it's one of the top attractions in the South Loop neighborhood.
Illinois residents receive free general admission on select days throughout the year.
Free and discounted admission is available for eligible low-income families (up to four passes per family).
Active-duty U.S. military personnel, Chicago police officers and firefighters, and guests who hold a valid Bank of America/Merrill Lynch ATM, credit, or debit card receive free general admission on site with ID.
Students, senior citizens, and U.S. military veterans receive a $3 discount on the price of general admission with ID.
Teachers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin can receive a complimentary general admission ticket by registering online for an Educator Voucher.