Don't Miss These Top 10 Chicago Museums

You've got art, science, history, an aquarium—and the stars

88 Seconds of the Adler Planetarium
ShutterRunner.com (Matty Wolin) / Getty Images

Chicago is an exciting getaway destination—great for a long weekend. Chicago's museums are bright jewels in its crown and rank among the best in the world. They cover the waterfront of interests, from art to history, science, nature, and astronomy. These are the top 10 that consistently turn up as the city's most popular, based on attendance. So book a room in the Loop or on the Magnificent Mile, which are both convenient to many of these museums, and have yourself a ball in Chicago. It's your kind of town, no doubt about it.

  • 01 of 10
    Calm Lake Michigan water is featured in the harbor near the John Shedd Aquarium on a very warm summer morning. In the background rises a portion of the lakefront skyline with significant buildings including, from left, the 311 S. Wacker Drive Building, Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the AT&T Corporate Center.
    Bruce Leighty/Photodisc/Getty Images

    The Shedd is dedicated to "engaging, inspiring, entertaining and informing" the public about the life in oceans and waterways. You're in a building on Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, but you are immersed in a world of coral reefs, rainforests, and the Pacific Northwest coast. The Shedd, on the Museum Campus northeast of Soldier Field, prides itself on its dedication to conservation and the protection of wildlife habitats.

  • 02 of 10
    Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
    Bruce Leighty/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Since 1933, this enormous museum in the Hyde Park neighborhood has been dedicated to educating the public about science and technology. From the coal mine exhibit with a working elevator to the captured German World War II submarine, the museum's collections and hands-on exhibits never fail to thrill kids, and adults have a pretty good time, too. It's also home to special exhibits like "Brick by Brick," a Lego structures challenge, and "Robot Revolution," a collection from around the world.

  • 03 of 10
    Art Institute of Chicago
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    The Art Institute of Chicago consistently ranks among Chicago's most-visited museums and is the second largest and one of the most prominent art museums in the United States. Its famous lions greet you on the steps as you enter from Michigan Avenue in the Loop, and it just gets better from there. It is renowned for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and American art collections. If you love paintings by the French impressionist Claude Monet, you will think you're in paradise at the Art Institute. It has one of the largest collections of his work in the country. The Thorne Miniature Rooms are also a unique and special exhibition.

  • 04 of 10
    MCA chicago
    David Sorich / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, just off the Magnificent Mile,  explores, exhibits, and collects art created since 1945. The museum is dedicated to allowing the public "to directly experience the work and ideas of living artists and understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the art of our time." It also puts a major emphasis on diverse voices that communicate through art.

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  • 05 of 10
    National Museum of Mexican Art chicago
    Tim Marklew / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The National Museum of Mexican Art, southwest of the Loop, is dedicated to stimulating and preserving knowledge and appreciation of Mexican culture. It is one of the largest collections of Latino art in the nation, and it is also the only Latino institution to receive accreditation from the American Association of Museums. The current collection includes more than 5,500 objects.

  • 06 of 10
    Adler Planetarium
    Adler Planetarium / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum is on Museum Campus just east of Soldier Field. The planetarium was founded in 1930, and that makes it America's first and oldest planetarium. It now houses two stargazing theaters, a collection of antique instruments, extensive exhibit space, and many hands-on exhibits. It also offers one of the most wonderful views of the skyline in the entire city.

  • 07 of 10
    Chicago History Museum
    Courtesy of Chicago History Museum

    The Chicago History Museum in the Lincoln Park neighborhood exhibits artifacts from the depth of its 22-million item collection and from the breadth of the city's history. From the Chicago Bulls to the Great Chicago Fire, the museum covers it all and offers context and exhibits to make Chicago's history relevant to life today. It was formerly known as the ​Chicago Historical Society.

  • 08 of 10
    DuSable Museum of African-American History
    TonyTheTiger / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

    The DuSable is the nation's oldest museum dedicated to the exploration, documentation, and celebration of the African-American experience. It's in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Its holdings include 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and historic memorabilia that illuminate the African-American experience.

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  • 09 of 10
    The Field Museum of Natural History Chicago
    © The Field Museum

    The Field Museum is probably best known for its dinosaur displays, and that's a huge draw for kids. But it also has a rich and deep dedication to "the diversity and relationships in nature and among cultures." It currently holds, conserves, and studies more than 20 million objects, a collection that grew from holdings it received after the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago. It's on Museum Campus, along with the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, just north of Soldier Field.

  • 10 of 10
    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
    The Butterfly Haven at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Wildcat Dunny / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Nature Museum in Lincoln Park is devoted to the environment and nature and works in conjunction with the collections and scientists of the Chicago Academy of Sciences to create exhibits and programs. Its 27,000-square-foot greenhouse houses more than 1,000 butterflies that belong to 40 species. And it's warm and tropical in the winter, a big bonus in Chicago. You'll see exotic birds like macaws and aracari in the Bird House and learn about life in a marsh, on dunes, on the prairie, and on the savanna, all part of the Chicago environment.