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Free Museums in Chicago

Updated: January 29, 2024
 By Mel

One of the things I like about living in Chicago is the number of world-class museums we have, in addition to cultural gems that teach and entertain people like libraries and zoos

In this post, we will list many of the museums and other locations you can visit for free in Chicago. These include the ones I and my fellow guides visit and those I send my guests to.

Some of these museums are always free and others offer free admittance only on select days.

I also list those museums participating in the Museums on Us Program. It gives free access to those credit or debit cardholders with Bank of America, Merrill, or Bank of America Private Bank.

Free admission to veterans, military families, and members of other specific groups is detailed below, and I explain how everyone can save money with a Chicago attractions tourist pass.

We at Free Tours by Foot hope that one of these museums will pique your interest and that you'll find savings when you visit them.

Enjoy your time in Chicago!


While many museums in Chicago offer free admission on specific days, there are also a handful that provide open entry year-round.

This section will provide details about many of the locations you can visit any day of the week.

Smart Museum of Art

Located at the University of Chicago, this art museum is always free to visit. 

The Smart Museum focuses on artwork that tackles difficult and complex issues, and they have a large collection of both contemporary and modern art.

In addition to their collection, they also have limited exhibitions that change every few months. 

Visitors may also want to check out the Vera and A.D. Elden Sculpture Garden to see some of the most interesting sculptures in Chicago.


  • Tuesday - Sunday | 10 am - 4:30 pm
  • Mondays & major US holidays | closed

Learn more about the Smart Museum of Art.

National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art houses a collection of over 10,000 different objects, including paintings, sculptures, photography, textiles, folk art, prints, drawings, and more.

Showcasing over 3,000 years of creativity from Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, this museum offers free admission at all times.

Aside from their collections of art, they also have limited exhibitions covering a variety of different Mexican artwork.


  • Tuesday - Sunday | 10 am - 4:30 pm
  • Mondays & major US holidays | closed

Learn more about the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

This museum covers a wide variety of art across time, cultures, and media, and they offer free admission to all visitors.

Currently, their collections house artwork as diverse as computer-generated pieces, architectural drawings, documentary photography highlighting the Midwest from the ’30s-’70s, and more.

The Block Museum also provides limited exhibitions of all kinds that run for 3-6 months on average.

It also has a free digital guide through the free arts and culture app, Bloomburg Connects.


  • Wednesday-Friday | noon to 8 pm
  • Saturday-Sunday | noon to 5 pm
  • Monday, Tuesday & major US holidays | closed

Learn more about the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

This is yet another great museum to visit in Chicago.

But, it’s worth noting that while they don’t technically offer free admission, they do accept donations of just about any amount.*

The Oriental Institute has permanent galleries focused on ancient Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, Nubia, Syria, Anatolia, and other ancient Near East locations.

As with most museums, they also provide limited exhibits that rotate every few months, each devoted to subjects related to ancient Eastern culture.


  • Tuesday-Thursday | 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
  • Friday | 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
  • Saturday - Sunday | 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
  • Mondays & major US holidays | closed

*The suggested donation amount is $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 12.

Learn more about the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.


The Newberry Library

The Newberry Library is an independent research library. Founded in 1887, this library is located in the Gold Coast neighborhood. 

Though privately funded, it is free for the public to visit.

Their collection is massive, with 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 5 million manuscript pages!

The collection covers over six centuries of history, from the Middle Ages until today.

Newberry Library Chicago

Notably, the Newberry houses the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, the largest collection of postcards and related materials in the U.S. -- approximately 2.5 million of them!

The Curt Teich company was known for the iconic “Greetings From" style postcards. 

The collection contains postcards from the 19th and 20th centuries, with particularly strong collections of travel and tourism postcards, expositions and fairs, and the growth of cities.


  • Tuesday-Thursday | 10:00 am - 7:00 pm
  • Friday and Saturday | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Closed on Mon-Wed & major US holidays

Learn more about the Newberry Library.


The following section will cover all of the locations in Chicago that have free admission days. 

While some of these museums only offer admission to kids, others provide entry to everyone.

There are also some places that offer free museum days to Illinois residents, making it easier for locals to enjoy these attractions.

Shedd Aquarium Free Days

This aquarium is one of the most popular family attractions in Chicago, and they offer free admission for Illinois residents on certain days each month.

When you get these tickets online, a $5 transaction fee will apply, but that’s a low price to pay for entry. These are recommended because of the high demand for tickets.

2024 Free Days: Hours vary based on date

  • January | 9 - 16, 23 - 25, 30, 31
  • February | 1, 6 - 8, 13 - 15, 20 - 22, 27 -29

2024 Free Tuesday Evenings: 5:00 pm- 9:00 pm

  • March | 5, 12, 19, 26
  • April | 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
  • May | 7, 14, 21, 28
  • June | 4, 11, 18, 25

Learn more about Illinois Resident Free Days and Shedd’s Aquarium.

Museum of Science and Industry Free Days

If you want to learn about some of the most interesting scientific feats in the history of our country or discover how the industry has developed over the years, this museum is worth a visit.

Thankfully, if you’re an Illinois resident, you’ll have an opportunity to get free admission days several times each month.

The Museum of Science and Industry also offers residents, students, and seniors a savings of $3 no matter when they choose to come.

In addition, educators from Illinois can receive a complimentary pass when registering online.

2024 Free Days

  • January | 22-24, 28-31
  • February | 5-8, 11-15, 20-22, 26-29
  • April | 21st
  • Check their website for additional free days later in the year

General Hours

  • Daily | 9:30 am - 4:00 pm
  • Thanksgiving & Christmas | Closed
  • Exceptions to regular hours are listed here by month. They may apply to the free days listed above.

Learn more about free and reduced-price admission to the Museum of Science and Industry.


Chicago Children’s Museum Free Days

This location provides kids with a variety of fun, hands-on exhibitions, and activities that they can use to learn about the world around them.

Admission is free every day for veterans with a valid military ID. Active military can get up to 4 admission tickets free for themselves, and up to 3 guests on those days, with a valid military ID.

Children under age 1 are free to enter.

They also offer families that qualify for state food assistance and are in possession of an EBT card or WIC card admission for $3.00 each (up to six people).


  • Monday, Wednesday, Thursday | 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
  • Tuesdays | Closed
  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Special Hours

  • Play for All Day - February 3rd | 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Presidents' Day - February 19th | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Learn more about the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Field Museum of Natural History Free Days

This natural history museum has a lot of interesting exhibits including a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, and much more.

It offers free admission to Illinois residents on every Wednesday in 2024.

Active military personnel get complimentary admission and do Illinois teachers pre-K through 12th grade with the appropriate ID.

They also offer families that qualify for state food assistance and are in possession of an EBT card or WIC card admission for $3.00 each (up to six people).


  • 9 am - 5 pm daily
  • Closed on Christmas day

Learn more about free museum days at the Field Museum of Natural History for Illinois residents.

Adler Planetarium Free Days

As you might have guessed, this planetarium has several great exhibits focused on the solar system and astronomy in general.

Like many other educational attractions in the city, this location also offers free admission to Illinois residents on specific days throughout the year.

Illinois residents are able to enter free every Wednesday night with proof of residency.

Chicago residents, students, and seniors are also eligible for $2 off ($3 for kids) at any time, every day of the week.

In addition to these options, Illinois teachers can get a complimentary pass when registering online.

Active duty US Military, National Guard, reserve, and veterans and their families can get up to five free museum passes with proof of ID.

Park District and Museums in the Park Employees get also get two free museum entry tickets.


  • Monday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday | 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
  • Tuesday and Thursday | closed from October 3rd, 2023 - May 23rd, 2024 for school field trips* aside from the days below
  • Wednesday | 4:00 pm - 10:00 pm
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas | closed

*The museum will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays November 20th-22nd, November 24th, December 22-24, December 26-January 15th, and March 22nd-April 8th.

Learn more about free and reduced-price admission at Adler Planetarium.

Art Institute of Chicago Free Days

This Michigan Ave. art museum houses a massive collection of notable pieces including Nighthawks, American Gothic, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and more.

The Art Institute of Chicago provides free access to children up to age 13, then also for ages 14-18 thanks to a grant.

Link and WIC cardholders, Illinois educators, active military, university partners, and corporate partners get free access every day they are open.

Illinois residents can get in for free on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays between January 8th and March 22nd, 2024.

Residents of Illinois can also save $5 on tickets. You'll need to provide proof of residency to get this deal.


  • Monday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday | 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday-Wednesday | Closed
  • Thursday | 11:00 am - 8:00 pm
  • Closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Learn more about free and reduced-price entry to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Museum of Contemporary Art Free Days

Visitors can expect a variety of excellent contemporary art on display at this location, as they have a collection of over 2,500 pieces of artwork.

The Museum of Contemporary Art offers residents of Illinois access for free every Tuesday.

Entry is always free for children and youth age 18 and under, visitors with disabilities and their caregivers, veterans and active military members, and police and fire personnel.

It offers a suggest $3 ticket for up to six individuals when guests present their LINK (EBT) cards.

This museum offers a pay-what-you-can policy with a suggested admission price of $15 for adults and $8 for students, teachers & seniors.


  • Monday | closed
  • Tuesday | 10:00 am - 9:00 pm
  • Wednesday-Friday | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving & Christmas | closed

Learn more about free museum days at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Chicago History Museum Free Days

This museum has a collection of several items covering the history of architecture, textiles, industrial arts, paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, and more.

The Chicago History Museum provides free museum days to Illinois residents on MLK Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, March 4th, and July 4th.

Illinois residents age 18 and under have free access, and non-Illinois residents age 12 and under have free entry at any time of year.

United students and employees, service members, and social services recipients may get free or reduced rate access with a valid ID.

In addition, Chicago residents are eligible for a $2 savings off of the price of Adult, Senior, or Student admission.

2004 Illinois Resident Free Days:

  • January 15-19, 23-25, 30-31
  • February | 1-2, 6-9, 13-16, 19-23, 27-29
  • March | 12, 27-28

Check their website for updates to their free days list.


  • Monday | closed
  • Tuesday - Saturday | 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
  • Sunday | noon to 5:00 pm
  • Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Eve, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve | they have shortened hours.

Learn more about free museum days and reduced-price-admittance to the Chicago History Museum.

TEMPORARILY CLOSED IN 2024: Clark House Museum Free Days

This is one of the most historic houses in the city of Chicago, and they offer free tours of the landmark three times a week!

These tours are only one hour in length, but they offer a wonderful opportunity to see the oldest house in the city.

Tours are limited to 8 people and only available on a first-come, first-served basis, which means you should apply for them well ahead of time.


  • To be announced on reopening

Learn more about free museum days at the Clark House Museum.


DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center Free Days

This African-American history museum has a massive collection of artwork as well as limited exhibits that focus on African-American art.

There is free admission for everyone on Wednesdays.

Kids ages 5 and under always receive free admission to this museum as do Illinois public school students.

Active duty military, Blue Star and Gold Star families, first responders, University of Chicago students, Park District employees, SNAP adults, and youth are also given free access with appropriate proof.

Adult and Student Chicago residents who don't fit into the above categories will save an extra $2 on tickets no matter when they choose to come.


  • Monday, Tuesday & major US holidays | closed
  • Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday | 11:00 am - 4:00 pm

Learn more about free museum days & reduced-price entry at the Dusable Museum.

Brookfield Zoo Free Days

While technically a zoo isn't a museum, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that this family-friendly attraction also offers free admission days.

In 2024 Brookfield Zoo is free to visit on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between January 2nd to February 29th.

Admission is always free for all children 2 and under, members of the zoo, and active, reservist, and retired members of the military.

There are also savings for groups of 20 or more visitors.


  • Daily | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Learn more about free museum days and reduced-price admittance at the Brookfield Zoo.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Free Days

This family-friendly museum includes art inspired by nature, play spaces for kids, and even a butterfly haven with more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies.

Free entry is offered to Illinois teachers, Active Duty Blue Star Families, ASTC Passport Program members, and more.

The museum has what are called Donation Days once a week on Thursdays. On these days, Illinois residents can get free admission or choose to support the museum with a $10 donation.

And at all times, Illinois residents save $2 off of full-price tickets. There's also an opportunity for access up to 4 times per year for library card holders in the Illinois Library System.

Groups of 10 or more visitors are also eligible for savings on tickets.


  • Daily | 10:00 am - 4:00 pm*
  • May 3rd, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day | closed

*Members can get early access at 9:00 am on Sundays and Tuesdays

Learn more about the free museum days and savings at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.


Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have created a program for their customers that allows them to visit some museums for free.

The Museums on Us program requires you to own either a credit or debit card from Bank of America or Merrill Lynch and the free days offered are up to the participating museum.

Admission benefits are not transferable and are valid only for the cardholder.

The following Chicago locations take part in this program:

  • Adler Planetarium
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center
  • Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
  • The Morton Arborem
  • Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center


In addition to all the other options available for free museum tickets, both active-duty members of the military and veterans are eligible for admission to some of the best museums in Chicago.

The following locations provide free admission to military members and/or veterans with valid ID.

  • Shedd Aquarium
    • Active Duty Military Personnel
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Museum of Science and Industry
    • Active Duty Military Personnel & Veterans
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military (see above for details on days/guests)
  • Field Museum of Natural History
    • Active Duty Military Personnel
  • Adler Planetarium
    • Active Duty US Military
    • National Guard
    • Reserve
    • Military Veteran Personnel (see above for details on guests)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Chicago History Museum
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Clark House Museum
  • Illinois Holocaust Museum (50% off)
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military
  • DuSable Black Museum and Education Center
    • Active Duty Military
  • Brookfield Zoo
    • Veterans
    • Reservists
    • Active Duty US Military Personnel


If you’re looking for another way to save some money on museum tickets, you may want to think about getting a Chicago attraction tourist pass.

These services allow you to pay one flat price for access to either a specific number of attractions or a set number of days in which you can enjoy dozens of popular activities.

Once you’ve paid for the pass, you’ll receive free access to all of the museums included with the service.

In addition to providing free or reduced-price admission to several museums, most passes also offer skip-the-line privileges at some locations.

The following Chicago museums are included with tourist passes:

Depending on how you use a tourist pass, you could save 50% or more on some of the most popular activities in the windy city.

For more details, make sure to check our post covering Chicago attraction tourist passes.



While we try to cover everything in our post to make a your trip to a Chicago museum easier, there are surely questions you'll have that will apply only to you.

That's why the Free Tours By Foot Chicago Travel Tips page on Facebook comes in handy. You can ask direct questions there and one of our almost 22,000 members will often provide the answer!

Here are a few tips we've found:

1. Are Chicago attraction savings passes worth it? Yes, depending on the number of attractions you can to visit.

2. Which of two museums would kids like better. The Museum of Science and Industry, which has free days, wins!

3. Where should folks go in Chicago? Well, lots of places including some that are free and are included on our list above.


About The Author


Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: January 29th, 2024
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