Free Museums in Chicago

In this post, we will list all of the museums you can visit for free in Chicago.

While some locations only offer free museum days, others provide admission to veterans, military family, and other specific groups.

 

 


ALWAYS FREE MUSEUMS IN CHICAGO

While many museums in Chicago offer free admission on specific days, there is also a handful that provides open entry at all times.

This section will provide details about all of the locations you can visit whenever you want!



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 which 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.

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun
  • 10 am – 8 pm | Thursday
  • Closed on Monday & major US holidays

Learn more about the Smart Museum of Art.


National Museum of Mexican Art

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

 

 

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.

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

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Tue-Sun
  • Closed on Monday & major US Holidays

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.

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Tue, Sat & Sun
  • 10 am – 8 pm | Wed, Thur & Fri
  • Closed on Monday & major US holidays

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 the windy city, 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.

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Tue, Thur-Sun
  • 10 am – 8 pm | Wednesday
  • Closed on Monday & major US holidays

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.

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!

 

Newberry Library Chicago

 

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

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

Hours

  • 9 am – 5 pm | Tue-Friday
  • 9 am – 1 pm | Saturday
  • Closed on Monday & major US holidays

Learn more about the Newberry Library.


FREE DAYS AT CHICAGO MUSEUMS

The following section will cover all of the locations in Chicago that have free museum 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’s Aquarium

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 $3 transaction fee will apply, but that’s a low price to pay for entry.

Educators from IL, IN, MI, WI can also receive a complimentary pass when registering online.

Hours

  • 9 am – 5 pm | Weekdays
  • 9 am – 6 pm | Weekends

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


Museum of Science and Industry

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 definitely worth a visit.

 

 

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

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

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

Hours

  • 9:30 am – 4 pm daily
  • Closed on Thanksgiving & Christmas

Learn more about free and discounted admission to the Museum of Science and Industry.

 

Chicago Children’s Museum

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 for children under the age of 15 on the first Sunday of every month.

The Chicago Children’s Museum also offers additional discounts such as their Play Late Thursdays event which allows up to 4 people to enter for only $14.95 from 4 pm – 8 pm each Thursday.

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Mon – Wed
  • 10 am – 8 pm | Thursday
  • 10 am – 7 pm | Fri-Sun

Learn more about the Chicago Children’s Museum.


Field Museum of Natural History

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

 

 

The Field Museum offers free admission to Illinois residents at various times throughout the year, with free museum days available during most months.

If you’re an educator in Illinois, you can get a complimentary pass by registering online.

Hours

  • 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

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.

 

 

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.

Hours

  • 9 am – 4 pm daily
  • Closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Learn more about free and discounted admission at Adler Planetarium.


Art Institute of Chicago

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

Illinois residents can get free admission every Thursday from 5 pm – 8 pm. They also offer entry to locals on winter weekdays from January – February.

Residents of Illinois can also save $3 on tickets any day of the week, while Chicago residents get $5 off.

Hours

  • 10:30 am – 5 pm | Fri – Wed
  • 10:30 am – 8 pm | Thursday
  • Closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Learn more about free and discounted entry to the Art Institute of Chicago.


Museum of Contemporary Art

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.

 

 

Residents of Illinois can get in for free every Tuesday from 10 am – 9 pm. 

The Museum of Contemporary Art also offers a free museum day to families with kids 12 and under on the second Saturday of every month.

Entry is always free for children and youth 18 and under.

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

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Mon, Wed-Thu, Sat-Sun
  • 10 am – 9 pm | Tuesday & Friday
  • Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving & Christmas

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


Chicago History Museum

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

 

 

Illinois residents get free admission every Tuesday from 12:30 pm – 9 pm. 

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

Both youths under 18 who live in Illinois and children under 12 from out of state will be given free entry at all times.

All Illinois educators can also get a free ticket to this museum. In addition, Chicago residents are eligible for a $2 discount.

Hours

  • 9:30 am – 4:30 pm | Mon, Wed-Sat
  • 9:30 am – 9 pm | Tuesday
  • 12 pm – 5 pm | Sunday

Learn more about free museum days and discounts at the Chicago History Museum.


Clark House Museum

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 15 people and only available on a first-come, first-serve basis, which means you should apply for them well ahead of time.

Hours

  • Wednesday, Friday & Saturday
    • 1 pm & 2:30 pm

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


Glessner House Museum

Much like the Clark House Museum, this is another notable and historic home in Chicago that offers free guided tours at least once a week.

 

 

Although they provide tours Wed – Sun, the service is only available for free on Wednesdays. Each tour lasts for about 75 minutes.

Self-guided tours are not available.

Tours are limited to 15 people and available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it will be important to apply for your tour ahead of time.

Hours

  • 11:30 am, 1 pm, 2:30 pm | Wed-Sun
  • Free tours on Wednesday
  • Thur-Sun Prices:
    • $15/Adults | $12/Students & Seniors | $8/Kids

Learn more about the free tours at Glessner House Museum.

 

DuSable Museum

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

 

 

The DuSable Museum offers a free museum day every Tuesday from 10 am – 5 pm. 

In addition to this free day, Chicago residents can save an extra $2 on tickets no matter when they choose to come.

Kids under 5 always receive free admission to this museum.

Hours

  • 10 am – 5 pm | Tue – Sat
  • 12 pm – 5 pm | Sunday
  • Closed on Monday & major US holidays

Learn more about free museum days & discounts at the Dusable Museum.

 


MUSEUMS ON US

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have created a program for their customers which 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
  • DuSable Museum
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • National Veterans Art Museum
  • National Hellenic Museum
  • Illinois Holocaust Museum

 


MUSEUMS WITH FREE VETERAN AND MILITARY ADMISSION

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:

  • Shedd Aquarium
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Museum of Science and Industry
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
    • Veterans
    • Military families
  • Field Museum of Natural History
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Adler Planetarium
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Chicago History Museum
    • Active Duty Military
    • Chicago Police & Firefighters
  • Glessner House Museum
    • Active Duty Military
  • Illinois Holocaust Museum (50% off)
    • Veterans
    • Active Duty Military
  • DuSable Museum
    • Active Duty Military

 


FREE WITH A TOURIST PASS

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

 

RELATED POSTS:

 

About the author

Manager | Chicago & Los Angeles

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!