Best Of Chicago

Free Museum Day Guide

September 22, 2011 3:46 PM

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As autumn is upon us, it’s time to rediscover the great indoors, and our area museums provide some excellent indoor spaces to explore. Through the end of the year, there are plenty of non-member free museum days to take advantage of, so if the extracurricular budget is tight and you haven’t been out to a local museum in a while, it’s a good time to see some new exhibits. Of course, while we appreciate freebies, we also appreciate our fine cultural institutions, so be sure to check out the gift shop, buy lunch, purchase a membership or make a discretionary donation during your visit. All free days at the museums listed are for Illinois residents only, unless otherwise noted.



Adler Planetarium

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL

September: 27, 28
October: 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26

General admission is complimentary on Adler Discount Days. On those days, visitors have the option of adding a pass to the immersive space experience Deep Space Adventure, which includes tickets to a show and the historic Atwood Experience, at the discounted prices of $17 for adults and $15 for children ages 3-11.

Art Institute of Chicago

111 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL

October: 5 & 12
November: 2 & 9
December: 7 & 14

Free Family Wednesdays at the Art Institute are the first and second Wednesdays of every month. Thursday evenings, which used to be complimentary, are no longer free admission, though the museum is still open until 8:00 p.m. on those days. Don’t miss “The Avant-Garde in Everyday Life,” through October 9, or the new exhibit on Marina Towers architect Bertrand Goldberg, “Architect of Invention,” through January 15, 2012.

img 1404 Free Museum Day Guide

(credit: Steve Hardy/CBS Local)

Brookfield Zoo

3300 Golf Rd.
Brookfield, IL

While the Lincoln Park Zoo is free every day, the much larger Brookfield Zoo offers free days on occasion. Currently there are no general discount days at the Brookfield Zoo, though admission is always free for all (resident and non-resident) active, reservist, and retired members of the military. Check the Zoo’s website later in the season for announcements regarding winter free days.

Chicago History Museum


Chicago History Museum

1601 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL

September: 19-23, 26-30
October: 3-7, 10-13

The Chicago History Museum has replaced its free Mondays with Illinois Resident Discount Days. Now through October 13, admission is free every weekday. It’s a great time for residents to revisit their regional history or attend one of the museum’s many upcoming special events.

Chicago Childrens Museum


Chicago Children’s Museum

Navy Pier
700 E. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL

The Chicago Children’s Museum on Navy Pier is free for all visitors, out of state visitors included, every Thursday, 5:00-8:00 p.m. The museum is also free on the first Sunday of each month for children 15 and under.

Field Museum


Field Museum

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL

September: 22, 25
October: 2, 4, 11, 26, 31
November: 1, 3, 7, 20, 28-29
December: 4-8

Visitors enjoy complimentary basic admission on Field Museum Discount Days. Tickets for 3D film and special exhibitions, including Whales: Giants of the Deep and Underground Adventure, may be purchased separately.

Museum Of Contemporary Art


Museum of Contemporary Art

220 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL

Every Tuesday

The MCA continues its long and generous tradition of free Tuesdays for Illinois residents. Current exhibits include “Pandora’s Box: Joseph Cornell Unlocks the MCA Collection” and “Motor Cocktail: Sound and Movement in Art of the 1960s.” “The Language of Less (Then and Now),” an exploration of minimalist and postminimalist work from the 60s and 70s, opens October 8.

Museum Of Science And Industry


Museum of Science and Industry

57th St. and Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL

September: 19–23, 26–30
October: 31

General admission is free at MSI on weekdays through the end of September and on October 31. Tickets on for “Smart Home: Green + Wired,” Omnimax theater, and the “U-505 Submarine” and “WOW!” tours are an extra $8 each for adults on free days, with varying prices for seniors and children.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

(Credit: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

2430 N. Cannon Dr.
Chicago, IL

Every Thursday

Admission to the Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park is always affordable, and money well spent, and Illinois residents get free entry on Thursdays. Experience an urban escape to the natural world through current exhibits “Architecture by Birds and Insects,” On the Wings of a Monarch” and more.

Shedd Aquarium


Shedd Aquarium

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL

September: 26, 27
October: 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 31
November: 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29

Mondays and Tuesdays through November 29 are Community Discount Days at the Shedd, with free general admission. Admission includes Waters of the World, Amazon Rising, and the Caribbean Reef, with packages including Wild Reef, Polar Play Zone and Abbott Oceanarium available at a discounted rate.

Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.

View Comments
  • ToplessBartender

    You are a lot better off going to these places during the week when everybody is at work. I took my kid to a couple of these free admission days and it was a total waste of time. You have to pay for the good exibits anyway, they give you free admission to get in but they know once you are in you will want to go to the good exibits and shows.

    There are long lines for everything and it is very crowded which makes it very difficult to see anyting on free admission days.

    Unless you are dirt floor poor, you are much better off paying for the admission and going when there are not so many ppl when you can actually see without climbing on top of other ppl. You will see twice as much, twice as fast if you go on a regular day for not much more money.

  • Deon Revelli

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