In partnership with Time Out Chicago – and in anticipation of our TENTH year in Grant Park – we’re showcasing the best of the best of the Windy City. Last week we shared the top brunch destinations, and this week we’re celebrating the best of the local museum scene. Just in time to slot some cultural discovery into your weekend!
If you need a break from the sun, spending it at a museum is a no-duh. (Ferris Bueller knew this; he hit up the Art Institute.) These well-respected institutions offer informative and inspiring encounters with art, history, science and culture, not to mention noteworthy architecture. Here are the five Chicago museums you can’t miss.
Founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum still packs ’em in with more than 30 permanent exhibitions covering 300,000 square feet. Inside the permanent displays, you can see glowering dinos, marvel at ancient artifacts from a royal Egyptian tomb, undergo a lesson in cannibalism in the “Pacific Spirits” gallery or take a stroll through the newly rehabbed Halls of Gems and Jade.
You could spend the next four years getting to know this encyclopedic institution, which owns more than 300,000 artworks and artifacts from all over the world and every era from antiquity to the present. Our favorite pieces include the Japanese prints, fragments of local buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Thorne Miniature Rooms. We’re also in love with Renzo Piano’s light-filled Modern Wing, which is the perfect place to enjoy the Art Institute’s architecture and design collection, modern and contemporary art, and gorgeous views of Millennium Park.
The Museum of Contemporary Art houses one of the largest collections of modern art in the nation and frequently hosts major touring exhibits. In addition to its galleries, the MCA also boasts a gift store, bookstore, restaurant, 300-seat theater, and a picturesque sculpture garden.
If you’re into exhibits loaded with interactive bells and whistles, this expansive Hyde Park locale is your ticket. The museum’s focus is broad, with permanent displays that include the popular, health-focused new “You! The Experience” gallery, the new whiz-bang “Science Storms,” plus the old faves: a restored U-505 German submarine, a simulated coal mine and a glass-covered hatchery of chicks.
Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this 75-year-old institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays, turtles and moray eel of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks and, the most storied of them all, a 100-plus-year-old Australian lungfish believed to be the longest-living fish in any aquarium in the world. A 2009 rehab of the Oceanarium gave Shedd a lifelike river and tide-pool, a reworked otter habitat, and an attempt to revamp its daily mammal presentations with choreography.
Want more culture? Check out the rest of Time Out Chicago’s list of the best museums in Chicago.