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9 Can't-Miss Museums in Chicago

For any passion or intellectual pursuit, Chicago has a museum to match.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Can't-Miss Museums in Chicago

Mexican art and the Mexican experience in the USA on display at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

The National Museum of Mexican Art feature rotating exhibits of Latino art. Admission is free.(Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

The Midwest's largest city first earned its place on the planet's cultural map when it hosted the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Its largest museums were established then and continue to thrive today. For first-time visitors to Chicago, here are some of the city's best museums according to some of its most knowledgeable residents: Chicago hotel concierges.

Art Institute of Chicago

There are 300,000 treasured artworks and artifacts within the world-famous Art Institute. Judson Corrie, concierge at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, says, "Arrive early, grab a top exhibits brochure or download a free tour app to get a sense of the enormous collections."

Headliner exhibits include the world-renowned Impressionist collection, Thorne Miniature Rooms, and the 20th- and 21st-century artworks in the Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing overlooking Millennium Park. Other favorite collections include the arms and armor, Chinese bronzes and Galleries of American Art. It's also home to Marc Chagall's six-panel stained-glass "America Windows," which made a cameo in the 1986 teen flick "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Admission is $25 for adults, $19 for seniors and children ages 14 to 17 and free for kids younger than 14. The museum is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday.

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium(Courtesy of Adler Planetarium)

Celestial sky shows and hands-on exhibits explain space phenomena and intergalactic events at the Adler Planetarium. The nation's first planetarium in the western hemisphere is home to one of the largest collections of historical scientific instruments in the world. "Mission Moon" showcases the restored Gemini 12 spacecraft flown by astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin. Kids can work the controls of a rocket and learn what it takes to go on a modern-day space mission at the "Planet Explorers" exhibit.

Ben Nelson, concierge at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, says there's another perk to visiting the planetarium: "From the planetarium situated at the peninsula's tip, take the postcard-perfect, panoramic shot of Chicago's iconic skyline."

Base admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3 to 11. The planetarium is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History(Courtesy of Field Museum of Natural History)

The Field Museum was established for exhibitions displayed during Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, including treasures in today's "Grainger Hall of Gems." Museum visitors are greeted by toothy Sue, the biggest, best-preserved and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever unearthed. The museum houses close to 20 permanent exhibits covering everything from the evolution of Earth to ancient Egyptian culture. Docents lead free tours of signature exhibits.

Basic admission is $22 for adults and $15 for children ages 3 to 11. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

National Museum of Mexican Art

Rotating exhibits at the National Museum of Mexican Art – located in the heart of Chicago's vibrant Pilsen neighborhood – feature Latino artwork. The permanent exhibit "Nuestras Historias," or "Our Histories," showcases the many dynamic and diverse stories of Mexican identity in North America.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free.

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry(J.B. Spector - Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)

Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, the Museum of Science and Industry is one of the world's largest science museums, and has a good number of hands-on exhibits. Visitors can observe and experiment with simulated natural phenomena, including tsunamis, avalanches and tornadoes in "Science Storms." All ages love the Omnimax films, the realistic "Coal Mine" and the more than 20 model trains chugging between Chicago and Seattle in "The Great Train Story."

Meg Stewart, concierge at The Gwen, A Luxury Collection Hotel, says, "There are so many different kinds of stimulating activities, even a nonscience lover will enjoy it."

Admission is $18 for adults and $11 for children ages 3 to 11. The museum welcomes visitors from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Richard H. Driehaus Museum

A peek inside the Richard H. Driehaus Museum(Alexander Vertikoff)

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum is housed in an opulent mansion built in the late 1800s. According to Rebecca Starodub, concierge at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, "The Gilded Age mansion loaded with artworks is like a time capsule of Chicago history." Highlights are the stained-glass-domed gallery and lavish marble main hall. Hand-crafted details include parquet floors and Tiffany Studios art glass light fixtures.

Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 to 12. Guided tours are available for $5. You can visit this museum Tuesday through Sunday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Chicago History Museum

Exhibits at the Chicago History Museum tell stories about Chicago's pioneer origins, civil rights history, sports, literary culture and more. For example, the museum in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has the world's second largest fashion collection composed of 50,000 costumes and textile artifacts. "Chicago is a city of inspiration," says Victor Colon, chief concierge at The Langham, Chicago. "Learn how the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 made way for building the city we enjoy today."

Admission (which includes an audio tour headset) is $16 for adults, and children 12 and younger can visit for free. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Oriental Institute Museum

Since 1919, the University of Chicago has conducted archaeological digs in the remains of ancient Near East civilizations (including in modern Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Syria). The small Oriental Institute Museum is packed with massive ancient artifacts from these digs, including a 17-foot statue of King Tut and a 40-ton, human-headed bull from Assyria's Yelda Khorsabad palace courtyard.

Admission is free, though a donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12 would be appreciated. The Oriental Institute Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Constantly changing multimedia exhibits and 2,500 artworks from the 1920s to the present are the reasons to venture inside. Galleries feature photography, video, paintings and large-scale installations, as well as select works by artists like Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and Cindy Sherman. Karen Giobbia, chief concierge at the Park Hyatt Chicago, says, "The unique gift shop is a destination all its own."

Suggested admission is $12 for adults, $7 for students and free for children ages 12 and younger. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Tuesday.

To experience more of what Chicago has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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