Mastering Chicago museums in a day

ChicagoCultureFamily TravelNorth America

Land, air and sea: Visit Chicago’s top museums in eight hours

Planning a vacation to Chicago can be a bit overwhelming. With so much to see and do, it’s difficult to determine how to fit everything into a few days! Fortunately, Chicago’s Museum Campus is home to three of the city’s most popular attractions all within walking distance of one another. Whether you’re traveling with kids or just anyone that loves to learn, you can satisfy them with just one day and three museums.

The Museum Campus is situated beautifully next to Lake Michigan and is home to Chicago’s natural science museums: the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium. The grounds are immaculately kept and purposefully landscaped. The campus opened in 1998 and has been pleasing tourist and locals alike ever since.

After you’ve booked your incredible Chicago hotel, but before you embark on your 8 hour museum mission, pick up a Chicago CityPASS. The pass gives you admission tickets to all three museums on the campus at 50% discounts. You’re also able to skip the ticket lines at each of the attractions, which can save you hours!

Land: The Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The museum brings in 2 million visitors annually. Most are there to see the incredible permanent exhibitions that range from prehistoric fossils to lessons of today’s need for conservation.

The building itself is a piece of history, as it is the only remaining building from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Funding was provided by Chicago legend and businessman, Marshall Field. It is one of the most highly reputable natural history museums in the world. Mostly due to its wide range of collections and extensive scientific research findings.

The largest, both figuratively and literally, display in the Field Museum is Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. She is the most complete and preserved T. rex fossil ever discovered and stretches 42 feet long. You’ll think Sue looks pretty good for a 67 million year old!

Another fascinating draw for the Field Museum are its three working laboratories. The DNA Discovery Center allows visitors to watch scientists extract DNA from fossilized organisms and even ask them any questions they have about DNA. In the McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab and The Regenstein Laboratory visitors can watch paleontologists prepare, study, and preserve anthropological specimens.

Even today, over 100 years since its inception, The Field Museum is fulfilling its mission of the “accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrating, art, archaeology, science, and history.”


Air: Adler Planetarium

Founded in 1930, the Adler’s mission is to inspire exploration and understanding of the universe. During your visit, you can choose between three theaters, detailed space science exhibitions, and a connection of antique scientific instruments and artifacts.

When you need to refuel, Café Galileo’s offers continental breakfast and lunch. The café provides a relaxing atmosphere with arguably the best view of the Chicago skyline.

After seeing the exhibits, you’ll be ready to see the real thing. The Adler is also home to the Doane Observatory, which is one of few public observatories where research is currently taking place. Here, people can see the universes’ galaxies, planets, and starts with their own eyes.

When trying to visit all three museums in a day, it’s best to pick your favorite exhibit and focus on experience it to its full potential. No matter what your interest, the Adler has something to fascinate you. The Planet Explorers Exhibition allows young children to travel to “Planet X” without ever leaving the grounds. They can burn off energy climbing, crawling, and piloting their way from Earth to the unknown.

Bring the kids back to Earth by checking out the Historic Atwood Sphere. Constructed in 1913, it’s the oldest large-scale mechanical planetarium in Chicago. With it observers can experience the night sky over Chicago in 1913, before the light pollution took hold. The Adler is dedicated to educating future generations on preserving the night skies for generations to come.


Sea: Shedd Aquarium

Built in 1930, The Shedd Aquarium was the first inland aquarium with a permanent collection of saltwater fish. The Shedd is an extremely popular destination, attracting over 2 million annual visitors. Before the aquarium opened, 20 railroad cars transported 1 million gallons of seawater from Key West to Chicago. Today, the water is home to over 1,500 species of fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians, and insects.

The most popular exhibit is the Caribbean Reef, which is a 90,000 gallon circular tank that allows for 360 degree viewing. Kids and adults will be absolute wonder as they chase fish, eels, and turtles. Another fun feature of The Caribbean Reef are the divers that enter the tank for feeding and care of the animals. You can ask questions and interact with them as they swim!

The aquarium isn’t just home to saltwater creatures. It has a diverse population of animals that live in freshwater, marine, terrestrial, and aerial environments. The Abbott Oceanarium transports you to the Pacific Northwest, where you’ll see Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, and beluga whales. There are daily shows in the Rice Amphitheater that entertain and educate.

If you happen to plan your visit during the months of May to October, you can experience the Shedd’s first outdoor exhibit, “Stingray Touch.” It doesn’t matter what age you are, once you dip your hand into the shallow tropical pool filled with schools of stingrays, you’re sure to smile. At the same time, you’ll learn about how the Shedd cares for stingrays and how you can protect them and their natural habitats.

In just 8 hours, you’ve traveled from the corners of space to the depths of the ocean without leaving a mile radius! Now you can see that your next visit to Chicago shouldn’t be overwhelming and you can be a museum master in no time. After you book your hotel in Chicago, experience land, air, and sea in the Windy City.

Search IHG Hotels