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How to Visit a Chicago Museum for Free: Fall & Winter 2012

We are all so appreciative of all the amazing museums in the Chicago area, but sometimes visiting -- especially with a few kids in tow -- can get pricey.

The Adler Planetarium is among several museums that offer "community free days." Photo by happysteve on Flickr.Checking out a Museum Adventure Pass from your local library is one option. Sometimes it makes the most sense to become a member, especially if it's a place you'll visit more than once in a year. And if you plan to visit a couple of museums in a short time span, you'll want to look into purchasing the CityPass or the Go Chicago Card.

But many museums also offer community free days or regular days during a month when visitors get in free. Note that these days are often quite popular, so you might be fighting some crowds. And also make sure to check the museum’s website, or give the museum a call, before your visit to make sure nothing has changed since this guide was compiled. Here's a list of the published discount dates for fall and winter of 2012:

The Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. 312-922-7827. Free general admission for Illinois residents: Sept. 11-12, Sept. 18-19, Sept. 25-26; Oct. 2-3, Oct. 9-10, Oct. 16-17, Oct. 23-24, Oct. 30-31.

Museum of Science & Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. 773-684-1414. Free general admission for Illinois residents on: Sept. 4-7, Sept. 10-14, Sept. 17-21, Sept. 24-28; Oct. 1-3; Nov. 5 and Dec. 3. .

Shedd Aquarium, 1200 South Lake Shore Drive on Chicago’s Museum Campus. 312-399-2438. Free general admission for Illinois residents on the following dates: Sept. 10-11, Sept. 17-18, Sept. 24-25; Oct. 1-2, Oct. 8-9, Oct. 15-16, Oct. 22-23, Oct. 29-30; Nov. 5-6, Nov. 12-13, Nov. 19, Nov. 20, Nov. 26, Nov. 27.

Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago Avenue in Chicago. 312-280-2660. Admission is free for Illinois residents on Tuesdays year round. 

Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark Street in Chicago. 312-642-4600. Free general admission for Illinois residents on Aug. 22-23, Aug. 29-30; Sept. 4-6, Sept. 11-13, Sept. 18-20, Sept. 25-27, Oct. 2-4, Oct. 9-11. 

The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. 312-443-3600. The Art Institute is free to Illinois residents on the first and second Wednesdays of every month. Children under 14 are always free except during group visits or student tours.

The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. 312-922-9410. Free basic admission for Illinois residents on Aug. 27, Aug. 29, Aug. 30; Sept. 4-5, Sept. 9, Sept. 11, Sept. 25-26. (Check the site next month for more dates.)

Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier in Chicago.  312-527-1000. Free for all visitors every Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and free for all children 15 and under on the first Sunday of every month. Here's a coupon for $1 off each admission, up to four per family.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive in Chicago. 773-755-5100. Free general admission for Illinois residents on Thursdays.

DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place in Chicago. 773-947-0600. Admission is free to all on each Sunday of the year.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thank you for putting this in one post. I feel like I hunt every year for the dates and we are lucky to make even one!

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Nicole .. I'm glad to help! It's interesting to see how some museums offer one day every week as a free day, where others bunch the days up over the fall and winter. I'll make sure to update the suburban guide with Brookfield Zoo's free days once they are posted. My family enjoyed a great free weekend at Brookfield Zoo last winter .. we spent our time at the indoor exhibits and really enjoyed ourselves.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTara Burghart

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