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Spring Guide 2014: How to Visit a Chicago Museum for Free

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 Shedd Aquarium has a number of free days coming up in January and February. Photo by rendomthoughts 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 Chicago 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 Chicago sites in winter and spring of 2014:

The Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. 312-922-7827. Free general admission for Illinois residents in 2014: Jan. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29. More updates to be posted soon under "special offers" on the home page.  

Museum of Science & Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. 773-684-1414. Free general admission for Illinois residents in 2014 on: Jan. 17, 20-24, 27-31; Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25; March 10; May 5; June 1-6; September 8-12, 15-19, 22-26, 29; Oct. 6-7; Nov. 3, Dec. 8. The museum is also free for all children ages 3-11 on every day in February 2014. More details here

Shedd Aquarium, 1200 South Lake Shore Drive on Chicago’s Museum Campus. 312-399-2438. Free general admission for Illinois residents in 2014 on the following dates: Jan. 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28; Feb. 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 24 and 25. More dates are likely to be posted soon.

Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago Avenue in Chicago. 312-280-2660. Admission is free for Illinois residents on Tuesdays year round in 2014. 

Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark Street in Chicago. 312-642-4600. Free general admission for Illinois residents in 2014 on Jan. 20; on every day of the month in February 2014 except Saturdays; March 4; July 4; Aug. 10, Aug. 19-21, Aug. 26-28; in September 2014 on every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the month; Oct. 1-2 and Oct. 7-9.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. 312-443-3600. The Art Institute is free to Illinois residents every weekday from Jan. 6 through Feb. 12, 2014, as part of its "Free Winter Weekdays" promotion. Children under 14 are always free except during group visits or student tours. Admission is also free to Illinois residents in 2014 every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. 312-922-9410. Free basic admission for Illinois residents in 2014 on Jan. 16, 21, 22, 29 and 30. More dates likely to be posted soon. 

Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier in Chicago.  312-527-1000. Free for all visitors every Thursday evening in 2014 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. Thursdays are "suggested donation days" for Illinois residents in 2014.

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 in 2014.



We can't forget the 'burbs! While nearly every major Chicago museum offers “community free days,” that is more rare among suburban institutions, so the list below is a bit less definitive than the Chicago one.

Please 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 list was compiled. And if you know of a spot that should be on here, please let us know!

Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st Street, Brookfield. 708-688-8000.  Admission to the Hamill Family Play Zoo is free through Feb. 28, 2014. but you still must pay general admission and a $10 parking fee at the zoo. Currently for 2014, the Brookfield Zoo had free admission on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 27, only during regular zoo hours. 

Cosley Zoo, 1356 North Gary Avenue, Wheaton. 630-665-5534. It caused a bit of a stir in 2010 when this formerly free zoo (part of the Wheaton Park District) started charging admission. Residents of the Wheaton Park District are still free. Otherwise, adults pay $3, but children up to age 17 are free. 

The 'summer kitchen' at Kline Creek Farm, which is always free to visit. Photo by Tara Burghart. 

Red Oak Nature Center, on Route 25, one mile north of Route 56, North Aurora. 630-897-1808. Owned by the Fox Valley Park District, this nature center is open year round and offers free admission every day of the week. 

Midwest Museum of Natural History, 425 W. State Street, Sycamore. 815-895-9777. Free admission on Wednesdays. Fees still apply for special events or programs.

Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago. 630-876-5900. Admission is always free at this DuPage County Forest Preserve property that seeks to show visitors what life was like on a northern Illinois farm in in the 1890s. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays. 

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a nature center operated by the St. Charles Park District, 3795 Campton Hills Road, in James O. Breen Park, St. Charles, 630-513-4399. Admission is always free at this center, which is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Closed on Monday. 

Lederman Science Center at Fermilab, Kirk Road and Pine Street, Batavia. 630-840-8258. The museum was designed for middle school field trips, but the hands-on exhibits are available to the general public on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. On holidays, call to check if the center is open. 

Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton. 630-668-5161. There is no admission charge to walk the grounds or tour the museums at Cantigny. But there is a parking fee that depends on what time you visit. During the bulk of the day, the fee is $5, but is is only $2 early in the morning and late afternoon/early evening. Check the website for the exact times when the parking fee is just $2. It varies on the time of year. Note that Cantigny is closed in January and will reopen for Fridays through Sundays in February (closed Monday through Thursday in February.)

Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles. 630-444-3190. There is no admission charge for this center, which features interpretative displays and hands-on exhibits. It is open from Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.  The center is operated by the Kane County Forest Preserve District. 

Phillips Park Zoo, 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora. 630-256-3750. Admission is always free at this zoo and visitor center, which is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.) Zoo exhibits include approximately 100 animals representing 41 different species. Note that the Visitor's Center is closed in winter months. Click here to read about a Go West outing to Phillips Park.

Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union. 815-923-4000. The museum offered free admission on several days in previous years. It's unclear if those will be repeated this year. The museum is currently closed for winter until April 6, 2014.

Lake County Discovery Museum, Lakewood Forest Preserve in southwest Lake County. Entrance located on Route 176 west of Fairfield Road. On “Discount Tuesdays,” adults pay $3, but children through age 17 are free. (Up to five children per adult; extra children are $1.25 per child.)

Air Classics Museum of Aviation, 44W546 US Route 30, Sugar Grove. 630-466-0888. Call to check this museum is open before heading out; in previous years it has closed in the winter. During the months it is open, it is only open for general admission on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It does not have any free days, but kids under 6 are free when accommodated by their parent. Adults are $8 and children 6 and older are $5.

Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. 847-985-2100. Admission is free at this spot, which features 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes and streams, as well as more than three miles of handicapped-accessible hiking trails, a nature center and an 1880s living history farm. The site is open daily, but hours vary depending on the season, and Heritage Farm is closed from Dec. 1 to March 1. Check the website for exact details.

More Ideas:

  • A Go West reader says Bank of America offers free admission to its credit or debit card holders to certain museums the first weekend of the month. The program is called "Museums on Us."
  • Free museum passes are also available through your local library using the Museum Adventure Pass Program.