Chicago has some incredible museums, zoos, and gardens. Whether you’re looking for an educational experience, or to encourage your child’s interests, or just to spend a fun day with the family, there are plenty of options in and around Chicago. It can be expensive taking a family to these institutions, but here are times you can visit to save some money. Many places offer free general admission, meaning that if you plan to attend shows or see special exhibits you’ll have to purchase admission for those. As always, it’s a good idea to call before you go to confirm dates and prices, and expect to find bigger crowds on free or discounted days.
Adler Planetarium – Free general admission for Illinois residents on January 7-9, 14-17, 28-31.
Art Institute of Chicago – Free admission for Illinois residents every weekday from January 7 through February 13, 2013. Beginning February 14, 2013, admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is free to Illinois residents every Thursday from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Brookfield Zoo – General admission is free Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Thursday, February 28. Hamill Family Play Zoo is free November 1 through December 31.
Cantigny – Free admission every day. $5 parking.
Chicago Botanic Garden – Free admission every day. $20 parking.
Chicago Children’s Museum – Free admission for all visitors on Thursday evenings from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm. Free admission for visitors 15 and under on the first Sunday of each month.
Chicago History Museum – Free admission for Illinois residents on January 21, February 4-28, and March 4.
Cosley Zoo – Free admission for children 17 and younger every day.
DuSable Museum of African American History – Free admission for all every Sunday.
Field Museum – Free basic admission for Illinois residents.
- January 15-18, 22, 28, 30
- February 4-8, 11-15, 19-22, 25-28
Garfield Park Conservatory – Free admission every day.
Klehm Arboretum & Botanical Garden – Free admission the first Tuesday of each month.
Lincoln Park Zoo – Free admission every day.
Morton Arboretum – Discounted admission on Wednesdays.
Museum of Contemporary Art – Free admission for Illinois residents every Tuesday year round.
Museum of Science and Industry – Free admission for Illinois residents with proof of residency. Omnimax films, Coal Mine, the optional U-505 onboard tour, and certain temporary exhibits not included in general admission and require ticket purchase.
- January 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28-31
- February 6, 13, 20, 27
- March 4
- April 22
- May 6
- June 3-7, 10
- September 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, 30
- October 1, 2
- November 4
- December 9
National Museum of Mexican Art – Free admission every day.
Oak Park Conservatory – Free admission every day. Donations accepted.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – Free admission for Illinois residents every Thursday.
Shedd Aquarium – Free general admission for Illinois residents.
- January 7, 8, 14, 15, 20-22, 28, 29
- February 4, 5, 11, 12, 17-19, 25, 26
- March 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
Swedish American Museum – Free admission the second Tuesday of each month.
Free and discounted admission programs
Bank of America Free Days – One free general admission for each cardholder during the first weekend of each month at the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago History Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, or the Adler Planetarium.
Kids Museum Passports at the Chicago Public Libraries – Passes may be checked out at Chicago Public Libraries. See website for participating museums.
National Public Gardens Day – Sign up to receive a free family pass for a participating public garden on National Public Gardens Day, May 10, 2013. Information and registration are not yet available for 2013.
Smithsonian Museum Day – Request a free pass for two household members to a participating museum. Information for the 2013 Museum Day will be available in Spring; 2012 Museum Day was in September.