Nestled within side streets and dotting the city's main thoroughfares, some of the most impressive cultural attractions in Chicago are just a step or two off the beaten path. Here are 5 of the lesser-known attractions in Chicago to uncover:
1. ORIENTAL INSTITUTE MUSEUM
Imagine coming face-to-face with a 17-foot-tall statue of the infamous King Tut, being so close you can see the subtle pleats in his kilt. Or, picture gazing upon a set of shattered Persian plates from royal tables, broken when Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis. Or, visualize walking right up to a gigantic stone bull head, knowing that it was the same one used to guard kings at Persepolis in 500 B.C. It's all at the Oriental Institute Museum.
2. PRITZKER MILITARY LIBRARY
Don't let the name fool you – there are more than just books at Pritzker Military Library. More than 35,000 books, posters, photographs, videos and artifacts ranging from military medals to swords tell the revealing story of American history through the eyes of the citizen soldier.
Take a 30-45 min. tour on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, or wander collections ranging from training comics from WWII and Korea to medical research files on topics like early ambulances and Civil War nurses.
3. CLARKE HOUSE MUSEUM
What was life like for the typical Chicago family during the city's formative years, just before the Civil War? You can find out at the Clarke House Museum, built in 1836 and widely considered Chicago's oldest home.
This Greek Revival-style structure has survived fires, financial hardships, severe floods, changes of ownership, updates to its exterior, a stint as a church office and even two moves, the last of which brought it to its current home on Indiana Avenue. Today, visitors can walk through the twice-restored Clarke House Museum and marvel at the original design, historic furnishings, vibrant décor and overall resilience of this memorable property.
4. MCCORMICK BRIDGEHOUSE & CHICAGO RIVER MUSEUM
Did you know Chicago has the most movable bridges of any city in the world? Tucked beneath busy Michigan Avenue on the lower riverwalk level, McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum is your ticket to discovering the inner workings of the city's most famous movable bridge.
Chicago was founded as a busy water route and movable bridges were necessary to handle the land and water traffic on the bustling Chicago River. The parade of bridgehouses that spans the waterway now come in all architectural styles and this museum (open for the season each May to October) is located right inside one of the historic landmarks. Travel up it's five stories for 360-degree views out the porthole windows — a perspective you can't get anywhere else — and step inside the working gear room, where on bridge lift days you can see the engineering marvel at its finest.
5. GLESSNER HOUSE MUSEUM
The year is 1887. Chicago's elite Prairie Avenue – "that holy of holies where only the elect do dwell," said the Chicago Evening Journal in the late 19th century – has just seen the completion of a 17,000-square-foot modern day castle. The residence, designed by architect H. H. Richardson for wealthy Chicagoan John Glessner, shattered the designs typical of the period and created a structure unlike anything ever seen.
Inside the fortress-like stone walls of the Glessner House Museum, you can still see the original sun-lit courtyard, 11 fireplaces, 14 staircases and several levels of cozy hospitality. For 50 years, Glessner and his family lived in the home, and now you can travel back in time to see the residence firsthand.