Polish, Mexican, African, Puerto Rican, Asian, Swedish, and Ukrainian cultures, among others, have contributed to Chicago’s vibrant history and unique personality, creating a city that feels like home to visitors from all over the world.
To immerse yourself in Chicago’s diverse heritage, pay a visit to one of the city’s many cultural heritage museums.
1. Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
Chicago’s vibrant Chinatown is home to one of the oldest Chinese communities in the country. Enter through the ornate Chinatown Gate on Wentworth Avenue, the neighborhood’s “Main Street,” and discover the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago. Housing both permanent and rotating exhibits, a couple of features not to miss include Great Wall to Great Lakes: Chinese Immigration to the Midwest, which chronicles the stories of immigrant journeys to Chicago, and My Chinatown: Stories from Within, a video exhibit telling the stories of Chinatown residents — their journeys, customs, work, and families — from within Chinatown borders.
Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, 238 W. 23rd St., Chinatown, Tuesday — Friday 9:30 a.m. — 2 p.m. all year, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m — 5 p.m. summer, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m — 4 p.m. winter, closed Monday. Tickets: $5 suggested donation general admission, $3 students and seniors.
2. DuSable Museum of African American History
Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum of African American History’s collection includes more than 15,000 objects, featuring artworks and historical artifacts that promote understanding of, and inspire appreciation for, the experiences and achievements of African Americans throughout history. The museum is named for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian of African and French descent, who established a trading post and permanent settlement in 1779 that would become the city of Chicago. Don’t miss the museum’s augmented-reality experience (DuSable is the first Chicago museum to have one), which launches when artifacts and images are scanned. The experience begins with a hologram of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who greets you and gives you an overview of the exhibit. Part of Hyde Park’s Museum Campus South, DuSable Museum is located in beautiful Washington Park, home to a bird and butterfly sanctuary, lagoons, and the extremely Insta-worthy Fountain of Time.
DuSable Museum of African American History, Washington Park, 740 E. 56th Place, Hyde Park, Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday noon – 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Tickets: $10 adults, $7 students and seniors, $3 children ages 6 – 11, free for children 5 years and under. Free admission on Tuesdays.
3. Heritage Museum of Asian Art
Also located in Chinatown, the Heritage Museum of Asian Art displays works that span a vast range of Asian cultures and time periods. The museum’s collection includes archaic and modern jades, Neolithic pottery, imperial porcelains, Chinese snuff bottles, scholar’s objects, textiles, bronzes, and a whole lot more. Classical Chinese furniture also adorns its galleries.
Heritage Museum of Asian Art, 218 W. 26th St., Chinatown, Tuesday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Tickets: $8 adults, $6 students and seniors, $3 children ages 14 – 17, free for children under 13 and active military.
4. National Hellenic Museum
Located in the center of the West Loop’s Greektown, the four-story National Hellenic Museum is home to a collection of more than 17,000 artifacts that span thousands of years. Its core exhibit, Reaching for the American Dream: The Greek Story in America, showcases photographs, personal accounts, and artifacts that reflect the Greek-American experience. You’ll also find religious objects, furniture, textiles, and paintings, as well as the Oral History Collection, which contains hundreds of interviews with Greek Americans.
National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted St., West Loop, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. – 8.p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Tickets: $10 adults, $8 students and seniors, $7 children ages 3 — 12, free for children ages 3 and under.
5. National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art is located in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, renowned for its rich Latino culture, street art, and prolific artist studios (which you can tour for free on the 2nd Friday of the month). Wander the halls of this dynamic museum and you’ll discover a collection of more than 10,000 works — one of the largest collections in the country. Look for special cultural performances that include dance, music, and theater, too. And during the fall season, don’t miss the museum’s exuberant, family-friendly Day of the Dead celebrations.
6. National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture
The only national museum in the country dedicated to the arts and culture of Puerto Rico is located in Humboldt Park, Chicago’s proud Puerto Rican neighborhood. Visitors enter through a dramatic brick archway and into a magnificent courtyard adorned with mosaics depicting the island and people of Puerto Rico. The Queen Anne-style building the museum occupies is an architectural treat, having served as horse stables in the late 1800s. It commands beautiful views over the gardens, lagoons, and green spaces of Humboldt Park itself.
7. Polish Museum of America
Established in 1935, the Polish Museum of America in West Town is one of the oldest and largest cultural history museums in the country. It showcases an extensive collection of artifacts, including paintings and sculptures by Polish and Polish-American artists, objects from the Polish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and examples of folk traditions (including traditional nativity scenes). Pay a visit to the Paderewski Room, which is dedicated to the life and historical achievements of pianist, composer, and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski. And tour exhibits of other famous Poles, including Pope John Paul II, General Casimir Pulaski, and Shakespearean actress Helena Modrzejewska (Modjeska).
8. Swedish American Museum
For more than 40 years, Swedish American Museum has been a cultural cornerstone in the Andersonville neighborhood, a traditionally Swedish enclave renowned today for its diversity and inclusivity. The museum’s main exhibit, The Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago, explores the struggles and triumphs of Swedish immigrants, and features authentic artifacts like passports and steamship tickets. In June 2001, the museum opened the nation’s first children’s museum of immigration, with a hands-on interactive exhibit for kids of all ages. If you happen to be visiting over the holiday season, don’t miss the St. Lucia Festival of Lights, which begins with a torch-lit procession down the sidewalks of Clark Street, kicking off at the museum.
Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark St., Andersonville, Monday — Friday 10 a.m. — 4 p.m., Saturday — Sunday 11 a.m. — 4 p.m. Children’s Museum: Monday — Thursday 1 p.m. — 4 p.m., Friday — Sunday 11 a.m. — 4 p.m. Tickets: $4 adults, $3 children, students and seniors, $10 families. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month.
9. Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
This is a fabulous place to visit, with a collection of contemporary art that represents one of the world’s largest collections of Ukrainian-American abstract and minimalist works from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. You’ll see amazing sculptures, paintings, prints, photography, fiber arts, and ceramics by the likes of Nancy Polotkin, Christina Saj, Yevhen Prokopov, and Elisabeth Frink, plus fascinating exhibitions, concerts, readings, and lectures throughout the year.
10. Ukrainian National Museum
The Ukrainian National Museum is recognized as having one of the most important folk art collections outside of the Ukraine, housing more than 10,000 objects, including wedding and festive attire, richly embroidered and woven textiles, ceramics, metalwork, decorative wood-carved objects from the 19th and 20th centuries, and an impressive collection of Ukrainian Easter eggs. Added to this is a fine arts collection consisting of roughly 500 paintings, drawings, graphic works, and sculptures by noted Ukrainian artists of the 20th century.
Even more cultural history museums to visit
If you love learning all about world cultures, then make a bee-line for Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. Pay a visit to:
- Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in the West Lawn neighborhood
- Dank Haus German American Cultural Center in Lincoln Square
- Haitian American Museum of Chicago in Uptown
- Irish American Heritage Center in the Mayfair neighborhood
- National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Lincoln Square
- National Indo American Museum in West Ridge
- South Side Community Art Center (African American art and artists) in Bronzeville