Chicago boasts a diverse array of world-class cultural institutions, including the country’s first planetarium, a science museum housed in a building built for the 1893 World’s Fair, and one of the oldest and largest art museums in the world.

And each of these museums is filled with jaw-dropping exhibits. You can admire a renowned collection of Impressionist masterpieces, come face to face with a towering T.rex, watch sharks swim in a coral reef, and beyond.

Whether you’re eager to check out priceless works of art, scientific discoveries, cultural artifacts — or all of the above — you can find it all at these permanent museum exhibits in Chicago. 

Impressionism at Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago; photo by Abel Arciniega, @tequilagraphics

The Art Institute of Chicago is a treasure trove of masterpieces from all over the globe. Their mesmerizing exhibits showcase everything from ancient Greek statues and Qing dynasty pottery to contemporary works by Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. 

But the crown jewel of their massive collection is their Impressionism hall, known as one of the largest and finest outside of the Louvre in Paris. 

The works on display include a wide range of paintings from late 19th-century France by many of the genre’s most famous artists, including Gustave Caillebotte, Georges Seurat, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and beyond. It’s a must-see for any art lover.

Science Storms at Museum of Science and Industry

MSI Storm exhibit
J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Spanning more than 400,000 square feet, the Museum of Science and Industry showcases the wonders of science and technology through a broad variety of hands-on activities and displays.

Experience the awe-inspiring power of nature at the Science Stormsexhibit. The interactive space highlights natural phenomena like fire, sunlight, lightning, and natural disasters through large-scale recreations. 

You’ll step inside a tornado, see a 1.5 million volt lightning strike, create your own tsunami, and walk away with a new appreciation and understanding of the world around you.

Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet at Field Museum

Sue at Field Museum
Photo by Lucy Hewett

This prominent natural history museum unites the past and present under one roof. Look forward to incredible exhibits displaying everything from accounts of modern-day conservation projects to timeworn artifacts and prehistoric specimens, such as those in theGriffin Halls of Evolving Planet.

The Griffin Halls inside the Field Museum is home to a giant ground sloth, a model of a 3.2-million-year-old hominid, and the museum’s most famous resident — SUE the T. rex, a 40-foot-long dinosaur with 90% of its bones intact.

Through a series of fossils, animated videos, and hands-on displays, learn about the evolutionary history of life and the creatures that once inhabited Earth thousands of years ago.

Wild Reef at Shedd Aquarium

Wild Ree Shark Habitat at Shedd Aquarium
Wild Reef Shark Habitat at Shedd Aquarium

On Chicago’s Museum Campus, the lakefront Shedd Aquarium welcomes more than two million guests each year for unforgettable encounters with aquatic creatures. Become immersed in the beauty of marine life, where vibrant schools of tropical fish swim in unison and majestic sea turtles glide through crystal-clear water. 

One of the “must-sea” museum exhibits in Chicago is Wild Reef, illuminating movement and color, as well as Shedd’s efforts to protect global reefs. Admire a picturesque Philippine coral reef, teeming with jellyfish, clownfish, eels, starfish, spotted rays, and plenty of sharks at this wondrous exhibit. 

Chicago: Crossroads of America at Chicago History Museum

Chicago: Crossroads of America at Chicago History Museum
Chicago: Crossroads of America at Chicago History Museum

Embark on an exciting journey through the city’s remarkable past via historical records, relics, and archives at the Chicago History Museum. Between galleries that engage all of your senses and photography series highlighting key figures in history, the museum provides many hours’ worth of intrigue. 

For example, the Chicago: Crossroads of Americapermanent exhibit allows visitors to step back in time to discover how Chicago came to be the magnificent city it is today. Experience an old-school jazz club, learn about the city’s meat-packing heyday, and even step aboard the historic ‘L’ car No. 1, which operated in the 1800s. 

The Egyptian Gallery at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures

The Egyptian Gallery at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures
The Egyptian Gallery at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures; photo by Michael Tropea

With more than 800 objects dating back as far as 10,000 years, The Egyptian Gallery at the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures in Hyde Park offers an extraordinary glimpse into everyday life in ancient Egypt. Museum-goers can see handwritten documents, brightly painted coffins, a colossal Statue of King Tut, and other excavated treasures.

A Nation of Writers at American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum celebrates the lives and legacies of the country’s most influential novelists, journalists, and poets. 

Featuring a detailed visual timeline and abundant interactive multimedia, A Nation of Writers explores themes of identity, edge, and promise throughout American history — from when settlers colonized the United States until the present day.  

The exhibit concludes with the mesmerizing Word Waterfall. This spellbinding installation immerses visitors in bright projections of cascading words and ideas about the American experience.

Chicago’s Night Sky at Adler Planetarium

Adler Night Sky exhibit

Brimming with astronomical wonders, the country’s first planetarium offers telescopes, a stomp rocket, remnants of a real meteorite, and more. 

Chicago’s Night Sky is a must-visit ongoing exhibit at the Adler Planetarium, which presents interactive activities and scientific research conducted by experts and teens who participate in Adler’s program initiatives.  

These researchers aim to identify effective ways to bring back and preserve dark skies for future generations. In addition, the exhibit features a vast collection of star maps, celestial globes, and works of art. 

Looking for more? Explore museums all around Chicago.