Read, set, race at the Chicago Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum
Read, set, race at the Chicago Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum

When Kids Get in Free at 30 Chicago Museums, Zoos, and Parks

Chicago's museums, zoos, and parks rank among the best in the country—and lucky for busy, cash-strapped parents, many museums, zoos, gardens, and cultural institutions offer FREE or reduced admission at least once a month. Plus, many of the "grown-up" museums let kids in for free year-round, such as the Art Institute of Chicago. And most of the big institutions, including the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum, host popular free days just for Illinois residents throughout the year.

It can be hard to keep track of when and where these freebies are available, so we've compiled a list of reduced or free admission days and times at favorite Chicago cultural spots. Read on to find out when you can go to these fabulous Chicago museums, for free.

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Note: Some of these institutions typically have more free days, but due to limited capacity and closures over the past year, free days at some spots are on hold. All of these places have free admission for young children, residents, teachers, or military members, and we have outlined the current free admission policies below. We will continue to update this list as more free days are added!

1. Adler Planetarium

Children under 3, K-12 teachers, and active-duty military are always free. Illinois residents are admitted free select free days throughout the year. Proof of residency is required. The Adler also participates in Museums For All, where any family that qualifies for state food assistance and has an EBT card may receive entry for up to eight people at $1 per guest.

2. American Writers Museum

Children under 12 are always free.

3. Art Institute of Chicago

Children under 14, Chicago teens aged 14-18, K-12 teachers, Link and WIC cardholders, and active-duty military are always free. 

Kids Get in Free at Chicago Museums, Zoos, and Parks: Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo has more than 2,300 animals that kids can meet. (Some up close, and some... not so much!) 

4. Brookfield Zoo

Children under 3 and military personnel are always free.

5. Chicago Architecture Center

Children under 5 are always free.


Build and design your own structure using real tools in the Chicago Children's Museum's Skyline exhibit. Photo courtesy of Chicago Children’s Museum

6. Chicago Children's Museum

Children under 1 and active-duty military and veterans are always free. Chicago Children’s Museum is also a proud Museums for All partner.

7. Chicago Cultural Center

Admission is free for all year-round.

8. Chicago History Museum

Illinois resident children under 18, Illinois teachers, active-duty military, veterans, police, and firefighters are always free. 

9. Chicago Sports Museum

Children under 3 are always free. Guests of the adjacent Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch receive free admission with a minimum purchase ($10 adults, $8 students, $6 children and seniors).

10. Design Museum of Chicago

Admission is free for all year-round.

11. DuSable Museum of African American History

Children under 5 and active-duty military are always free. Children and caregivers are admitted free on Tuesdays

The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Photo courtesy of the museum

12. Field Museum

Children under 3, K-12 teachers, and active-duty military are always free. Illinois residents are admitted free on select days throughout the year. Proof of residency is required.

13. Garfield Park Conservatory

Admission is free for all year-round.

14. Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Children under 5 are always free.

15. Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

Children under 18 are always free.

16. Jane Addams Hull House Museum

Admission is always free with a suggested donation of $5.

17. Lincoln Park Conservatory

Admission is always free with a suggested donation.

18. Lincoln Park Zoo

Admission is free for all year-round.

19. McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum

Children under 5 are admitted for free.

RELATED: 18 Chicago Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

Kids Get in Free at Chicago Museums, Zoos, and Parks: Museum of Contemporary Art

Families contribute to a giant friendship bracelet at an MCA Family Day. Photo by Grace Needlman

20. Museum of Contemporary Art

Children under 18, members of the military and police and fire departments, and veterans are always free. Illinois residents are admitted free every Tuesday. Proof of residency is required. 

21. Museum of Contemporary Photography

Admission is free for all year-round.

22. Museum of Illusions

Admission is free for kids 4 and under.

23. Museum of Mexican Art

Admission is free for all year-round.


Museum of Science and Industry.  

24. Museum of Science and Industry

Children under 3, K-12 teachers, veterans, active-duty military, police, and firefighters are always free. Illinois residents are admitted free on select days throughout the year. Proof of residency is required.

25. National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

Admission is free for all year-round.

26. The Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago

Admission is always free with a suggested donation.

27. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Children under 3, active-duty military, veterans, and Illinois K-12 teachers are always free. Thursdays are suggested donation days for Illinois residents.

Kids Get in Free at Chicago Museums, Zoos, and Parks: Shedd Aquarium
Meet the fish at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium

28. Shedd Aquarium

Children under 3 are always free. Chicago residents are admitted for 50% off throughout the year, and in addition, Illinois residents are admitted free on select days throughout the year. Proof of residency is required.

29. Smart Museum of Art

Admission is free for all year-round.

30. The Swedish American Museum

Children under 1 are always free. Admission is free for all the second Tuesday of every month.

Unless noted, photos by the author

Places featured in this article:


DuSable Museum of African American History

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Museum of Contemporary Photography

National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
Destination Asia Festival
Morton Arboretum - 9:00 AM Pick
Library of Congress National Book Festival
Library of Congress and Virtual - 9:00 AM Pick
Breakfast with the Animals
Lincoln Park Zoo - 10:00 AM Pick
Beverly Art Walk
Beverly Arts Center - 12:00 PM Pick
Chicago Water Lantern Festival
South Lagoon in Lincoln Park - 4:30 PM Pick
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides