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
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

When Kids Get in Free at 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 from the Art Institute to the Museum of Science and Industry.

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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.

American Writers Museum — Children under 12 are always free.

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. Illinois residents are admitted free on Thursday nights from 5-8pm. Proof of residency is required.

Brookfield Zoo — Children under 3 are always free.

Chicago Architecture Center — Children under 5 are always free.

Chicago Children's Museum — Children under 1 and active-duty military and veterans are always free. Admission for all is free Thursday nights from 5-8pm. Kids age 15 and under are free the first Sunday of every month. 

Chicago Cultural Center — Admission is free for all year-round.

Chicago History Museum — Illinois resident children under 18, Illinois teachers, active-duty military, veterans, police, and firefighters are always free. The Chicago History Museum is also free to Illinois residents every Tuesday (except holidays) from 12:30-9pm and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, March 4, and July 4.

Chicago Sports Museum — Children under 3 are always free.

Design Museum of Chicago — Admission is free for all year-round.

DuSable Museum of African American History — Children under 5 and active-duty military are always free. Children and caregivers are admitted free on Tuesdays

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.

Garfield Park Conservatory — Admission is free for all year-round.

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center — Children under 5 are always free.

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art — Children under 18 are always free.

Jane Addams Hull House Museum — Admission is suggested year-round.

Lincoln Park Conservancy — Admission is free for all year-round.

Lincoln Park Zoo — Admission is free for all year-round.

McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum — Children under 5 are admitted for free, and there's free admission for all every Sunday while the museum is open, from May to October.

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

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. On MCA Free Family Days, the second Saturday of each month, families enjoy free admission to the museum, as well as workshops, open-studio sessions, gallery tours, and performances designed and led by Chicago artists. 

Museum of Contemporary Photography — Admission is free for all year-round.

Museum of Mexican Art — Admission is free for all year-round.

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.

National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture — Admission is free for all year-round.

The Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago — Admission is suggested year-round.

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.

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.

Smart Museum of Art — Admission is free for all year-round.

The Swedish American Museum — Children under 1 are always free. Admission is free for all the second Tuesday of every month.

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
Spring Migration Bird Walks
North Park Village Nature Center - 8:00 AM
Bisa Butler Portraits
Art Institute of Chicago - 10:00 AM
Sounds of Spring
Morton Arboretum - 10:30 AM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides