Museums on a tight budget? No problem. Free Admission Days

Chicago is home to museums large and small.   You can take advantage of these rich cultural resources on even the tightest budget.  Major museums have free days while many smaller ones are free or inexpensive.  February is the perfect time to visit!   Many of the major museums offer free days this month.

Note that free days are usually for Illinois residents.  So take your Columbia College Chicago ID or other proof of residency with you.  Many museums also offer discounted admissions for students, seniors, active duty military personnel and other groups.  Check the museums’ web sites for details and for free days later this year.

If you are planning a museum trip with kids, check out the Kids Museum Passport  program at the Chicago Public Library.


Columbia’s Museum of Contemporary Photography is in the 600 S. Michigan Avenue building. Admission is free year round!

The Art Institute of Chicago is free to visit with a valid College I.D. through the University Partner Program.  In addition, admission is free for all Illinois residents through February 16,  and Thursday evenings throughout the year from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  Make sure to visit the New Contemporary exhibit featuring masterpieces by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.

The Museum of Contemporary Art  is free every Tuesday.  Current exhibits include Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings, the first U.S. museum survey of works on paper and canvas by this Egyptian artist.

The Chicago Cultural Center, home of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, is an architectural gem and presents exhibits, performances, and other events throughout the year.  Admission is always free. The 50 x 50 Invitational / The Subject is Chicago: People, Places, Possibilities opens February 11 with works from artists across Chicago.

The three museums on the Museum Campus offer free admission to Illinois residents at various times throughout the year:

The Field Museum  offers free basic admission during February.  Consider Tattoo, a major exhibit exploring the cultures, practices, and objects connected with the 5,000-year-old art of tattooing.  Tattoo ends April 30.

The Adler Planetarium  is free to visit on February 6-10 and 20-24. Current exhibits include The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time and a Mardi-Gras celebration on February 25 and 26.

The Shedd Aquarium offers free admission on February 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 21, 27 and 28. The Aquarium features exhibits of seven distinct marine environments, including the coastal ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest in the Abbot Oceanarium.


Use your U-Pass to visit the many museums located in Chicago’s neighborhoods.  Here’s a sample. The CTA trip planner will tell you how to get there.

South of Campus

The Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park offers free basic admission to Illinois residents on February 1-2, 7-9, 14-16, 21-23, and 28.

Also in Hyde Park, the Oriental Institute and Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago are free throughout the year.

The DuSable Museum of African American History in nearby Washington Park is free on Tuesdays for Illinois residents.

The National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen is always free.

The Chinese-American Museum of Chicago in Chinatown has a suggested donation of $3 for students.

North of Campus

The Chicago History Museum at the southern end of Lincoln Park is free to Illinois residents every Tuesday from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. and on commemorative days: February 20, March 4, and July 4.

The DePaul Art Museum is free year round.  Find it in Lincoln Park at the Fullerton red line stop.

The Polish Museum of America in West Town  is one of the oldest and largest ethnic museums in the country.  Admission for students if $6.

The National Veterans Art Museum in Portage Park is free throughout the year.


For more information on exploring Chicago on a shoestring visit Chicago on the Cheap.  And for more information on museums in Chicago, check Time-Out Chicago’s list of Free museum days at the best Chicago museums and the Chicago Tribune’s Small and oddball museums in the Chicago area.



Image credit: Untitled image by Susan Sermoneta. CC BY-NC_ND 2.0 license.