Museum Admission Prices – YIKES!

I think we Chicagoans and many visitors alike will agree that Chicago has some of the finest museums in the country. My personal favorites since childhood are: the Art Institute, Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. They are all world-famous and world-class institutions and have been for some 80 years. But YIKES! The price of admission to them has skyrocketed! When I was a kid in the 60s, admission was free, all day everyday. I wasn't paying attention when they began to charge admission so I don't even remember what the cost was. When I began volunteering at the Field Museum in 2001, my admission to that one and all other Chicago museums was free as a volunteer. So again I didn't pay any attention to what it cost, nor what the free days were – though I was aware that they had changed. All I had to do was show my volunteer Id. Badge and that was it (except for special exhibits). In 2002 I began volunteering at the Art Institute. I was aware there was an admission fee. But my position as a Greeter did not require me to quote the admission price to visitors. So I don't remember what it was. However, 2-3 years later when I was promoted to an Information Desk/Membership rep, the price was $12. Special exhibits cost an extra $6-$8. The free day went from all day on Tuesdays, to Thursday evenings only, and for a while Friday evenings in the summer and Free February. Meanwhile, the other museums all had different free days only for certain months during the year. Gone were the days of being able to visit 2-3 museums in one day for free.

Last week I had the occasion to find out the general admission price for the Shedd Aquarium. A whopping $26.95 per person over 12 years old, and $19.95 for kids 3-11. (Admission to any special exhibits is extra.) Can you imagine a family of 4 paying over $100 for a few hours at a museum?!? Yeah, they have free and discount days, but lines are always long as you might imagine.

As a museum volunteer, I've become aware that it costs a lot of money to maintain a world-class museum, and a lot more to bring in special exhibits to attract visitors. Museums are non-profit organizations that rely on memberships, and public, private, and corporate donations (and unpaid volunteers) to survive. But Hell's Bells! Even those entities have been cutting back in this horrific economic recession. The freebies to visitors are becoming fewer and fewer. As for volunteers, just a few months ago the 'free general admission to other museums' benefit was eliminated. Boo-Hoo! That was a major perk of being a museum volunteer.

Bottom line: You really do have to plan and budget for a museum visit these days. Below are links to the museums mentioned in this post (and a few others I like). I strongly encourage you to visit the websites to find out what the “deal of the day” is, to get the best bang for your buck.

Art Institute of Chicago –
Field Museum of Natural History –
Shedd Aquarium –
Adler Planetarium –
Museum of Science and Industry –
Museum of Contemporary Art –
Chicago History Museum –

TIP: You can go inside any of these museums to the lobby area or museum store for free.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual and not those of StreetAdvisor.
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Isn't it insane?? you can check out passes at a lot of libraries though.

Since we no longer live in the city we have purchased memberships to what feels like everything so we can go more than once per year- four kids gets spendy!
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual and not those of StreetAdvisor.
Deena 2yrs+
I think as word of those free passes gets around, they will become fewer and harder to get. It's my understanding that any library has only a limited number of the passes and when they're gone, they're gone for the day (or however long they are checked out). Also, you have to have a library card to check out a pass, right? And generally, you have to be a Chicago resident to get a card, I think. On that note, I think all the major museums in Chicago offer a few dollars discount off the general admission to Chicago residents. I did find out recently that "Chicago resident" is anyone with a zip code that starts with "606".

I agree that membership is the way to go if you visit the Art Institute or any museum more than a few times a year, especially if you have kids and live in suburbia. And membership has a lot of benefits!
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual and not those of StreetAdvisor.
Deena 2yrs+
Groupon is offering half-off a one year membership at the Museum of Science & Industry today! If you haven't heard of Groupon, get thee to their website immediately at This is today's deal! It's free to sign up and get the half-off coupon. I just bought and used a $25 off coupon for the Gap a few weeks ago. Lovin' it!
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual and not those of StreetAdvisor.

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