Yes, free days will be more crowded. IMO - if a particular museum is of interest to you, don't skip it and go with the flow and enjoy your visit here.
Free days can get really crowded. If you can avoid going on a free day it's better, especially for the Shedd which is busy on a normal day.
Absolutely avoid a free day at the shedd unless it's a weekday and kids are in school
Free days also often have more field trips there, so that adds to the crowds. If a free day is the only day that fits your schedule, I would suggest being there as soon as it opens.
I accidentally went to a free day at the Field Museum (I didn't know it was free that day and I had out of town guests)...and it was not crowded or busy at all. Not like what I expected. The shed, however, completely different story.
Thanks everyone - this is very helpful! I appreciate the advice - we won't necessarily shy away from Field and Adler, but we'll aim to visit the Shedd on a non-free day! Otherwise, we'll be there as soon as it opens, if not before! We are there during the week.... (Nice perk as well is that we have family membership to Ontario Science Centre here in T.O. so free for us to get in to Field and Adler - yay for "reciprocal agreements".) Cheers!
I should add, the Adler is pretty small and nowhere near as busy as the other major museums. Much of the attraction there is shows which you reserve a time slot when you get your admission ticket. So I'd have no issue going to Adler on a free day. Shedd, no way at all. Field, OK as long as you get there early and accept it will be pretty busy.
Are the schools having field trips on the "free days" at the museums?
The Art Institute of Chicago is free to Illinois residents on Thursdays, but only from 5-8pm. You don't mention whether you will have a car or be willing to travel out of downtown, but another museum (Chicago has lots of them) is The Oriental Institute, established in 1919, it's the University of Chicago's archeology museum and research center for ancient Near Eastern studies. If you are into ancient stuff, this is the place. I agree with what others said about the Shedd. It's a very popular museum and is almost always crowded. But having said that, I went during Christmas break last year but we got there by 10:00 am and didn't have to wait at all. Have fun!
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