The beloved MSI is one of the most-visited sites in Chicago, and for good reason. The sprawling open space has 2,000 exhibits on three floors, with new exhibits added constantly. The museum's high-tech interior is hidden by the Classical Revival exterior; it was designed in 1892 by D.H. Burnham & Company as a temporary structure to house the Palace of Fine Arts for the World's Columbian Exposition. (The MSI, the Art Institute, and a women's washroom are the fair's only surviving buildings.) The beautifully landscaped Jackson Park and its peaceful, Japanese-style Osaka Garden are behind the museum.
Descend into the depths of a simulated coal mine on a "miner"-led tour that explores the technology behind digging energy out of the ground.
Get swallowed up by the opulent and detailed-as-a-film-set Fairy Castle (really a giant dollhouse), which has tiny chandeliers that flash with real diamonds and floors that are laid with intricate stone patterns.
the cramped quarters of a U-505 German submarine —the only one captured during World War II (additional fee). Explore the free interactive exhibits surrounding the sub, which give stunning insight into the strategy behind the war at sea.
Discover how scientists can make frogs' eyes glow or watch baby chicks tap themselves out of their shells at the "Genetics–Decoding Life" exhibit.
Find out how your body works at "You! The Experience," with 50 fascinating interactive stations.
See giant bolts of lightning, make a rainbow, and manipulate an indoor tornado at "Science Storms."
Watch science- and space-related films on a giant screen at the Omnimax Theater.
Use the museum map to plan out your visit. Your best bet is to hit a couple of highlights (the onboard U-boat tour will take about 20 minutes) and then see a couple of quirky exhibits.
If the kids get grouchy, bring them to the Idea Factory, a giant playroom where they can play with water cannons, blocks, and cranks. Limited to ages 10 and younger.
Relax with some ice cream in the old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, tucked away in a genteel re-creation of an Illinois main street.
On nice days, hordes of sunbathers and kite-flyers camp out on the giant lawn out front—it's almost as entertaining as the museum itself. Lake Michigan is across the street.
The museum has free-admission days, but the schedule changes often. Check the website for details.