Little Girl Looking at Sharks in the Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium: Free Days, Discounts, and Tips (2024)

The Shedd Aquarium is an indoor aquarium in Chicago that holds 32,000 animals! It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago, so it helps to plan the details of your visit ahead of time.

Read this guide for tips, tricks, free museum days, and special events on select days! Most information was obtained from the Shedd’s website. Check out our guide to the Field Museum, too!

Looking for kid-friendly restaurants for before or after your visit to the Shedd? Check out the 57 Best Places to Eat in Chicago with Kids.. Nearby attractions are listed, so you can see which restaurants I recommend that are near the Shedd.

Coral reef at the Shedd Aquarium
Coral Reef at the Shedd Aquarium

What is it?

The John G. Shedd Aquarium is one of the most visited aquariums in the United States and features coral reefs, beluga whales, sea lions, and other aquatic life exhibits. It’s located on Museum Campus right next to the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. It holds 32,000 animals and 1,500 species. Permanent exhibits include the Abbott Oceanarium, Wild Reef, Caribbean Reef, Polar Play Zone, Amazon Rising, Islands and Lakes, Oceans, Rivers, At Home on the Great Lakes, Gardens, and Stingray Touch. The Terraces have some of the best views in Chicago!

The Shedd is definitely a must-see if you’ve never been, and it’s a favorite of locals. It can become an expensive trip quickly, but there are many ways to get free tickets or minimize admission costs to make your trip more affordable. Be sure to look at the tips and available discounts listed on this page.

Illinois Resident Free Day Tickets:

On select dates, Illinois residents can get free entry into the museum with proof of residency. Illinois free day tickets are available on the following days:

2024 Free Days: Hours vary based on date
January 9 – 16, 23 – 25, 30, 31
February 1, 6 – 8, 13 – 15, 20 – 22, 27 -29

2024 Free Tuesday Evenings: 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. 
March 5, 12, 19, 26
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
May 7, 14, 21, 28
June 4, 11, 18, 25

If these dates don’t work for you, please scroll down to see different ways to receive discounted, or sometimes FREE, admission.

Little girl looking at penguins at the Shedd Aquarium
Looking for Wellington!

Fun Facts:

  • Wellington is the Shedd’s oldest penguin at 35 years old! That is more than double the life expectancy for rockhopper penguins. He became a Chicago celebrity during the pandemic when he would go on field trips around Museum Campus. Check out a super cute video here. The penguins are located on the lower level of the Abbot Oceanarium, and a little plaque tells you how to identify Wellington.
  • One of my favorite exhibits is the Beluga Whale exhibit in the Abbot Oceanarium. The trainers give them different toys throughout the day, and you can sometimes see the whales playing together!

Cost-Saving Tips:

  • The Shedd has a food court, two cafes and some kiosks to purchase food, but you can bring in your own food if you prefer! Any food or drink you bring must be consumed in designated dining areas. Marine Munchroom is located on the main level, at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Aquatic Education Center in the main lobby. Deep Ocean Café is located in the Polar Play Zone on lower level 2.
  • There are some great food carts just outside the Shedd on Museum Campus. One of our favorites is Kim and Carlo’s hot dog stand. They have several options, including a great vegan hot dog!
  • It depends on the events going on downtown, but there is metered parking on Solidarity Drive. We’ve had the best luck finding a spot if we go early in the morning, but it can be significantly cheaper than parking in the lots if you’re able to get a spot. Be sure to download the ParkChicago App. You can get alerted when your meter is about to expire and extend the time from your phone.
  • Because the Shedd is an AZA Reciprocal member, members of some other zoos and aquariums can get 50% off tickets to the Shedd. Cosley Zoo in Wheaton is a reciprocal member, and a family membership costs $59 per year. If you join Cosley Zoo, you then get free admission to Cosley Zoo, free admission to the Milwaukee County Zoo, and 50% off at the Shedd every time you go.

Fun Experiences at the Shedd for Kids

  • During the summer, The Shedd hosts “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” on Wednesday evenings from 5pm-10pm. This is a great way to enjoy live music, see the fireworks over Lake Michigan, and enjoy the animals in the evening. Separate tickets are required, and you can purchase them here. The first Jazzin’ at the Shedd of 2023 is June 7th, and the last is August 30th. June 14th is reserved for members only.
  • There are different “encounters” you can have with different animals for additional costs. They have a shark feeding encounter, penguin encounter, and some other options as well.
  • Don’t miss the stingray feeding! It happens daily from 9:00am-11:00am, and it costs $5 for the general public and members receive a discounted rate of $3. Kids need to be 6 or older to participate.
  • The Shedd hosts “Asleep with the Fishes” multiple times throughout the year, where 5-12 -year-olds can sleep over at the museum with an adult guardian. There is also just an evening option if you want to participate in fun nighttime activities at the Shedd but skip the sleepover. There aren’t any upcoming dates, but I will announce them here when they are posted.
  • The Shedd has some awesome programs for Chicago teens, like Nature Days, Teen Workshops, and more.
  • They have “Shedd Action Days” for all ages where families can engage in beach cleanups, forest preservation, and other activities in alignment with the Shedd’s commitment to conservation. It’s a great way to learn, volunteer, and spend time with family for a great cause!
  • They have some outstanding summer camps and financial assistance for families in need. They sell out fast, though, so plan ahead!
Little fish at the Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd has everything, from tiny fish to Beluga whales!

Recommended Ages:

0-100. Everyone loves The Shedd!

Accessibility

The Shedd has many accessibility options.

Tickets:

Advanced timed tickets are currently required. You can make reservations here. See below for costs and discounts. All guests will enter through the Accessible.  Entrance at the entry time on your tickets. Look for the Man with Fish sculpture

Cost

Here are the admission costs. The price of admission includes museum entry, but special exhibits may cost extra. There are discounts and cost-saving tips located below.

General Admission TicketsChicago Residents**Members
Adults$39.95$19.95Free
Children (3-11)$29.95$14.95Free
​4D Upgrade*​$4.95​$4.95​$2.95

The 4D upgrade is a giant dome theater film similar to an IMAX movie.

*4-D Experiences bring on-screen action to life with special effects like water mist, air blasts, bubbles, enhanced floor lighting, seat vibrations, and back pokes. Add to the cart and choose your show time when you arrive at the Shedd.

4-D Experiences are recommended for ages 4 and up. Children under 3 do not need a ticket to attend and may sit on a caregiver’s lap. The special effects could be frightening to small children. Kids under 7 must be accompanied by a person age 14 or older.

The special effects could aggravate certain medical conditions. 4-D Experiences are not recommended for guests with:

  • Heart conditions
  • Medical sensitivity to strobe lights, laser-like lighting effects or fog effects
  • Back, neck, or similar physical conditions
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds `

**Chicago residents must show proof of residency with a valid ID or driver’s license to get the residency rate

a view of the Shedd and Chicago skyline
Chicago Skyline and part of the Shedd Aquarium from Museum Campus

Special Offers and Discounts

Chicago CityPASS® and C3®

Tourists can purchase a CityPASS® for discounts on Chicago attractions, and it can save a lot of money if you plan on doing multiple tourist activities within 9 days.

The validity period is 9 consecutive days starting with and including the first day you visit an attraction. You have one year from the date of purchase to start using your tickets.

You still have to make reservations for most of the attractions, so I highly recommend checking the availability before purchasing your passes!

CityPASS®C3®
Adult$114.00$88.00
Child (3-11)$93.00$64

CityPASS®-One-time admission to the 3 following attractions

  1. Shedd Aquarium
  2. Skydeck Chicago
  3. Field Museum

Plus get admission to 2 more attractions of your choice. No need to choose now—decide later.

  1. Art Institute of Chicago
  2. Museum of Science and Industry
  3. 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
  4. Adler Planetarium

C3®-One-time Admission to 3 attractions:

For Locals Only

Illinois Resident Free Days

The Shedd offers special free days/weekends for Illinois Residents. They are typically in the winter or during less busy times of the year. I will post free museum days as they’re announced, so check back here periodically for updates!

*Chicago Public Library: Kids Museum Passport*

This amazing program no longer exists! Please write the library commissioner, Chris Brown at commissioner@chipublib.org if you want it back!

This is one of the best tricks for Chicago Residents to get free admission tickets to the Shedd Aquarium, and the best part is it can make the museum free year-round, and it won’t be nearly as crowded as on free admission days.

If you’re a Chicago Public Libary (CPL) cardholder and an adult resident of Chicago, you can check out a Kids Museum Passport at any CPL location. The Shedd Museum gets you free admission for up to 4 people, and 2 of them have to be kids.

Each CPL location has a limited number of Kids Museum Passports for each museum, and the Shedd Aquarium tends to be the most popular so it may be a bit hard to get. I’ve had the best luck if I go check it out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and they are good for one week. Your group must include at least one child under 18 for the Kids Museum Passport to be valid, and a maximum of two adults are admitted with each pass.

Once you check out a Kids Museum Passport, you still need to reserve your time slot online. Select “Partner Voucher” which will make the cost zero upon checkout. There is a $3-per-order transaction fee that will go on your credit card for the reservations, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying tickets!

Please show your online reservation and Kids Museum Passport when you arrive at your selected time. There will not be an on-site discount for people who didn’t reserve their time slots in advance.

Chicago First Responders

Chicago police officers and firefighters receive free on-site general admission with proper ID. This offer is not valid during special events or for admission to the 4-D Experience (subject to availability).

Museums in the Park Employees and Volunteers

Shedd is happy to announce the return of the reciprocal admission for Museums in the Park employees and volunteers and up to 2 guests. Advance reservations are required. Learn more about participation with Museums in the Park.

a woman and girl looking at fish at the Shedd Aquarium

For Tourists and Locals

Memberships

While probably most appealing to locals, both tourists and locals can buy memberships to The Shedd. The membership often pays for itself if you plan on visiting more than two times a year. You also get discounts on special events, gift shops, etc.

They are currently offering a 15% sale on memberships until 6/30. Use the promo code 75628 at checkout and it will apply!

AZA Reciprocal Admissions

Members of other AZA Reciprocal Zoos and Aquariums will receive 50% off admission to the Shedd Aquarium. This applies to members of Cosley Zoo, Milwauee County Zoological Society, and more!

Museums for All: EBT Cards

As a Museums for All partner, Shedd offers daily free and discounted admission to low-income families in possession of an EBT card or WIC cardholders. This offer is available to all families receiving state food assistance in any US State. Limit four tickets per order. One EBT card is required for every four Museums for All tickets. Reserve your tickets using these benefits here.

Illinois Teachers

Educators from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin can receive free basic admission by reserving tickets online. Teachers must show a photo id with their reservation at the door. This offer is not valid during special events or for admission to the 4-D Experience.

Active-Duty Military Personnel

Active military personnel receive free general admission with proper ID. 4-D Experience tickets can be added on-site (subject to availability). However, note that dependents and family are not included in this offer.

Senior Citizens

Unfortunately, there are no senior discounts at this time.

Man and little girl looking at whales at the Shedd Aquarium
Looking at the Beluga Whales

Safety:

Masks are optional and proof of vaccination is not required, but timed entry is required. There are hand sanitizer stations around the aquarium. Other- The Shedd can get very crowded, so setting up a meeting spot in case someone gets separated can be a good idea.

Location & Hours:

The Shedd opens daily at 9:00 am. It is usually open until 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm, but many nights it is open later. On Wednesdays, during the summer it is open from 5:00 pm-10:00 pm for Jazzin’ at the Shedd, but separate tickets are required.

1200 S. Dusable Lake Shore Drive

Getting There:

The Shedd Aquarium is located off S. Lake Shore Drive. If you are staying downtown, you probably want to take public transit, a taxi/rideshare, or possibly, walk. If you are coming from out of town, parking rates are listed below. There is metered parking on Solidarity Drive, but those spots can fill up fast and they aren’t available during special events, etc.

CTA’s # 146 Bus to Museum Campus: Operates daily until around 11:35 p.m.

Best for those heading from State Street downtown, North Michigan Ave. or the north side of Chicago.Please note that there is another route of the #146 Bus (Harrison/State) that will not take you all the way to Shedd. Please make sure the bus is labeled as going to Museum Campus.

CTA’s #130 Bus eastbound: Operates between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day only.

Best bet for Metra or Amtrak users! Buses leave Union/Ogilvie stations between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The last #130 bus leaves Shedd at 6 p.m.

Roosevelt Red/Orange/Green Line Station: The Shedd is about a 15 minute walk east from the Roosevelt station.

Water Taxi: This is a super fun way to get to the Shedd from Navy Pier. It starts in May and runs through September, but sometimes it will run during other seasons if the weather is nice. It departs every 30 minutes and costs $15/adult and $8/child for a one-way trip. You buy the tickets at the water taxi docks, and they can close during inclement weather. No advance reservations. Check here for more info.

For more detailed public transit instructions, click here.

Parking

The Museum Campus also has several lots where you can park. Parking fees, which can change without notice are:

  • Soldier Field North GarageUp to 4 hours, $25 4 to 12 hours, $30 12 to 24 hours, $50 Special event, pay on the way in, $30
  • East museum lot $30
  • Adler lot Early bird, before 9:30 a.m., $12 Daily, $25 Night rate, after 4:30 p.m., $15
  • Valet parking Available most weekends for aquarium guests for $35 a vehicle, subject to limited availability. Take advantage of this service at the guest drop-off area on the south side of the aquarium, off Solidarity Drive.

What’s Next?

If you enjoyed your trip to the Shedd Aquarium, check out the Chicago History Museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, or the Chicago Children’s Museum next!

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