One attraction that clearly sets Chicago apart from most other cities is the Shedd Aquarium. Sure, there is usually a difference in scale, but most, even moderate-sized cities, have an art museum, a zoo, a science center, and probably some form of local and/or natural history museum. But an aquarium or other type of aquatic museum is much rarer. The fact that we live just minutes…or hours, depending on the traffic around O’Hare…away from top examples of all of these and more is truly a blessing. That said, I must confess that after over a decade of living here (and 13 years in Madison, Wisconsin), this was my first trip to the Shedd.
Tips On Visiting the Shedd
Like the other attractions in Chicago, the scale is extraordinary. While the Shedd is housed with other great attractions like the renowned Field Musem and the Adler Planetarium as part of the Museum Campus, I would discourage trying to go to more than one of these in a single day. If you are like us, you probably don’t head into the city often, or maybe even want to head in all that often, so there is an urge to “maximize” the visit.
The reality is that you can easily spend most of a day at any one of these. Rather than trying to rush through them, it is much better to pace yourself, make time for lunch or at least a snack, and little breaks throughout the day.
For those who envision the aquatic section of your nearest pet store and are thinking, “Yeah, fish… yawn,” I’d encourage you to reserve judgment until after you’ve visited at least once. I think everyone will find something of interest, whether that’s brilliantly colored coral and saltwater displays, mesmerizing jellyfish, sharks & beluga whales from under the surface, or any number of other species.
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The first thing is to just accept that this is not a cheap experience, but it is an experience worth having. They do offer Shedd Aquarium free days for Illinois residents at different times during the year…but I shudder to think what the crowds are like on those days.
They also offer annual passes, but definitely consider the costs and how likely you are to make the most of that. You should also be aware that much of the aquarium is included in admission, but there are some extras that require additional tickets.
And don’t forget to tack on travel costs. You can of course take the train, but unless you intend to make the long trek by foot, you’ll still need to bus or cab it over. Likewise, if you drive, remember the cost of tolls and potentially the cost of parking, unless you are lucky enough to snag a street spot…which may or may not be allowed during the time of your visit. There aren’t Shedd Aquarium parking areas specifically, but various parking garages at Soldier Field and the surrounding area.
This gets us to our next point…expect a lot of people. So pack a little extra patience. Fortunately, the Shedd is very spacious, so it is usually easy to step out of the chaos when you just need a little breathing room. But, the very nature of an aquarium means that most of the viewing requires you to be in front of a window or display.
As for getting around the Shedd itself, they no longer have physical Shedd Aquarium maps to hand out but have gone to an online version. Environmentally, this makes sense. Unfortunately, they also don’t have many physical directory style maps throughout, which would be a nice addition as it is easy to get turned around and not sure what you’ve seen or haven’t seen.
And there is a lot to see.
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How long does it take to go through the Shedd Aquarium?
While some estimate it takes 2.5 to 3 hours, I think that average may be off considerably. If that is all the time you have, then you can certainly see a lot. But I would question the value and quality of the experience.
Personally, while I love learning, I am primarily visually oriented when going to museums and these types of attractions. I generally don’t have the patience to read all of the placards and displays. Even with my approach and not seeing any of the “shows” or guided presentations, 3 hours would be an aggressive target.
Worth Going to the Shedd Aquarium?
While I don’t think the Shedd is one of those attractions that I would likely make multiple trips in a year, or even once every couple of years, it is definitely worth adding to the rotation. The sights are amazing and it is well maintained.
For years, I had a 50-gallon aquarium with African cichlids and some plecos, some of which got quite large. But even with an expensive filtration system, the maintenance was tiring. I greatly appreciate the efforts it must take to properly maintain this facility, and for the price of admission, am quite happy to reap the benefits while someone else handles the work!
Whether it is for the kids, grandkids, or just treating yourself, if you haven’t been, or haven’t been in a while, be sure to add a trip to the Shedd on your list of things to do this year. For details and Shedd Aquarium tickets, be sure to visit the Shedd Aquarium website.