Ferris went to the Art Institute of Chicago, and so do lots of other people


The Art Institute of Chicago attracts roughly 1.5 million visitors a year. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

The Art Institute of Chicago is an iconic cultural representation of the city. Many tourists conclude that if Ferris Bueller went to the museum on his famous day off, then they should visit, too. Perched in the heart of the tourist-friendly downtown district near the lakefront, the museum (with its main entrance flanked by a famous pair of two-ton bronze lion statues) is one of Chicago’s most popular destinations. Its approximately 300,000 works of art attract roughly 1.5 million selfie-snapping visitors a year.

If you’re a somewhat claustrophobic art lover, try visiting before noon or during the middle of the week. And keep in mind that while the original 1893 building houses a world-class collection of impressionist paintings, the more recently constructed Modern Wing (opened in 2009) contains a wealth of contemporary works from renowned artists and is typically less heavily trafficked. Or, avoid space-invading tour groups and school field trips by scheduling a visit during one of the excellent live music events at the museum, such as this weekend’s Midwinter festival, a collaboration with Pitchfork.

Location: 111 S. Michigan Ave., 312-443-3600; artic.edu.

Art, culture and a Tiffany stained-glass dome await in this palatial setting


The Chicago Cultural Center hosts all kinds of art under its two glass domes. (Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you have less time to spare but still want to immerse yourself in a local cultural experience, head just a few blocks north to the Chicago Cultural Center, located in the same Millennium Park campus as the Art Institute but often overlooked by visitors. The opulent 1897 building, designed by the same firm as the Art Institute, is known as “The People’s Palace.” Once the central building for the Chicago Public Library, the palatial five-floor landmark is decked out in lush ornamentation and brimming with the arts. It hosts a number of rotating art exhibits, many highlighting Chicago-based artists, in addition to a wide variety of free performances. Along with the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome, the cultural center includes a 300-seat theater, a dance studio and a family-friendly learning lab.

Check out current exhibitions including “African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race” as you meander through its intricately designed spaces with fewer tourists and plenty of elbow room, especially in the upper floor galleries. Admire views overlooking Michigan Avenue from large windows as you stroll the spacious galleries of the Chicago Rooms. Marvel at the ornate detail of Preston Bradley Hall, where you can catch live performances, including chamber music and children’s concerts, beneath its iconic 38-foot-diameter Tiffany dome (one of the building’s two glass domes).

In addition to music, the center hosts hundreds of events throughout the year including film screenings and panel discussions. Art extends to the building’s exterior as well, with a large mural on its western wall titled “Rushmore” depicting prominent women in the Chicago arts. Admission and events hosted by the cultural center are free, with public tours available Wednesday through Saturday at 1:15 p.m.

Location: 78 E. Washington St., 312-744-3316; wapo.st/ChicagoCulturalCenter

Gentile is a writer based in Chicago. His website is jay-gentile.com. Find him on Twitter: @ thejaygentile .

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