We feel like people don’t give the non-main-stream museums in Chicago enough credit at all. Everyone swarms to MCA, the Art Institute, and Field Museum when there are plenty of smaller, lesser-known museums waiting to be discovered. As International Museum Day (May 18th) arrives, we’ve chosen 7 of the most unique museums in Chicago for your to explore. And remember: Illinois residents can take advantage of the free museum days!


International Museum of Surgical Science

1524 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60610

If you are interested in old technology, hide a few plague doctor masks in your wardrobe, or are daring enough to look at surgical records and anatomy art, the International Museum of Surgical Science will be your heaven. This museum showcases the full development of surgical science from the Dark Age to the modern era. It also has a contemporary art museum with rotating exhibitions that address contemporary healthcare issues and features an artist residency program.



American Writer’s Museum

180 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60601


We literature lovers need to visit American Writer’s Museum as frequently as possible to ensure our brains receive the necessary nurturing that keeps us away from the mundane reality. The American Writers Museum’s permanent exhibits take visitors on a journey through the American story from the perspective of the writers, introducing great writing in all genres and how writing has helped to shape our history and culture. The Museum also houses temporary exhibition programs providing a unique insight into the craft, history, and influence of writing.



Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures

Since May is AAPI Heritage Month, it seems fitting to pay the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (previously Oriental Insitute at the University of Chicago) a visit. Other than a mind-blowing permanent collection of doctrines and artifacts, ISAC also has thought-provoking programming encouraging visitors to view ancient artifacts from new perspectives.

Image Credit: UNMR Chicago

Ukrainian National Museum

2249 W Superior St, Chicago, IL 60612


One of our favorite unique museums in Chicago is the Ukrainian National Museum (UNMR). Their permanent exhibition is full of authentic Ukrainian objects varying from garments to trinkets. You can also find plenty of documentation to learn about the nation’s history and culture. UNMR has a permanent collection and programmed exhibitions. Across the street within one block, you’ll find the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art with an ongoing program of cultural exhibitions, literary events, film screenings, and music recitals.



National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture

3015 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622

The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is a museum in Chicago dedicated to interpreting the arts and culture of the Puerto Rican people and of the Puerto Ricans in Chicago. Their exhibits express various experiences and art forms from Puerto Rico to the diaspora, diving into fascinating subjects including cultural identity, the diaspora experience, and more.



Museum of Contemporary Photography

600 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

The Museum of Contemporary Photography boldly presents thought-provoking photography through groundbreaking exhibitions and programming, drawing from a collection of over 16,800 works. The museum also serves as a core resource library for anyone interested in contemporary photography, providing access to resources regarding photography genres, philosophy, art theory, and history.


Busy Beaver Button Museum

3407 W. Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Busy Beaver is undoubtedly one of the most unique museums in Chicago: it’s a museum for unique, vintage buttons! From the campaign trail to the rock tour, Busy Beaver has a growing physical collection of pin-back buttons, showcasing how the small but powerful button reveals the events and movements that outraged, amused, and inspired us over time. If you have a few rare collections of your own, reach out to their fan museum and share your story with the button community!

Featured Image: International Museum of Surgical Science

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