Chicago Shedd Aquarium: Ultimate Visitors Guide + Tips

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Thinking of visiting the renowned Shedd Aquarium in Chicago? As one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, the aquarium has fascinating marine life exhibits, entertaining live shows, and fun activities for visitors of all ages.

I recently visited to see the Shedd Aquarium Beluga whales and had an amazing time. In this post, I share all the essentials, plus helpful tips and highlights.

Things to do at the Shedd Aquarium

Abbot Oceanarium

Of all the Shedd Aquarium exhibits, one of the most popular is the Animal Spotlight Show.

The shows are held daily but the featured animal is not announced in advance. But don’t worry, the shows at the oceanarium are always amazing so you are in for a treat.

Aquatic presentations include sea lions, dolphins, penguins, or the Beluga whales. For an additional fee, you can enhance your aquarium experiences in an exciting up-close adventure with the water life, like sea lions, sea otters, penguins, and beluga whales.

The shows are held daily at 11:30 AM and they continue every hour until the last show at 3:30 PM. The show is approximately 10 minutes long.

For the animal spotlight shows in the Abbot Oceanarium, be camera-ready before the start at the end of the show before the curtains are raised. There is always a spectacle that is photo-worthy!

4D Theater Experience

coral and marine life

The 4D Experience Theater provides an immersive movie adventure with special effects.

In this experience, you choose a show that focuses on specific animals – playful penguins, thrilling sharks, or mesmerizing octopus. These educational shows allow you to learn more about these fascinating aquatic creatures.

Entry is located across the corridor from the Animal Spotlight show so if you plan it well, you can go from one experience to the next.

  • The Penguin show begins at 11 AM and continues every hour until the last show at 5 PM.
  • The Shark experience starts at 11:40 AM and continues every hour until the last show at 4:40 PM.
  • The Octopus show starts at 11:20 AM and continues every hour until the last show at 5:20 PM.

Cost: Tickets are about $5 per person.

Wild Reef

sharks in aquarium

This exhibit is massive and home to thousands of exotic aquatic species including sharks, stingrays, and brightly colored schooling fish. Visitors can enjoy views from the tunnel along with diverse coral reef habitat.

Virtual Reality

For an additional charge, you can virtually get up close with amazing animals like sharks, manta rays, or humpback whales through unique Shedd Aquarium animal experiences.

Don’t miss out on the chance to swim with sharks or be eye-to-eye with a gentle giant whale!

Cost: $9 per person (1 show), $15 per person (2 shows), $20 (3 shows). Discounts for these experiences are available for members and CityPass holders.

Touch Experiences


The aquarium has touch experiences that allow visitors to gently interact with certain aquatic animals like stingrays and starfish.

Everything is under staff supervision and hand washing stations for sanitation are available.

Polar Play Zone

kids playing with marine life

The Polar Play Zone offers an Arctic-inspired play area for kids. The play in imaginary and tactile that invites kids to look for details and feel the environment of the marine life.

Amazon Rising

The Amazon Rising exhibit walks you through the seasons to see the rise and fall of the Amazon River. Here you will see multiple species of fish, an impressive display of freshwater stingrays, birdlife that can be found on the shorelines, a rainforest, a muddy forest, eels, anaconda, river turtles, and animals that live on dry land.

Caribbean Reef

When I visited the aquarium, this exhibit was under construction and inaccessible. The Shedd Aquarium plans to complete a reimagined work for the Caribbean Reef and begin unveiling new designs in the summer of 2024.

The roll out of the new plans will continue through 2026. I can’t wait to see all the enhancements to the exhibits, galleries, and atrium!

Underwater Gallery

people looking at underwater life exhibit

The underwater galleries are my favorite spots to visit at the aquarium. I feel as though I’ve entered an aquatic world that is serene and beautiful. My eyes are drawn to the hues of blues and greens and the unfamiliar schools of fish that swim in patterns.

No matter where you look, new life drifts through this underwater oasis.


display of tshirts and other merchandise

Don’t forget to stop by the Shedd store during your visit. Located on the main level, the store has a great selection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, stuffed animals, and other fun souvenirs.

They sell a collection of sustainable items like reusable water bottles to remember your amazing day.


When the weather is nice, you can enjoy the outdoors more with seating on the Lakefront Terrace.

There are two onsite dining options at the aquarium. The Bubble Net Food Court is a cafe that serves grilled specialties and to-go items. I loved sitting in this food court for the great views of the city and Lake Michigan.

The Sounding’s Cafe is a nice coffee shop where you can get drinks and items to-go. There are also nice views from this dining area.

Best Restaurants Near the Chicago Shedd Aquarium

Breakfasts Places Near the Shedd Aquarium

Plan an early start for your day in the South Loop with breakfast at one of these great spots.

  • Yolk – 1120 S Michigan Ave.
  • Eleven City Diner – 1112 S Wabash Ave.
  • Paris Baguette – 1100 S Michigan Ave.
  • Honey Berry Pancakes & Café – 901 S State St.

Lunch or Dinner Places Near the Shedd Aquarium

You can’t visit Chicago without trying some of the famous foods that we are best known for. Here are just a few great restaurants that are near the aquarium.

  • Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza – 805 S. State St.
  • Giordano’s for deep dish pizza – 1340 S. Michigan Ave.
  • Devil Dawgs for Chicago-style hot dogs – 767 S State St.
  • Burger Bar is great for comfort food – 1150 S. Michigan Ave.

Hotels Near the Shedd Aquarium

Budget accommodations in the South Loop

Family Friendly accommodations in the South Loop

Attractions Near the Shedd Aquarium

The closest attractions are on the museum campus. The Field Museum is to the west of the aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium is to the east. Both museums are within walking distance.

  • Field Museum of Natural History
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Northerly Island | 12th Street Beach
  • Buckingham Fountain | Grant Park

How Much is the Shedd Aquarium

Admission to the Shedd Aquarium will vary depending on your interest of experiences. Regardless, every ticket must be reserved in advance. Weekends and holidays sell out quickly so plan accordingly.

The museum has Illinois free days for residents on select days of the year. In addition, the following can receive FREE general admission or discounts.

  • Members and Reciprocal Membership Programs
  • First Responders
  • Active-duty Military 
  • Educator Discounts for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin
  • EBT (Snap) Recipients
  • Corporate Partners
  • Students, Veterans, and Senior Citizen Discounts
  • Chicago Public Library Digital Museum Pass

Chicago residents can take advantage of discounts and free admission on designated days. Proof of residence with ID must show a home address.  

Single adult tickets start at $35, tickets for children aged 3 to 11 start at $26, and infants are free.  

Add-ons like the 4D Theater are extra.

The Shedd Aquarium tickets are not refundable. All tickets must be reserved in advance due to limited quantities.

For visitors who plan to see more of Chicago, the Go City pass is one of Chicago’s best programs for seeing multiple attractions.

Check price for a Chicago Go City Pass

If you don’t use a pass, the best time to visit the museum is between Tuesday and Thursday. This is when the cost of tickets are the least expensive.

Getting to the Shedd Aquarium

Dolphines jumping out of water

The Shedd Aquarium address is 1200 S Lake Shore Drive. Public transportation via CTA buses and the Metra train line can get you there if you are not driving, and here are more options:

· CTA bus #146 can be caught at State and Madison Avenues (recommended). The trip is about 20 minutes, and it is the most economical way to get there. You can return to the city center from the opposite bus stop.

· CTA bus #6 (Jackson Park Express) stops at 11th Street and Colombus Dr. This is a close walking distance to the aquarium.

· From Millenium Station (151 N Michigan), catch the Metra Electric to the Museum Campus (11th Street). This is the closest train station to the Shedd Aquarium.

· The Red, Orange, or Green line to Roosevelt Road is the closest CTA stop but you will need to walk east for 15 minutes or you can take CTA bus #146 which stops at the station.

· Chicago Water Taxi (400 N Michigan)

Parking at the Shedd Aquarium

Be on the lookout for sports events or concerts before you visit the Shedd Aquarium. Because it is located near Solder Field and Northerly Island, you may experience high traffic when driving or taking public transit.

If you want to use the Shedd Aquarium parking, their garage rates start at $25. The closest parking lot entrance is on E. McFetridge Dr and Special Olympics Dr.

To find cheaper parking near the Shedd Aquarium, use the SpotHero app.  

There is no free parking at the Shedd Aquarium on free admission days. 

How Much Time Do You Need at the Shedd Aquarium

You can easily spend an entire day exploring the permanent exhibits and special programs. General admission tickets allow access from 9 AM to 5 PM (and to 6 PM on Saturdays). For expanded evening hours get the Total Experience tickets. The average time spent at Shedd Aquarium is 2-3 hours.

Things to Know Before You Go

woman standing at coral exhibit

For storing belongings during your visit, family-sized lockers are available for rent. Pricing is just $8 for all-day rental of a family-sized locker, which fits multiple bags and coats.

Larger lockers are $12 if you need extra space. Payment options include cash, Visa, and Mastercard. The best part is you’ll have in-and-out access privileges with your locker rental, allowing you to easily store items and return anytime throughout the day.

Family lockers in various sizes to store belongings, including suitcases. The XL size is 14-7/8” W x 28” D x 33-1/4” H (38cm W x 71 D x 85H).

Also note:

  • Free Wi-Fi, noise canceling headphones, and free audio guides are available.
  • At the time of my visit, the Wild Reef could be reached by elevator only. You will be invited to pose for a photo with your group.
  • Call ahead and ask if any exhibits are temporarily closed. Currently, construction will continue through 2026 that may prevent entry to some parts of the aquarium. You can also check the aquarium map
  • You are allowed to bring food and drinks into the museum, which will help save travel costs, but all bags will be checked.
  • Selfie sticks and tripods are not allowed.

Final Thoughts on the John G Shedd Aquarium

I went to the museum on a Sunday and arrived around 10:00 AM. There was no waiting, and the exhibits were not crowded. By lunchtime, the aquarium foot traffic picked up momentum, but I had already seen most of everything.

A visit to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium promises a fun, educational, and memorable experience.

Don’t miss the chance to see thousands of aquatic animals and immerse yourself in the wonderful world of water when visiting this unique Chicago gem.

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