Built as the only permanent structure for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, the classical-style Palace of Fine Arts building is now home to 14 acres of scientific wonders. Generations of children recount fond memories of this world-famous museum—the granddaddy of interactive museums, with some 2,000 exhibits. The good news: It still thrills kids (and adults too).
1. U-505: The highlight of this 35,000-square-foot exhibit is a German submarine (known as a U-boat) that sank a number of Allied ships during World War II before it was captured by the U.S. Navy in 1944. It was installed here in 1954 and remains the only German submarine on display in North America. You have to pay extra for a guided tour of the sub’s interior, but it’s worth your time even if you don’t go inside the actual submarine; there are interesting photos and exhibits surrounding it. Time: 30 min. To avoid serious crowds, come at museum opening. Ground floor. Optional 15-min. tour requires an additional experience ticket.
2. The Coal Mine: This exhibit, which dates back to 1934, incorporates modern mining techniques—but the best part is a simulated trip down into a dark, mysterious re-created mine that’s not for the claustrophobic. A stop here is worth the inevitable theme park–like lines you’ll face. Time: 30 min. First floor. Requires an additional experience ticket.
3. Finnigan’s Ice Cream Parlor is modeled on a real Hyde Park ice-cream shop that opened in 1917. Soak up the turn-of-the-20th-century atmosphere and indulge in awesome sundaes and shakes. For heartier appetites, there are sandwiches and chips, and great coffee. Main floor, near the Coal Mine.
4. All Aboard the Silver Streak: The Burlington Pioneer Zephyr—the world’s first streamlined, diesel-electric train—was built in the 1930s and revolutionized train design. The 197-foot train, nicknamed the Silver Streak, is installed (along with a simulated train station) in the museum’s three-story underground parking garage. This is a must for train buffs. Time: 15 min. Great Hall.
5. Take Flight: This aviation-themed exhibit features a full-size Boeing 727 airplane that revs up its engines and replays voice recordings from a San Francisco–Chicago flight periodically throughout the day. Time: 15 min. Balcony.
6. Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle: Colleen Moore, a popular silent film actress and miniatures fan, set out in 1928 to create her version of a dream dollhouse. It took more than 7 years and 700 craftsmen to create this lavishly decorated miniature palace, filled with more than 2,000 miniatures. Time: 20 min. Ground floor.
7. Henry Crown Space Center: The story of space exploration is documented in copious detail inside this 35,000-square-foot addition to the museum—a must for space buffs. A highlight is the Apollo 8 Command Module, the first manned craft to orbit the moon. Other items of interest include astronaut training gear and a moon rock. You can even control a Mars rover using a remote control. The movie, The Story of Earth, which is about the birth of our planet and is shown via laser projection in a giant, domed theater, is a good complement. Time: 40 min. (more if you see a film, which requires an additional fee). Off ground level.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.