Neoclassical architecture outside the National Hellenic Museum.

Not sure about Windy City, Rainy City was more apt!

Archaeology is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when planning a visit to Chicago. But the so-called Windy City has outstanding collections of prehistoric and ancient objects from all over the World in some fantastic, World-class museums. And as with many cities, the archaeologically inspired architecture more than makes up for the lack of in situ archaeology

Having only ever changed ‘planes at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport before, when recently given the choice of four days in New York or Chicago I chose the latter. And as much as I like New York I really am glad I did. Having left a rather dreary northern France, nine hours later I was in a bright and sunny Chicago. This did not last long, and four days of rain followed!

The rain did not put me off, well only slightly. As it was early spring, I had planned to spend quite a bit of time in the museums anyway. Museums aside, I did also want to explore Chicago’s architectural heritage. The museums were great, but walking the streets of Chicago was curtailed to essential sites! Chicago is a delightful city, it is easy to get about and there is a fantastic selection of restaurants – with cuisine from all over the World. Spending hours in the South East Asia galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago made choosing a restaurant serving food from this region quite appropriate.

Archaeology Museums in Chicago

The Neoclassical façade of the Field Museum in Chicago's Museum Campus

A sunny spring evening on the Museum Campus in Chicago.

The Lascaux III exhibition at the Field Museum was top of my ‘to do’ list; in Chicago until 8 September, when it moves to Houston. Although I am happy I finally saw it (I missed it in Bordeaux), this temporary exhibition ranks up there as one of the most disappointing exhibitions I have seen. Read my review if you are interested to know why.

The Field Museum is, however, amazing – I spent much more time there than I intended. The permanent exhibition on the Ancient Americas really is a must see! I also spent a lot of time in the Asian galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago. Without doubt, however, the highlight of my four days in Chicago was the Oriental Institute Museum. I knew it was going to be good as I had heard many good things about it, but it far exceeded my expectations. The range of artefacts and objects from Egypt and the Near East is quite simply stunning. The museum is away from downtown Chicago, on the University of Chicago’s campus, but it is easy to find – and well worth the journey! Many University museums can be stuffy and overly academic – this one certainly is not. And they have great activities and worksheets to keep their younger visitors entranced.

Archaeology on the Streets

Columns decorated in tyical Egyptian style, with lotus plants.

Egyptian-style columns on the streets of Chicago.

A more familiar architectural feature of cities around the World are the Classical-style columns, usually on public buildings, such as those on the façade of the Field Museum (above). The Field Museum also has a celebrated contemporary use of caryatids (photograph below), usually associated with the Acropolis. Chicago is not without its range of neoclassical architecture. A much more recent example can be found opposite the National Hellenic Museum (above), and Graceland Cemetery has some spectacular examples archaeologically inspired mausoleums (read more, with photographs here). But perhaps Chicago’s most striking example of the use of ancient architectural features on modern buildings has to be the Egyptian-style decoration on the façade of Reebie Storage Warehouse (more history and photographs about this building here). A spectacular use of ancient Egyptian imagery in the US, and all the more interesting given it was done just before the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in November 1922.

Save Money with a Chicago City Pass
As enjoyable as the various museum visits were, one thing that did surprise me was how expensive they are to get in to. Certainly when you visit all of them. I suppose I am getting used to the free, or very reasonably priced museums in Europe. I appreciate running these museums costs a lot, but these archaeology museums as well as the other attractions in Chicago costs a pretty packet too for a family of four. With a Chicago City Pass you can save at least 49%, on entry to five of the most popular attractions in Chicago.

With the Chicago CityPASS you do not only save money, but you also save tie in that you can avoid the queues to buy tickets. I was fortunate as there were never really any queues to avoid, but I did enjoy saving a few dollars! The Pass gives you entry to the following: the Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago and the Field Museum. That is three sites, for the other two discounted entries you choose between the Museum of Science and Industry (my choice) OR the John Hancock Observatory, and between the Adler Planetarium OR the Art Institute of Chicago. Of course, I chose the Art Institute!

You can buy your tickets online (click on the banner below to go to the CityPASS website for Chicago), or at any of the attractions you visit. With the other passes I have reviewed here (see Berlin or Rome), you have a very limited time during which the ticket is valid. With the Chicago City Pass, you have nine days to visit the five attractions. NINE days!


My stay in Chicago was a stop over en route to an archaeology conference at the State University of New York in Buffalo, New York. And I thoroughly recommend it as a city break. From the moment I landed I was struck by how friendly the people are, right from the border official who checked me in to the US. Sometimes people in big cities can be a tad stand-offish, not in Chicago. In fact, as I did not experience any wind (only rain) I think the city should be re-named the Friendly City!

And the archaeology is not bad too! For more detailed information on the various museums, photographs of the exhibits, where to find them, how to get to them, their facilities, etc., click though to my Chicago Archaeology Guide.

Neoclassical architectural features on the Field Museum.

A wonderful use of caryatids.