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The Complete Guide to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium

Everything you need to know about the iconic Chicago Museum Campus attraction.


two travelers standing in front of a large fish tank at the Shedd Aquarium

There are few places in Chicago more magical than the Shedd. A beautiful building right on the shores of Lake Michigan, full to the brim with amazing sea creatures! Here’s everything you need to know about this glorious place.


Shedd Aquarium Upper Galleries


The main floor of the Shedd features a big rotunda surrounded on all sides by beautiful galleries. All these galleries have themes like the Great Lakes or the Amazon River. You’ll see local favorites like lake sturgeon, and exotic critters like piranhas and the Shedd’s resident octopus. This is also where you’ll see amphibious and river-dwelling creatures like turtles, rainforest snakes, and poisonous frogs!


These galleries are probably the least “showy” area of the Shedd, but they’re still well worth your time.


Abbott Oceanarium


This area is just down the main stairs from the upper galleries, and it’s everything aquarium dreams are made of. This is where you’ll find the amphitheater for the Shedd’s animal encounter performances. Walk in a circle around the amphitheater space and you’ll be able to look down into the tanks that house dolphins, beluga whales, and sea otters!


beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium


Oceanarium Lower Level


From the Abbott Oceanarium, you can descend another flight of stairs (or take an elevator) down to the lower level. From here, you’ll be able to view those same tanks of dolphins, whales, and otters from under the water level. The views are incredible, and it’s fabulous to watch these gorgeous sea creatures from their level.


This lower level is also where the Shedd’s flock of penguins hang out! And if you’re visiting the Shedd with small kiddos, the Polar Play Zone can entertain those youngbloods for ages.



Wild Reef (read: Sharks!)


The Wild Reef is a separate underground exhibit that you can access via elevators in the main galleries. These are big elevators, so even if the line is long, don’t despair! You’ll move through quickly, and the reward is the Shedd’s biggest coral reef inspired exhibit.


You’ll see exhibits inspired by reefs and tide pools, and the highlight of them all is the huge tank of reef fish and sharks! The shark tank covers the entire wall, giving you an up close and personal look at these beauties in all their glory.


sharks at the Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium Shows and Experiences


There’s a whole mess of additional experiences that take place at the Shedd, and best of all, most of them are included in your admission price!


In the Abbott Oceanarium, Animal Encounter shows happen multiple times a day. The schedules are always posted right outside the amphitheater. These shows typically feature the resident dolphins, and you’ll get to see them doing all their favorite tricks and maybe learn a thing or two about them!


leaping dolphins in a show at the Shedd Aquarium

There are a handful of touch tanks scattered through the aquarium as well. In the lower galleries near the Polar Play Zone, there’s a starfish touch pool. And in the Great Lakes gallery on the main floor, you can touch Lake Surgeon! There’s also a stingray touch pool that’s open seasonally, so if that’s a must-do for you, check the website to make sure it’s open!


For an additional fee, you can watch movies in the Shedd’s 4D theater, with a wide variety of films and showtimes. And if you’re willing to shell out for a one-of-a-kind experience, check out the Shedd’s website for details on their up close and personal animal encounters!


Getting to the Shedd


The best way to get to the Shedd Aquarium is via public transit. You can take the red line train to Roosevelt and walk over to the museum campus from there, or the 146 bus stops right outside the Shedd’s doors! If you do want to drive in, you can park in the lots around the museum campus, but those parking spots don’t come cheap, so I recommend public transit.

At the time of writing, the only entrance to the Shedd that’s actually in use is not, in fact, the main entrance up the grand staircase. Follow the crowds slightly to the right of the main entrance, and you’ll see the line! You won’t be able to get in line until the time printed on your ticket, but this actually helps the line move faster.


On that note, tickets to the Shedd absolutely must be reserved in advance. Try to reach the building 5-10 minutes before the time printed on your ticket, to make sure you don’t waste a minute!


Be sure to check out the Shedd Aquarium on your next visit to Chicago!


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Love and Shenanigans,


Andi



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