The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

John G. Shedd Aquarium at Chicago's Museum Campus in Grant Park

After spending the morning exploring the Adler Planetarium and watching two movies about space exploration and our solar system, we walked over to the Shedd Aqaurium for an afternoon of underwater exploration. When we arrived it was very hot outside and the line stretched out the doors, down the stairs and into the park area. Thank goodness we had the Chicago CityPASS, which allowed us to skip that entire line and walk right in, and our wait was only five minutes!

The Shedd Aquarium has more than 22,000 fish and over 32,000 creatures in total, from about 1,500 species, including fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians, and insects. The Shedd’s award-winning exhibits and in-depth, hands-on activities gives visitors a unique opportunity to explore the whole aquatic world.

With our Chicago CityPASS, we got VIP entry to the Shedd and a Total Experience Pass, including Waters of the World, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef, Abbott Oceanarium, Polar Play Zone, and special exhibits, as well as access to the aquatic presentation with dolphins, the Stingray Touch experience, and a 4D Movie.

Visiting The Shedd Aquarium

During our visit, we discovered fishes that change pattern and shape, croak and bark, spit to knock insect prey out of trees, and even surface for a breath of air. We found ancient-looking sea monsters, boldly-colored tropical fish, and crocodiles and other reptiles. We met river turtles and sea otters, penguins that glide through the water, dolphins that leap and spin 20 feet in the air, and the world’s rarest iguana species. We also met tiny monkeys and even tinier frogs that are part of the Amazon flooded forest ecosystem.

Our favorite experiences of the day were watching the Beluga Whales and dolphins swim, crest, and dive in the water, seeing the penguins play, touching the sting rays and sturgeons, getting a close look at some of the weirdest and creepiest animals in the sea, and checking out the entire Amphibians Exhibit, featuring 40 different species of amphibians, including the gray tree frog, poison dart frog, fire-breathing toad, emperor newt, axolotl, tiger salamander, spring peeper, Japanese giant salamander, cane toad, and the marbled salamander.

We all also really enjoyed the 4D movie experience Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure: 82 million years ago may be known to many as the Age of Dinosaurs, but while they roamed the land, a whole other world of beasts existed in the submerged world. Go back in time to join one of these incredible sea monsters on her journey from the safety of life in the shallows to the center of the action in the most dangerous seas in history.

Some of the other exhibits we enjoyed include:

  • In Amazon Rising, we saw piranhas, tarantulas, stingrays, monkeys, and an anaconda, as well as tetras, turtles, and fruit-eating fish called tambaqui that live in churning river channels, still lakes, and even flooded treetops.
  • In the circular Caribbean Reef, we saw a green sea turtle, moray eel, rays, and even a shark! If you time it right, you can also see a diver feed the animals.
  • In Wild Reef, we watched sharks glide through the water, marveled at live coral, stood over stingrays on a glass floor, and learned about a fishing village where residents saved their reef from destruction.
  • In Waters of the World, you can travel the world in 76 habitats! We saw a giant spider crab, seahorses, lizards and turtles, iguanas and alligators, moray eels, and more.

History of Shedd Aquarium

The aquarium’s website shares a detailed history of the Shedd Aquarium.

Here are the highlights:

John G. Shedd wanted to give back to the city in which he had risen from stock boy to president of department store giant Marshall Field & Company. Because every great city in the United States and Europe had a fine aquarium, he decided that Chicago must have the biggest and best.

Shedd imagined a stately marble building and a collection of aquatic animals from around the world that would complement the two world-class institutions already in Grant Park, the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. With Shedd’s initial donation of $2 million, the not-for-profit Shedd Aquarium Society was founded on Feb. 1, 1924, “to construct, maintain and operate an aquarium or museum of aquatic life exclusively for educational and scientific purposes.”

Shedd died in October 1926 at age 76, but the board of directors carried on, and ground was broken in November 1927. The John G. Shedd Aquarium opened to throngs of guests on May 30, 1930.


Shedd was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, masters of the Beaux-Arts style. They created a neoclassical temple of white marble and terra cotta that celebrates aquatic life, from the marine fossils in its limestone floor to Neptune’s trident capping its glass dome.

Since 1930, Shedd Aquarium has expanded twice, with both additions carefully respecting the original architecture that earned the aquarium a National Historic Landmark designation in 1987.

  • The modernistic Abbott Oceanarium, which opened in 1991, was linked physically and philosophically to the original structure by using the same white Georgia marble on its exterior.
  • Wild Reef, which opened in 2003, was constructed 25 feet below street level under the original south terrace.Although they are not visible from the front of the aquarium, together these exhibits nearly doubled Shedd’s square footage and made possible vast habitats for marine mammals and large sharks and rays.

Chicago’s Inland Sea

Shedd was the first inland aquarium with permanent saltwater exhibits as well as freshwater habitats. In early 1930, 20 insulated railroad tank cars circulated between Key West, Florida, and Chicago until a million gallons of tropical ocean water filled the marine animal habitats.

At the same time, Mr. Shedd’s daughters, Helen and Laura, donated $250,000 to purchase the animal collection. Director Chute, a keen fish enthusiast, sought species never seen before in the United States through exchanges with foreign aquariums and Shedd collecting expeditions in the Caribbean and South Pacific.

Know Before You Go

  • The Shedd Aquarium is located at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605 in CHicago’s Museum Campus along with the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum.
  • The average visit to the Shedd Aquarium lasts about three hours.
  • Open June 10 through August 20 from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and August 20 through June 10 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekdays and 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekends.
  • Mornings before 11:00 am, especially Sunday mornings, are the least crowded times to visit the Shedd Aquarium. Arrive early for the best selection of show times for the Aquatic Presentation, which often sells out on busy days.
  • There are several dining options at The Shedd, including Soundings Café, the quick Bubble Net food court, or the Deep Ocean Café in Polar Play Zone, as well as some quick food/snack kiosks. You can also bring your own brown-bag lunch. The Marine Munchroom vending area at the ground-level entrance has tables and chairs.
  • Accessible entrance is on the ground level, SW side of the Aquarium. Wheelchairs available for checkout.
  • For all visitors, the Aquatic Presentation is included with admission on a first-come, first-serve basis. Reservations are recommended, and are available by going to one of two pick-up points. The first is at the entrance to the Amazon Rising exhibit and the second is by the entrance to Amphibians.
  • If you’re traveling with a toddler, consider using an umbrella stroller that will be easier than larger models for navigating exhibits and elevators.

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