The range of first-class cultural institutions near the Lake Michigan waterfront in Chicago’s downtown Loop and just outside it includes an aquarium (Shedd), a natural history museum (the Field, with the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex), and a planetarium (Adler) – plus one of the country’s great art museums and a local gem. Oh, and don’t forget The Bean in Millennium Park.

This iconic cultural representation of the city is one of the places Ferris Bueller went on his day off, and 1.5 million visitors each year follow his lead.

The Art Institute of Chicago collection includes "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat.
Tribune News Service / Tribune News Service
The Art Institute of Chicago collection includes "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat.

Perched in the heart of the tourist-friendly downtown district near the lakefront on Michigan Avenue, the museum (with its main entrance flanked by a famous pair of two-ton bronze lion statues) is one of Chicago’s most popular destinations. Its 300,000 works of art include a world-class collection of impressionist paintings in the 1893 main building.

If you're a somewhat claustrophobic art lover, try visiting before noon or in the middle of the week. And keep in mind that the more recently constructed Modern Wing (opened in 2009) contains a wealth of contemporary works from renowned artists and is typically less heavily trafficked.

Art Institute of Chicago: 111 S. Michigan Ave. Hours: Daily 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., until 8 on Thursdays. Admission: Adults, $25; seniors (65), teens (14-17), and students, $19; children, free. Information: artic.edu or 312-443-3600.

If you have less time to spare but still want to immerse yourself in a local cultural experience, head just a few blocks north of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue to East Washington Street and the Chicago Cultural Center, with its largest-in-the-world Tiffany stained-glass dome.

The opulent 1897 building, designed by the same firm as the Art Institute, is known as "The People's Palace." Once the central building for the Chicago Public Library, the palatial five-floor landmark is decked out in lush ornamentation and brimming with the arts. It hosts rotating exhibits, many highlighting Chicago-based artists, in addition to a wide variety of free performances.

Admire views overlooking Michigan Avenue from large windows as you stroll the spacious galleries of the Chicago Rooms. Marvel at the ornate detail of Preston Bradley Hall, where you can catch live performances, including chamber music and children's concerts, beneath its iconic 38-foot-diameter Tiffany dome, with 30,000 pieces of glass – and that’s the smaller of the two domes in the building.

Art extends to the building's exterior as well, with a large mural on its western wall titled “Rushmore” depicting prominent women in the Chicago arts.

Chicago Cultural Center: 78 E. Washington St. Hours: Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; weekends, 10 to 5. Free admission. Tours available Wednesday to Saturday at 1:15. Information: chicago.gov and search for “Chicago Cultural Center” or 312-744-3316.