Shedd Aquarium

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The Shedd Aquarium has been located on the same location in Grant Park on the shore of Lake Michigan as the Adler Planetarium and Field Museum in the heart of downtown Chicago since 1930. In the decades since its opening, this attraction has continually drawn native Chicagoans and visitors alike in record numbers. It was the world’s first inland saltwater aquarium and features over 1500 different species.

Money Saving Tip! Shedd Aquarium is included on the Chicago CityPASS. If you are sightseeing in Chicago, then you can save a lot of money with the CityPASS.

Shedd Aquarium History

A project of retailer John G. Shedd, protégée of Marshal Field, the Shedd Aquarium was among the first inland aquariums in the world and it is that distinction which makes its history so fascinating.

Shedd was a son of the city. As the protégée of retail powerhouse Marshall Field and retired president of Marshall Field & Company, Shedd wanted to spend his later years bringing recognition to the city he loved. In the 1920s, for many metropolitan areas, this meant building cultural institutions including fine aquariums. The problem that Shedd and Chicago encountered, however, was the city’s centralized (i.e. land-locked) location. Unlike port cities like New York and Boston, the lack of ocean access for Chicago made the addition of the crucial saltwater elements of an aquarium somewhat of a logistical challenge.

However, Shedd felt so strongly about the need for such an institution in Chicago that he donated $2 million to start the project and an additional $1 million to make sure that it lived up to its high-profile neighbors in Grant Park, the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. And although John Shedd died soon after seeing the blueprints for his namesake aquarium, the construction of the building that still houses one of the first inland saltwater aquariums in the world broke ground on 2 November 1927.

Though the initial construction phases of the Shedd Aquarium were pretty straightforward, the real challenge was when the seawater elements needed to be moved inland. To help solve this problem, a complex rail system began running between Florida and Chicago. By and by, over one million gallons of seawater, along with the creatures who call it home, were shipped in those first years. This rail system ran for Shedd until 1959 and made it the first inland aquarium in the world with a permanent saltwater collection.

Today, that collection has grown by leaps and bounds as shipment as well as preservation techniques have made getting seawater and sea creatures to the building easier than ever. Shedd is now home to 1500 distinct species of marine life including over 25,000 fish in 5 million gallons of water.

In the ensuing years many substantive additions have been made to Shedd. This includes its now-famous Caribbean Coral Reef in 1971, the Oceanarium (home to dolphins and beluga whales) in 1991, and the Wild Reef, based on the Alpo Island Marine Reserve, in 2003.

Shedd Aquarium: The Main Attraction

The Shedd Aquarium is massive—among the largest in the country—this means that visits need to be thought through. There are five distinct permanent exhibits (or areas) to see. This includes Amazon Rising, a walk through flooded rain forest, the Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, the Wild Reef, and Abbot Oceanarium. In addition, the 4D experience offers aquatic-themed fun for children of all ages and the large Polar Play Zone designed for kids that allows for pretend play and hands-on experiences in touch pools.

Each area has rotating specials and there is always a temporary exhibition moving through. One of the most unique offerings at Shedd is the beluga whale experience which allows visitors to get up close and personal with the whales who call the Abbot Oceanarium home. Additional packages include the chance to be a dolphin trainer for a day, meet the penguins of Shedd, get a behind-the-scenes tour, or even stay in the aquarium overnight.

Why the Shedd Aquarium is a Must See

Though aquariums are less of a must-see big city attraction today as compared to the 1920s, Shedd Aquarium is an obvious exception. Surpassing the Field Museum as Chicago’s most popular cultural attraction in 2007, this one-of-a-kind experience at one of the hottest cultural centers of Chicago (Grant Park) is well worth the time spent.

Where to Buy Shedd Aquarium Tickets

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Shedd Aquarium either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Shedd Aquarium is available on the Go Chicago Card and Chicago CityPass..