You’ve been to the standard art museums — the Louvre, the British Museum, New York City’s MoMA. The ones that keep you at a distance from the artwork and are, sorry to say, a bit stodgy. Well, the WNDR Museum (short for “Wonder”) in Chicago is nothing like that. This museum blends art and technology in a way that’s available and interactive for everyone. The museum in Chicago’s West Loop opened in 2018 as a pop-up but has morphed into a permanent art experience.
“We really want to convey that we are all artists,” says Ryan Kunkel, president of WNDR Global. “Every person is an artist in their own way and I think that’s what makes our experience so unique. Our art and our experience is incomplete without you interacting, participating, and becoming part of the art that we deliver. We want you to come explore, touch, interact, engage, and really ignite your curiosity.”
To help you get the best experience at the WNDR museum, we took a tour and compiled the best tips for your visit — along with input from Kunkel. Just remember to come back often, because the exhibits are all semi-permanent — There are ten new ones throughout every year.
- The #1 piece of advice for visiting the WNDR Museum
- WNDR Museum hours of operation and tickets
- The best times to visit the WNDR Museum Chicago
- How to get to the WNDR Museum and where to park
- How long you should budget to visit the WNDR Museum Chicago
- Where to start your visit at the WNDR Museum
- Special events at Chicago’s WNDR Museum
- The WNDR Museum gift shop
- The 5 best exhibits at the WNDR Museum Chicago
- What you can skip at Chicago’s WNDR Museum
The #1 piece of advice for visiting the WNDR Museum
Plan to spend some time inspecting the museum’s nooks and crannies. There’s a prescribed path to get through it, but you’ll want to be sure you give yourself enough time at each stop to find what you might not see at first glance.
“Find the surprises,” Kunkel says. “There are lots of little hidden easter eggs throughout the space. There are lots of small touches that could be easily overlooked if you’re not on the lookout for them.”
Watch out for things like hidden doors, unique door handles, and even a secret handprint from the Blue Man Group.
WNDR Museum hours of operation and tickets
WNDR Museum hours
The WNDR Museum is open every day, but hours vary. On Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, it’s open from 10 AM to 8 PM. On Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s open from 12 noon to 8 PM. And on Saturday, it’s open from 10 AM to 9 PM.
WNDR tickets and discounts
For WNDR Museum tickets, you have two options:
- General Admission: $32 ($38 during peak hours). Kids from three to 12 are $22 ($28 during peak hours), and children two and under get in for free. There is no student discount at the WNDR Museum.
- VIP Experience: $50. This option lets you get in quicker and allows a second lap through the exhibits (general admission gets one walkthrough only). You’ll also get a limited edition collector’s pin, a photo, and a 10 percent discount at the gift shop.
The best times to visit the WNDR Museum Chicago
If you want to avoid the biggest crowds and the highest prices, go during the off hours. Peak hours are 12 noon to 4 PM on Monday through Thursday; 12 noon to 8:30 PM on Friday; and all day on Saturday and Sunday. Keep in mind that even with small visitor numbers during off-peak hours, lines can form for some of the exhibits.
How to get to the WNDR Museum and where to park
The WNDR Museum is in Chicago’s West Loop, a part of the city notoriously known for limited parking options. Your best bet is to take public transportation. The Green, Pink, and Blue lines stop nearby, as do several buses. Use the Chicago Transit Authority’s trip planning site to plan your route. If you absolutely must drive, WNDR Museum parking by valet is available on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2 PM to 8 PM for $15 per car. Or, you can reserve a parking spot through the museum’s dedicated SpotHero parking page.
How long you should budget to visit the WNDR Museum Chicago
Give yourself two hours to visit the museum. Pay attention to the larger exhibits, being sure to read all the signs because some of them have instructions for interactivity. And remember on your way through to look for the smaller hidden treasures. Which of Kunkel’s easter eggs can you find?
Where to start your visit at the WNDR Museum
It’s easy to know where to start your visit at the WNDR Museum — because the entrance leads you right to the beginning of the path. Follow the arrows on the floor, but do take the time to enjoy each stop fully.
“We want to create different types of sensory experiences as you traverse the space,” Kunkel says. “There is a general path and flow that we think effectively ignites your curiosity and your senses as you move through the space, but we also want you to have enough flexibility to pause and dabble as you see fit.”
Special events at Chicago’s WNDR Museum
Every month, the museum hosts special events called WNDR After Dark. The series is held after opening hours of the museum and pulls in a live DJ for entertainment as you walk through the exhibits. If you’re 21 and over, you can buy alcohol, too. WNDR also has “a lot of seasonal transformations such as turning the entire space into Winter Wonderland from Thanksgiving to New Years, or Trick or Treat programming around Halloween,” Kunkel says. The calendar of special events is on the website—be sure to buy tickets in advance.
The WNDR Museum gift shop
If you’re in the market for some unique gifts — either to treat yourself or someone else — don’t miss the gift shop. The products are just as interactive as the museum itself. Some of the highlights include an art oracle, Chicago neighborhood puzzles, a kit to make flipbooks, and Miracle Berries, a snack that alters your sense of taste.
The five best exhibits at the WNDR Museum Chicago
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room
Get a sense of infinity in this room, the first and only infinity room in the Midwest. You’ll be surrounded by mirrors on the walls and on spheres hanging from the ceiling. Be sure to look into the center column for an even more intense experience.
Try to Get Higher
This is Kunkel’s favorite exhibit. You enter a large room with a keypad in the center made with arcade buttons. Every button you push triggers a different sound and a different projection on the screen in front of you.
“What’s most impressive about this piece is that there’s no combination that sounds poorly,” Kunkel says. “Essentially it allows everyone to create a beautiful track.”
WNDR Light Floor
On the WNDR Light Floor, every move you make that touches the floor triggers a colorful and flowing LED light display. Try standing, stopping, running, and jumping to see how the floor changes with each move. Limit your time at this exhibit if you have severe motion sickness.
The Wisdom Project
According to Kunkel, this is the most underrated exhibit in the entire museum. It’s a full wall that visitors create by answering the question, “What do you know for sure?” You write the answer down on a slip of paper and add it to the wall.
“To take the time and read the messages from other guests is truly profound,” Kunkel says. “It’s a personal favorite experience of mine, to pause and reflect on what’s on our guests’ minds. To understand the underlying sentiments left there is powerful.
Other things you shouldn’t miss at the WNDR Museum
Don’t skip a chance to peek your head both down the hallway to the first bathroom and into the first bathroom itself, or to reach for the door handle at the second bathroom. If you see a sequined wall, take the time to touch it and flip the sequins around to be part of the art yourself. Watch out for work by Keith Haring, and grab a selfie in the photobooths. Pro-tip: Some of these things are more fun with two people, so bring a friend along on your visit.
What you can skip at Chicago’s WNDR Museum
Because every exhibit at the WNDR Museum is on your path, it’s easy to see and experience all of them. That being said, some of the exhibits just don’t have the same wow factor. If you’ve been to a lot of the immersive art exhibits popping up around the country, you can probably skip the Flux room, which pairs art video with music. The Secret Chord exhibit, based on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” lost some of its appeal because music from other parts of the museum was leaking in. You may also choose to skip the Projection Dome, which displays a cloudscape into a dome. The main issue with this exhibit is that it’s high up in the corner, so you have to crane your neck a bit to see it, and there’s not much else to it other than clouds.
A warning for those with sensory sensitivities
The WNDR Museum is a sensory experience, so by nature, there’s going to be a lot of light and sound. If you or someone you’re going with has sensory sensitivities, budget in some extra time to take breaks and get out of the artwork before continuing. The best place to do that is in the Secret Chord exhibit, where you sit in a dark room listening to a virtual choir perform Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The other cool thing about this exhibit, aside from the calming break, is that the choir you hear changes based on how many people around the world are currently listening to the song. You can see a count of listeners on the ceiling.