Winter weather can be atrocious, but in Chicago we are used to it, and try to have a supply of fun winter activities for kids ready to go at any given moment. As locals know, it is important to have plenty of activities at your disposal to entertain the kids on “snow days”, “cold days”, and good old school holidays. Here are some of our favorite fun winter activities for kids in Chicago.
Things to Do in Chicago in Winter with Kids
*This post originally appeared in February 2015, but was updated in December 2018.
Chicago is a perfect city for museum hopping in the winter. Kids and adults alike will not be disappointed with the variety of choices available. Our favorites include: Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum, The Art Institute, Kohl Children’s Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier.
*Several museums participate in Illinois Resident Discount Days, with free or discounted admission with proof of residency. Check the museum websites for more information. Also if you have a Bank of America Credit or Debit Card you can use it to gain free entrance to over 150 museums the first weekend of every month. Participating museums can be found here: Bank of America: Museums on Us.
Chicago has an incredible theater scene and if you are looking to treat your children to something special, try Broadway in Chicago. If you are looking for something with a smaller financial investment, there are several great children’s theater companies, including: Emerald City Theatre, The Marriott Theater for Young Audiences, and the Chicago Children’s Theatre. Kids will not be disappointed with a day out to any of these venues.
3) Sporting Events
Chicago is of course home to the Blackhawks and the Bulls, but there are also other sports teams to entertain your children that cost a lot less money, but are equally as fun. If your kids like hockey, check out a Chicago Wolves game. Do they love basketball? Why not check out a game at Northwestern or DePaul?
4) Ice Skating
If you wear the right clothing, outdoor ice skating is actually quite fun. Some great places to try out the ice include: Millennium Park, the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon, or the Rosemont ice rink. Many park districts have their own indoor and outdoor rinks as well.
5) Sledding Hills
When it is not below freezing and there is plenty of snow on the ground, one of the best ways to spend the day is on a sledding hill. Usually we don’t make the trek anywhere except down the street, but we have enjoyed the one at Old School Preserve. I’ve also heard great things about Dan Ryan Woods and Villa Olivia sledding hills, and we have even traveled up to Wilmot and Sunburst Winter Sports Park in Wisconsin to enjoy their snow tubing hills.
6) Indoor Water Parks
Most people from the Chicago area know about the Wisconsin Dells, and will head there in the winter to visit one of their numerous indoor water parks. In the greater Chicagoland area there is Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee and The Water Works, a stand alone indoor water park in Schaumburg.
7) Check out a Festival, Special Event, or Parade
One fun winter festival in Chicago is the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown. We head downtown to have lunch and see the celebration. It’s a great way to experience another culture’s traditions and get out of the house. Another fun option is to join the Polar Plunge, an icy dip into Lake Michigan to raise money for Special Olympics. Another event not to miss is Chicago’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country, kids will love the bands and music and the opportunity to see the Chicago River turn green. Another fun option is the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade at McCormick Place.
8) Day Out in the City
Why not head to the city and make a day of it? Head to Water Tower Place where you will find the American Girl and Lego stores, restaurants, and shopping galore. Once your kids have their fill of food and toys, head across the street to the Hershey store and/or Ghirardelli store to sample some sweets. That’s what I call the perfect day out with kids!
9) Trampoline Parks
Trampoline parks are all the rage when the kids are out of school. Wall to wall trampolines, foam pits, and dodgeball let the kids exhaust all of their pent up energy. Try Xtreme Trampolines, Jump America, and Sky High Sports.
10) Grab a Bird’s Eye View
11) Bowling, Bocce, or Escape Rooms
There’s a Lucky Strike bowl centrally located in downtown and several Brunswick bowling alleys throughout the Chicago suburbs. For something different, try bocce ball at Pinstripes, a unique bocce, bowling, and dining venue. Older kids might enjoy heading to one of the Chicago Escape Rooms for a fun day out. Here’s some more ideas for indoor play spaces
12) Indoor Playgrounds
Some of the best places for escaping the solitude of your home and finding other like minded parents are indoor playgrounds. The Exploritorium in Skokie has a play ground, dress up area, and climbing wall. The Legoland Discovery Center has several LEGO building areas, a 4-D movie experience, and a couple of rides.
13) Cultural Centers
In addition to the mainstream museums, Chicago also has museums dedicated to different cultures. Some of the kid friendly ones include: The Swedish American Museum, The National Hellenic Museum, and the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian.
14) Get in Touch with Your Inner Daredevil
Have your kids try out their latest circus tricks on the flying trapeze at TSNY Chicago or imagine what it would be like to jump out of a plane at iFLY Chicago Indoor Skydiving. I have yet to do the trapeze, but the skydiving is pretty awesome! (Ages 6 and up can enjoy TSNY Chicago and at iFLY kids can be as young as 3).
15) The Good ‘Ol Standbys
When all else fails, try the local library, a trip to the movies (local chains include: AMC and Regal), story time or art classes at a community center, a paint your own pottery place, or just stay home, build a fort, pop some popcorn, and watch a movie or play a game together.
If you are still looking for more ideas, check out our Favorite Holiday Events in Chicago, Where to Eat in Chicago with Kids, and Best Chicago Attractions for Families. What’s your favorite thing to do in Chicago during the winter?