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18 Must Do Winter Activities in Chicago with Kids

The winter months can be atrocious in the Windy City. After spending 14 years as locals, we’re used to it and try to have a supply of kid-friendly winter activities in Chicago ready to go at any given moment!

As Chicago residents know, you need to be prepared to entertain the kids on snow days, “cold days”, and good old-school holidays. Plus, winter in Chicago has its charms and does wonders for getting you in the holiday spirit!

You might be a local in desperate need of ideas to add to your bag of winter tricks or maybe you’re a traveler looking for the best Chicago winter activities for kids. Below, you can read about my family’s favorite cold-weather things to do in Chicago.

18 Not-to-Miss Winter Activities in Chicago with Kids - Kids Are A Trip

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Things to Do in Chicago in the Winter with Kids

1. Explore Chicago Museums

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. Here are our favorites:

  • Museum of Science and Industry: Learn about different fields of science through interactive exhibits and hands-on experiences.
  • The Field Museum: Dive into natural history with impressive dinosaur displays and cultural artifacts from around the world. GET TICKETS HERE
  • The Art Institute of Chicago: Discover world-renowned art collections, including iconic works like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” GET TICKETS HERE
  • Kohl Children’s Museum: This is a fantastic place for kids to learn through play with age-appropriate exhibits and educational activities.
  • Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum: Get closer to nature with butterfly gardens, animal exhibits, and environmental education.
  • Children’s Museum at Navy Pier: Enjoy family fun with interactive displays and a stunning view of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier.
  • Chicago History Museum: Journey through Chicago’s storied history with rotating exhibits and historical artifacts.
Field Museum Chicago

You’ll find several museums close to each other along Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago, including the Art Institute. So, if you want to go museum hopping, this is a great area for that!

Also, several museums participate in Illinois Resident Discount Days, with discounted or even free admission for the entire family with proof of residency. Check the museum websites for more information.

Note: 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

2. Learn at Chicago’s Cultural Centers

In addition to the mainstream museums, Chicago also has museums (and neighborhoods) 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.

They’re excellent places to find winter activities in Chicago based on traditions and holidays. For example, the Swedish American Museum has a St. Lucia Day procession in which teen girls can participate. While the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian hosts games and craft projects for kids throughout the year.

Some events are just opportunities to get out of the house when there are several inches of snow on the ground and the kids are bouncing off the wall. On Friday mornings during the winter, the Chicago Cultural Center hosts art and movement classes just for babies and toddlers.

3. Shedd Aquarium

There’s also Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium at the Museum Campus. Spend the day observing dolphins, jellyfish, and sea turtles!

It’s a great opportunity to explore the natural world, especially during the chilly winter months when you would normally be stuck indoors.

They also offer Illinois Resident Discount Days. Different days are either discounted or free, especially during less busy times, like Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You can check the museum’s website for more details on specific terms and dates. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE

4. Adler Planetarium

Make a day of it at the Museum Campus and check out the Adler Planetarium as well. Visiting is one of the top winter activities in Chicago, thanks to state-of-the-art space exhibits and immersive shows. Everything here is very kid-friendly and explained in a way that’s easy to understand, but it’s all still entertaining enough for parents.

Adler Planetarium Chicago Winter

The planetarium’s sky shows and telescope observations are a must-see during the clear winter nights. Don’t miss Adler at Night, a free event held every Wednesday night where you observe the night sky and ask astronomers any questions you have. It’s the perfect place for stargazing and learning about the universe while staying warm indoors.

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5. Chicago Theater

Chicago has an incredible theater scene. If you need Chicago winter activities that will not disappoint and want to treat your kids to something special, try Broadway in Chicago.

Several theaters host a variety of shows, including the Cadillac Palace Theatre, CIBC Theatre, and the James M. Nederlander Theatre. They occasionally offer kid-friendly productions, especially during the holiday season.

There are also several great children’s theater companies, including the Marriott Theater for Young Audiences and the Chicago Children’s Theatre. Kids will love a day out at any of these venues!

Theater lovers can also see live shows of the Bard’s best work at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. Or if you have older kids who might prefer a comedy show, head to Second City (they only allow kids ages 13 and up, and an adult has to be with them).

6. Sporting Events

Chicago is of course home to the Blackhawks and the Bulls. And winter in Chicago means hockey season!

However, there are also other sports teams to entertain your children that cost less money and 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 Loyola?

7. Ice Skating in Chicago

One of the most iconic winter activities in Chicago is ice skating. It’s perfect if you’re looking for outdoor winter activities with kids. And if you wear the right clothing, an outdoor ice skate is quite fun.

Maggie-Daley-Ice-Ribbon-Holidays-in-Chicago-Kids-Are-A-Trip
Kids love skating at the Maggie Daley ice ribbon!

Some great places to try out the ice include the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park, the Ice-Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, and the Rosemont Ice Rink. Many park districts have their own indoor and outdoor rinks as well.

Most outdoor rinks open in time for the holiday season, from early November through the end of March. Admission is usually free, and skate rentals are available for most sizes.

8. Sledding Hills

When it is not below freezing and there’s plenty of snow on the ground, it’s so much fun to spend the day on a sledding hill. We don’t usually make the trek anywhere except down the street, but we’ve enjoyed the hill at Old School Preserve!

I’ve also heard great things about Dan Ryan Woods and Villa Olivia’s sledding hills. We’ve even traveled up to Wilmot and Sunburst Winter Sports Park in Wisconsin to enjoy their snow tubing hills.

Things-to-Do-in-Chicago-in-Winter-with-Kids-Kids-Are-A-Trip

One of the best outdoor activities in winter in Chicago, you’ll find something for everyone at one of the many parks in the Chicagoland area. Some parks (like Horner Park) are pretty flat and better for the youngest sledders.

While some sled hills can be pretty bare, many are staffed, with sled and tube rentals, warming centers, restrooms with heating, and lights so you can keep sledding after dark!

9. Visit a Garden

Yes, even during the winter season, visiting a conservatory or botanical garden in Chicago can be a rewarding experience for the whole family. This time of year, you’ll find special events where you can see rare winter blooms or get into the holiday spirit. Check out these great options:

  • Garfield Park Conservatory: In winter, the Garfield Park Conservatory hosts family-friendly events like the Winter Flower and the Train Show, making your visit one of the best Chicago winter activities.
  • Chicago Botanic Garden: The Chicago Botanic Garden shines in winter! They have their annual Lightscape event, where you walk through stunning light installations throughout the gardens. Don’t miss the Wonderland Express exhibit which features model trains inside the greenhouse.
  • Lincoln Park Conservatory: If you’re homesick for warmer climates, thaw out indoors while you marvel at vibrant orchids and other exotic plants.
  • Morton Arboretum: In the winter, the gorgeous art installations are dreamy against the snowy backdrop at the Morton Arboretum. You can also see the Christmas trees at the “Illumination: Tree Lights” event during the holiday season.

10. Indoor Water Parks

Most people from the Chicago area know about the Wisconsin Dells and will head there during Chicago winters to visit one of their numerous indoor water parks.

Great-Wolf-Lodge-Chicago-Indoor-Waterpark-Ropes-Course-Kids-Are-A-Trip
There’s more to Great Wolf Lodge than swimming!

In the greater Chicagoland area, there’s Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee and The Water Works, a stand-alone indoor water park in Schaumburg.

11. Check out a Festival, Special Event, or Parade

One of our favorite Chicago winter activities 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 in January to raise money for the Special Olympics.

If you are visiting in March, you won’t want to miss the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country, kids will love the bands, the music, and the opportunity to see the Chicago River turn green! And don’t miss the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade at McCormick Place.

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12. Day Out in the City

Why not head to the city and make a day of it? One of the best winter activities in Chicago is just bundling up against the chilly weather and taking a stroll down the Magnificent Mile in the heart of the city!

Chicago winter activities with kids

Enjoy the Christmas lights along the way and head to Water Tower Place where you’ll find the American Girl and LEGO stores. Warm up over deep-dish pizza and do some shopping.

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 or order a hot chocolate. That’s what I call the perfect day out with kids!

13. Trampoline Parks

Visiting trampoline parks is one of the most popular things to do when the kids are out of school. And when there are several inches of snow on the ground, they offer great indoor fun and physical activity.

Wall-to-wall trampolines, foam pits, and dodgeball let the kids exhaust all of their pent-up energy. Try Altitude, Sky Zone, and Urban Air Trampoline Parks. Each of these has several locations throughout the Chicagoland area.

Or better yet, invest in a trampoline for your backyard! Check out these reviews to find the best trampolines.

14. Grab a Bird’s Eye View

If you have a clear day, head to the 360 Chicago or Skydeck Chicago for spectacular views of Chicago’s winter wonderland.

Chicago aerial view

15. Bowling, Bocce, or Escape Rooms

There’s a Lucky Strike Bowl centrally located 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 many Chicago escape rooms for a fun day out.

16. Indoor Playgrounds

If you have young children, some of the best places for escaping the solitude of your home and finding other like-minded parents are indoor playgrounds.

The Exploratorium in Skokie has a playground, dress-up area, and climbing wall. And LEGOLAND Discovery Center is perfect for all ages, with several LEGO building areas, a 4D movie experience, and a couple of rides.

Here are some more ideas for indoor play spaces.

17. 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.

18. The Good ‘Ol Standbys

When all else fails, try the local library or a trip to the movies (local chains include AMC and Regal). Other winners include story time, art classes at a community center, or paint-your-own-pottery places.

Or just stay cozy at home and make memories by building a fort, popping some popcorn, and watching a movie or playing a game together!

If you are still looking for more ideas, check out:

Book Your Flights

You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Going, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.

If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.

Book Your Accommodation

We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.

If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.

Book Your Transportation

For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service.

Book Your Tours and Travel Photos

We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages.

If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.

Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational-based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.

One of our favorite things to do annually is taking photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threats, or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master to find the best policy for your group.