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Ultimate Guide to Things to Do in Chicago with Kids

Planning a Chicago family vacation or staycation? You’re in for a treat in the Windy City! There are so many amazing things to do in Chicago with kids, from museums, parks, and beaches to food, tours, and Chicago adventures.

Ultimate Travel Guide Best Things to do in Chicago with Kids - Kids Are A Trip

Our family spent 14 years exploring everything this city had to offer. When we first arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the wealth of kid-friendly activities! Chicago offers plenty to do for children of all ages, which makes it a perfect destination for a family getaway.

In creating this post, I actually decided that my kids would be the best ones to ask about their favorite Chicago attractions. Hopefully, their perspective will help guide you in choosing the sights you want to visit with your family. Enjoy!

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Is Chicago a Good Place to Visit with Kids?

A family trip to Chicago is definitely a fantastic idea! It’s a large city with a ton of diversity and a wide range of things to do in Chicago with kids. You’ll find a sparkling lakefront, a charming river, world-class restaurants, and endless shopping. And Chicago is well known for delicious deep-dish pizza, Wrigley Field, and gorgeous architecture!

These are the features that make the city attractive to adults and children as well! In fact, Chicago almost feels like a city built with children’s entertainment in mind! There are plenty of indoor and outdoor activities for all ages and interests, and an amazing, walkable downtown area (maybe not in the dead of winter).

You may also want to know how many days are enough to visit Chicago. I recommend at least a weekend to see the main attractions in Chicago and eat some good meals. However, it would be very easy to spend a week in the city and never tire of the food, culture, and endless attractions!

Chicago Family Hotels

Looking for a place to stay? Here are the best Chicago hotels for families.

Need some quick ideas? Check out the following:

Chicago also has some top-notch hotels if you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway!

Most Popular Attractions in Chicago

Chicago is a fun place for the whole family, with iconic landmarks like The Bean in Millenium Park and the mind-blowing observation deck at Willis Tower! Here are some top attractions that should be at the top of your Chicago itinerary.

1. See a Game at Wrigley Field

Of course, you have to see a Cubs game while visiting the Windy City! But Wrigley Field tours are also a must if you have any baseball fans in your family! Learn about the history of this ballpark that has been around for more than 100 years.

Wrigley Field with kids

2. Visit the John Hancock Center

Some of the most breathtaking views of the city can be seen from the John Hancock Center’s 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck in the heart of the Magnificent Mile. It’s worth seeing day or night, so make two visits if you can!

And if there’s a thrill seeker in the family, be sure to experience TILT. Not for the faint of heart, TILT offers a downward-facing view of the city from 1,000 feet up!

3. Explore Navy Pier

If the weather is great, then Navy Pier is the place to be. I would describe it as a boardwalk/mall with a children’s museum thrown in for good measure. There’s something for everyone! During the summer, tourists and locals alike congregate at Navy Pier for bi-weekly fireworks in the evening and picnics along the lakefront.

Navy Pier things to do in Chicago with kids

There are many restaurants to choose from and it is easy to spend an afternoon on the pier. It’s also the starting point for most waterfront tours. You can take an elegant dining cruise or an upscale private charter on Lake Michigan, finishing the evening off with shopping or a ride on the Centennial Wheel.

4. Run Around Millenium Park and See the Bean

Millennium Park is centrally located along Michigan Avenue and provides a great place for a family to unwind. During the summer it’s host to many free concerts, performances, and festivals, but the rest of the year it is a great place to gather and let the kids run free.

Plus, the city skyline is beautiful here all the time, so don’t forget to snap a photo or two. Millennium Park is definitely one of the best free things to do in Chicago with kids.

One of the main attractions is the 66-foot-long sculpture known as “Cloud Gate”. My kids (and most Chicagoans) call it “The Bean” because it looks like a giant stainless-steel kidney bean! People from around the world stop here for their “fun house” photos and the kids want to visit every time we head downtown. Also, visit at night for a completely different experience!

Chicago Bean sculpture

Another favorite in Millenium Park is the Crown Fountain. The fountains are actually two 50-foot towers with images of Chicago residents on a giant video screen. When the face on the screen smiles, water comes pouring from their mouth, dousing screaming kids who have gathered below!

5. Play at Maggie Daley Park

Next door to Millenium Park is Maggie Daley Park, and you can reach it by crossing the really cool BP Pedestrian Bridge. This 20-acre park with the best playground downtown, the Play Garden.

Maggie Daley ice ribbon Chicago with kids
Winter skating ribbon Maggie Daley Park

It features multiple play structures, a climbing wall, waterworks in the summer, and an ice-skating ribbon in the winter! The Play Garden is definitely one of the best things to do in Chicago with kids, and it’s free!

6. Take in Views from the Skydeck at Willis Tower

The Skydeck is where tourists go for awesome views of Chicago. If the weather is good, you’ll have an amazing view of the city, but if it’s cloudy, save this trip for another day.

Admission can be pricey, but if you have a Chicago CityPASS, or Go City Card, you can save money. It’s a great photo opportunity and a chance to see and do something that is unique to Chicago. And the kids will always remember the experience!

Admission includes a tour with a brief history of the building and an elevator ride to the 103rd floor where you can take in panoramic views of Chicago. The Skydeck offers a chance to go out on a 4-foot glass box 103 floors above street level, but only if you’re brave enough!

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Chicago Museums for Kids

One of the top things to do in Chicago with kids of all ages is explore the many world-class museums located downtown. You could spend an entire day just visiting Chicago museums! Here are some of my family’s favorites.

7. Have Fun at the Field Museum

Along with Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum is located on Museum Campus. My kids ranked these in their order of preference, and I’m inclined to agree! If you’re going to see all three, you may want to look into one of the city passes, which offers a combined discount.

Field Museum Chicago

The Field Museum is great for all ages with its world-famous T-rex skeleton, ancient Egyptian mummies, and the Hall of Gems. There’s also a family play area on the lower level where kids can play musical instruments, dress in animal costumes, and dig for fossils.

PRO TIP: There are a lot of stairs on the north and south side of the building, so if you have a stroller, use the entrance on the east. Also, lines tend to be shorter on the north side of the building since it is the furthest from the parking lot.

8. Learn at Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium is a great place to explore with kids. It has everything you would expect from a planetarium, including hands-on exhibits detailing space exploration and astronomy, as well as numerous sky shows! You only need a few hours to see everything here. If you’re short on time, I suggest saving this stop for another trip.

9. See Beluga Whales at Shedd Aquarium

Opened in May of 1930, Shedd Aquarium quickly became a Chicago landmark. Shedd Aquarium is a sanctuary that supports global conservation programs, and they were the first aquarium to have an educational department. My kids weren’t huge fans, but if you like big aquariums, it might be of interest to you and your family!

Shedd Aquarium fish and coral reef

Keep in mind that there are dolphin shows, which lots of people don’t like. You can also see habitats with beluga whales and penguins.

PRO TIP: The aquarium can get quite busy, try to plan a visit early on Sunday mornings if you want to avoid the crowds.

10. Take the Little Ones to the Chicago Children’s Museum

When it comes to kid-friendly things to do in Chicago, don’t miss the Chicago Children’s Museum! This 3-story museum has everything from a dinosaur dig and multiple play structures to a tinkering lab and water play station.

Located inside Navy Pier, there’s plenty to do for kids ages 10 and under. There are even designated play spaces for babies and toddlers, as well as a nursing room and nursing chairs located throughout the museum.

11. See the Submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI)

Quite possibly our favorite museum in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry does not disappoint! The building itself was originally built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition as the Palace of Fine Arts. Today it is home to a Zephyr train, a U-505 submarine, and a Boeing 727. Yes, all of these fit inside the building and you can explore inside each one of them.

Best Chicago Attractions for Families MSI-Kids Are A Trip
Inside the Museum of Science and Industry Photo credit: Choose Chicago

The kids love each and every exhibit, with their favorites being the vortex show, the model train railroad, and the baby chick hatchery! There’s an IMAX theater with rotating content. Just check the website before you go to see what’s currently showing. Plan on spending half a day or more in this awesome hands-on museum.

Located south of downtown in the Hyde Park neighborhood, you can get to MSI by bus, train, or taxi if you don’t have your own car. It’s the one museum in town that my kids ask to visit over and over again. The museum may be further out than other city attractions, but it is definitely worth the visit!

12. Walk the Halls of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute is not your typical kids’ museum, but mine are always up for a visit. Admission for adults can be steep, but kids under 14 are free. The museum occasionally offers free days, so keep an eye out for those.

Most families try to avoid art museums, but we’ve always found a way to entertain kids at a museum. Try one of the museum’s treasure hunts and the kids are less likely to complain!

There are two wings, the original building, and the new modern wing. Inside you’ll find art in every medium covering every era of history, as well as art from all over the world.

The highlights for our kids were the Impressionist rooms, the Medieval Arms and Armor room, and the Ancient and Byzantine collections.

13. Visit the Chicago History Museum

What kid doesn’t want to dress up like a hot dog? That’s one of the many interactive exhibits that kids will love at the Chicago History Museum as they learn about local history. It’s located in Lincoln Park, so if you’re visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo (see below), then consider planning a few hours here as well.

14. Have Fun at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Another excellent Lincoln Park museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is hands-on and educational for all ages. There are 3 floors of exhibits at the museum including indoor and outdoor spaces. You can enjoy everything from live reptiles and a breathtaking butterfly habitat to kid-friendly play spaces and nature trails!

Chicago Zoos

Do you have an animal lover in your family? Definitely add these zoos to your Chicago summer bucket list!

15. Play at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the very few zoos in the United States that has free admission (but it does charge for parking). If you have little kids, they’ll enjoy the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo with its amazing climbing canopy, carousel, and farm area!

The nicely manicured grounds provide a lovely background for strolling while visiting all the different animals. For a free city zoo, this really can’t be beat.

16. Explore Brookfield Zoo

If you prefer a larger zoo, head to the Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield. This zoo is massive, spanning over 216 acres so plan to spend the day exploring. The best exhibits include the penguin encounter, Great Bear Wilderness (with polar bears), and the Hamill Family Zoo (a petting zoo).

Tiger Brookfield Zoo

Chicago Gardens

These beautiful gardens are among the best things to do in Chicago with kids. They’re a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, and they’re great photo opportunities!

17. Take Pictures at Chicago Botanic Garden

If you love taking pictures, this is definitely one of the best places for photography in Chicago. Take an educational trip to the Botanic Garden and you’ll make memories that last a lifetime. Admission is free, but there’s a hefty fee for parking (especially during the holidays).

18. Run Around Morton Arboretum

At Morton Arboretum, you can take a walk through the Children’s Garden and Maze Garden. Have lunch at Ginkgo Restaurant overlooking a beautiful lake and go on a troll hunt. Kids will love all of the outdoor space to explore.

19. Wander Through the Garfield Park Conservatory

If you’re looking for things to do on a rainy day in Chicago, head to the conservatory. This indoor botanic garden has beautiful spaces to explore with play areas for children, plus over 10 acres of outdoor gardens.

Garfield Park Conservatory Chicago

Chicago Theatre

Families will love Blue Man Group, Broadway in Chicago, and the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire (about an hour north of downtown).

Chicago Experiences

If your family is looking for more creative things to do in Chicago with kids, check out these fun activities! And don’t miss these Fun Things to do in Chicago With Teens including escape rooms, Millennium Park, and more!

  • Architecture Tour on the River – one of the best ways to see the city from the water and learn about its unique buildings. BOOK IT HERE.
  • Seadog Cruise – Older kids will love this high-speed boat ride on Lake Michigan.
  • Six Flags Great America Amusement Park – about an hour north of downtown in Gurnee, this is the ultimate place for Chicago family fun and the largest amusement park in the area.
  • High tea – Chicago has several awesome options for afternoon tea, including the Drake, Ritz, Peninsula, and Langham hotels.
  • Bobby’s Bike Hike – several Chicago bike tours to choose from including food and neighborhood themed. BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE.
  • Urban Kayaks – awesome kayak tours along the Chicago River or rent your own.

Chicago Neighborhoods

If you have time and want an authentic Chicago experience, take time to explore these downtown Chicago neighborhoods.

Pilsen

Pilsen is home to one of the largest Latino communities outside of Mexico. Be sure to eat all of the amazing food, check out the street art, and visit the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Chinatown

Don’t miss dim sum at Triple Crown, Aji Ichiban candy store, the unique architecture of the public library, and bubble tea at Joy Yee Noodle. The Chinese New Year Parade, Autumn Moon Festival, and summer dragon boat races are must-see things to do in Chicago with kids.

Greektown

Be sure to enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants and sample the treats at the Panhellenic Pastry shop. Also, make sure to visit the National Hellenic Museum, which features the largest collection of Greek American artifacts in the world!

Chicago Beaches

Did you know that Chicago has 26 miles of lakefront, and beach access is free? Be sure to add one of these to your Chicago bucket list:

  • Ohio Street Beach – not far from Streeterville, this smaller beach usually has smaller crowds than other beaches.
  • Oak Street Beach – is located on Lake Shore Drive, so you get a view of the magnificent skyline while swimming. 
  • Montrose Beach – also on Lake Shore Drive, is the largest beach in Chicago. Montrose Beach has a dog-friendly area where pups can splash in the water and play off-leash in a fenced-off section of the beach.
Aerial view downtown Chicago and beaches

Chicago Hiking Trails

Chicago has excellent accessible hiking trails, some with amazing views of the city and Lake Michigan! I think these are the best trails in Chicago for kids:

  • The 606 – this elevated trail was built on an abandoned train track. The trail is less than 6 miles round trip, making it perfect for families.
  • Skokie NorthShore Sculpture Park – just north of the city, this path features two miles of trails with over 60 sculptures.
  • Lakefront Trail – beautiful 18-mile walk along Lake Michigan with the city on the opposite side. Several places to stop along the way, including Navy Pier.
606 Chicago walking path

Chicago Food Halls

You can’t fully experience a Chicago family vacation without some tasty grub.

  • Time Out Market: With 18 unique restaurants and some of the best chefs in town, this family-friendly market is not to be missed.
  • French Market: European-style marketplace near Ogilvie Transportation Center. Don’t miss Happy Lobster and Vanille Patisserie for dessert.
  • Revival Food Hall: All local, fast, casual food. Don’t miss Smoque BBQ and Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for a sweet treat.
  • Eataly: Italian market with a grocery, takeaway, and sit-down restaurants, with gelato for dessert.

Pizza Places in Chicago

I haven’t visited every pizza place in Chicago (yet), but I can vouch for all of the restaurants below!

  • Coalfire Pizza – Try the Pistachio Pesto on thin crust!
  • Pequod’s Pizzeria – Locals love this pizza joint but be ready to wait since each pizza cooks for 45 minutes. It’s been called “the best deep-dish pizza in the Universe.”
  • Lou Malnati’s Pizza – They’re a local favorite with 3 locations across the city. Try the butter crust!
Deep dish pizza

Not a pizza fan? Try the hot dogs! We’re partial to Super Dawg and Portillo’s but there are plenty of places to grab a hot dog in Chicago! Also, don’t miss Stan’s Donuts, Garrett Popcorn, and the Nutella Cafe. Need more ideas? Don’t miss our list of the best kid-friendly restaurants in Chicago!

Get Ready for Endless Fun Things to Do in Chicago with Kids!

You’ll never run out of things to do in Chicago, whether you’re on vacation or you’re a long-time resident. We love all the fun family activities in Chicago and plan to check more of them off our Chicago bucket list!

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.