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10 Best Chicago with Kids Activities that Will Please the Whole Family

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Chicago with kids is affordable, easy to navigate, and packed with attractions. I fell hard for Chicago on my first visit almost 20 years ago, and have returned again and again over the years. I also love sharing my love of the Windy City with my children. Take a look at my picks for the 10 best activities in Chicago with kids. Whether this is your first visit or your tenth, I bet you'll love exploring one of my favorite cities.

Visit Chicago with Kids for a wealth of family-friendly attractions and fun (Photo credit: QuinnTheIslander, Pixabay)

Thank you Embassy Suites for hosting my stay in Chicago with my daughter. 

1. Enjoy free activities at Millennium Park.

City vacations can be pretty expensive for families. Thankfully, exploring Chicago with kids can actually be budget-friendly with plenty of free entry to some of the city's best-known outdoor attractions. Start with Millennium Park for excellent cultural events like free music concerts, outdoor film screenings, and seasonal festivals.

Children love the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park

Children love the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park (Photo credit: fotoluminate, Depositphotos.com)

Next, wander through the park's stunning gardens. When it's time to cool off, head to the renowned Crown Fountain for some splash time. The Cloud Gate sculpture (better known as “The Bean”) entices squeals of delight as kids practice their best poses reflected in the stainless steel sculpture.

Cloud Gate (a.k.a. The Bean) in Millennium Park

Cloud Gate (a.k.a. The Bean) is one of Chicago's most popular attractions (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

2. Explore Shedd Aquarium.  

A visit to massive Shedd Aquarium is a sure-fire hit when visiting Chicago with kids. Situated just inside the front entrance, the mesmerizing Caribbean Reef provides a stunning 360-degree view of sea creatures including colorful fish, stingrays, sharks, and friendly sea turtles. Kids will flip for the aquatic shows in the amphitheater, where the talents of dolphins and beluga whales are showcased.

Jelly fish exhibit at Shedd Aquarium Chicago

Fascinating special exhibit on jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

3. Pick your favorite family-friendly Chicago museum.

First-time Chicago visitors may be surprised by the city's abundant museums designed with families and curious learners in mind. Natural history buffs will love meeting the Field Museum‘s famous resident, Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Space enthusiasts gravitate towards the Adler Planetarium, the first planetarium to open its doors in the Western Hemisphere. And although the Museum of Science & Industry is a bit farther away from other Chicago attractions, it's a fantastic interactive museum with hands-on exhibits.

Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex at Field Museum in Chicago

Sue the T-Rex is one of Chicago's most popular inhabitants (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

4. Get artsy with the kids.

The Art Institute of Chicago, renowned as one of the world's best art galleries, is one of my top picks every time we visit Chicago with kids. This is the place to inspire budding artists with a walk through the museum's extensive collection of impressionist paintings and exhibitions featuring art from America, Africa, Asia, and beyond. Guests can pick up audio guides designed for kids ages 5 to 10 before exploring the museum. The museum also hosts a number of art classes for children through their School of the Art Institute of Chicago to refine their skills and nurture their love of all things creativity. If your kids can't get enough, you can always make time for another visit, as admission is always free for kids under age 14.

Lions outside Art Institute of Chicago

Lions standing guard outside the Art Institute of Chicago (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

5. Play at Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is one of Chicago's most popular attractions for good reason — it's just plain awesome! The 150-foot Centennial Wheel towers above Pier Park theme park for an uplifting ride. Other fun attractions include a carousel, climbing walls, remote control boats, the Pepsi Wave Swinger, and Light Tower.

There's also lots to do if the temperature is soaring or you're visiting Chicago with kids during inclement weather. Try the Chicago Children's Museum to cool off or warm up, depending on the season. There your family can wander through three floors of epic activities designed for kids ages 10 and under.

Families who just can't get enough of Navy Pier can scour the shops, tasty restaurants, and food carts to extend your afternoon into the evening hours. Navy Pier is an easy walk from Michigan Avenue or you can climb aboard one of the city's free trolleys, which run from below Michigan Avenue to the pier.

A ride on the Millennial Wheel is a must-do while in Chicago with kids

A ride on the Centennial Wheel is a must-do while in Chicago with kids (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

6. Set sail on a Chicago River cruise.

A sightseeing cruise on the Chicago River is a great way to spend an hour or two on a hot summer day. Kids and grown-ups alike learn about the city's unique architecture and to get a good look at some of the many drawbridges that are raised periodically to allow boats to pass. Some cruises even head out onto Lake Michigan for a view of the city's skyline. You might think an architecture boat tour just doesn't appeal to kids, but my daughter just loved the cruise we took last summer. The entertaining commentary and jovial tour guide helped win her over!

A cruise on the river is the perfect way to see Chicago

A cruise on the river is the perfect way to see Chicago with kids (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

7. Shop 'til you drop.

Many visitors to Chicago come for the endless shopping options alone. The stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile is rife with tourists and a popular choice to explore Chicago with kids.

Here's a warning: if you have young daughters, it will be nearly impossible to spend time in Chicago without paying a visit to the American Girl Place. You might as well embrace the experience! For families with boys who just can't take all of the extreme girliness, there's also a LEGO Store outside the second-level entrance. Of course there are plenty of stores to please mom and dad along the Magnificent Mile as well!

Dining at the American Girl Cafe in Chicago

Dining at the American Girl Cafe (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

8. Go above it all in Chicago.

Take in Chicago from above for a whole different angle from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. My daughter was wowed by the view of the bustling Navy Pier below. Look up to see Willis Tower soaring over Chicago. Parents may remember it as the Sears Tower before it was christened with its current name. Here's a fun fact for your kids. Willis Tower was once the tallest building in the entire Western Hemisphere. That is until One World Trade Center in New York made a stake for its claim.

Chicago skyline from John Hancock Observatory

View of Chicago from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

A few blocks from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck, you can reach the 103rd floor Skydeck within Willis Tower itself. From here families can take in incredible views spanning across four states. Feeling brave? Step out onto The Ledge, a glass balcony that extends four feet from the side of the building. Try to keep your knees from shaking as you take in the views.

Chicago deep dish pizza

Gino's East serves up Chicago-style deep dish pizza (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

9. Dig into Chicago's deep dish pizza.

Traditional dishes often become synonymous with a destination and visitors feel compelled to savor it for themselves. They really want to sink their teeth in a famous dish to really experience the place. Chicago-style deep-dish pizza embodies that same sort of reputation and fervor. Well, I have a confession. During all of my visits to Chicago with kids, I had never eaten the city's famous pizza! Shocking, I know. I finally dined at Gino's East and discovered what all the fuss was really about. Parents can be thankful that Chicago's signature dish is one that even picky kids will adore. Hungry for more options? Take a look at these restaurants in Chicago that reviewers recommend for their deep dish pizza on TripAdvisor.

View of Wrigley Field in Chicago from the press box

Sitting in the press box and looking out on Wrigley Field (Photo credit: Lisa Goodmurphy)

10. Take the kids out to a Chicago ballgame.

Sport-loving families are in luck. Chicago is home to several teams with seasonal sporting events and attractions. My family loves attending both Cubs and White Sox games. However, our recent tour of Wrigley Field is my absolute most memorable sports experience. We had an incredible time learning about the history of this famed ballpark. There was an endless supply of Chicago sports trivia and fun facts during this behind-the-scenes tour. It doesn't get any better than that for a baseball fan like me!

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Save Money with CityPass Chicago

Want a pro tip for family travel planning? If you will visit many of the marquee attractions in Chicago with kids, purchase a CityPASS. You'll snag VIP access to five of the city's top attractions with 50+ percent savings!

Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown

Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown (Photo credit: Embassy Suites)

Where to Stay in Chicago with Kids

If you're looking for stylish and expansive suites perfectly situated to explore Chicago with kids, I bet your family will love Embassy Suites Chicago just as much as my daughter and I did. Read my full review of Embassy Suites Chicago!

Mission: Mars is one of the thrilling themes available from Escape Games Chicago

Mission: Mars is one of the thrilling themes available from Escape Games Chicago (Photo courtesy of Escape Games)

More Things to Do in Chicago with Kids

Bond as a family during your trip by booking an adventure with the Escape Game Chicago. Work together to decode clues and solve a mystery. Choose from such themes as Prison Break, The Heist, Mission: Mars, Gold Rush and Special Ops. Learn more here.

For additional Chicago activities, check out these TripAdvisor tours. If you want more information about Illinois' most popular city, Fodor's Guides are always helpful in planning trips so take a peek at Fodor's Chicago. If you like lots of pictures in your travel guides, go with the DK Eye Witness Travel Guide: Chicago instead. Get your kids on the travel planning with the Kids' Guide to Chicago. I also find it helpful to arrive in a new city with a paper map, like this Chicago PopOut Map.


Keep these Chicago with Kids Tips!

Thinking about planning a family vacation to Chicago? Be sure to keep these Chicago with kids activities handy by saving the image below to Pinterest!

10 Best Activities in Chicago with Kids

Have you visited Chicago with kids? What is your family's favorite Windy City activity? Let us know in the comments below!

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama says:

    Oh, I’d so love to get back to Chicago! I visited there for a work a few times in my 20’s and loved it. My buddy Nick is the editor at Serious Eats Chicago, and he’s always tempting me with tales off the culinary scene. First on my list would be stalking Rick Bayless though, using the kid as foil.

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      There are definitely some great places to eat in Chicago, Jody – it’s worth a trip there for the food alone!

  2. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) says:

    All wonderful suggestions! Next time, stay longer and venture into Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. It’s what I love most about my hometown!

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Thanks, Francesca! Every time that I leave Chicago, my one regret is that I didn’t have time to explore the neighbourhoods! I think Chicago is a lot like Toronto in that respect and I promise that the next time that I’m in Chicago that I will venture off the beaten path a bit more!

  3. Amanda O. says:

    I love seeing my city from someone else’s eyes. You’ve captured some of the best activities…especially for a 9-year-old. But, like the other commenters mentioned, you just can’t beat the food! 🙂

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Thanks, Amanda! Both of my daughters love to visit Chicago because there’s just so much to do!

  4. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says:

    Great list for families! That pizza looks amazing! Looking forward to getting to the aquarium on day.

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Laurel, we visit the aquarium every time that we are in Chicago – it’s the best we have ever seen!

  5. Chicago is one of the best place to visit some memorable places. Family-friendly museum is one of my favorite place which i would like to visit with whole family members.

  6. Oh, my gosh this such an amazing find! I have 4 kids and just moved to Arlington Heights in the new D.R. Horton community and we love it, but I get so stir crazy and have to be able to get out of the house and since I cannot leave the kids alone I need kid safe places to go to. Thank you Thank you!

  7. Thank you so much for the tips! This blog in regard to family trips, will be most helpful for my family to enjoy a day together.. Best article ever!

  8. Flyingkids says:

    What a fun list of activities for kids in Chicago. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Ellen Lanin says:

    I have been to Chicago a few times and there’s so much to see and do. The Art Institute is always fun.

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