Chicago offers a myriad of attractions and activities that are fun for the whole family. From world-renowned museums to beautiful urban parks, there are plenty of family-friendly sights for you and your children to enjoy. Chicago also boasts many free year-round activities, including concerts from local and internationally acclaimed musicians, art exhibits, theater performances, and film screenings. Best of all, you'll experience all of this culture while taking in Chicago's celebrated architecture and famous skyline.
These kid-friendly attractions combine entertainment, education, and some spectacular sight-seeing! For convenience, the following must-see destinations are grouped together by neighborhood.Museum Campus on Chicago's Waterfront
Get a diver's-eye view of the underwater world's most interesting creatures at the World's Aquarium. The floor-to-ceiling exhibit windows put you eye-to-eye with beluga whales, moon jellies, parrotfish, sharks, and even the giant octopus. Shedd Aquarium's 8 unique exhibits will give your children the opportunity to be explorers for the day.
Come meet Sue, the world's largest T-Rex, at this famous museum of science and anthropology. At this larger-than-life exhibit and many others, you and your family will travel back in time and all around the world. In addition to these educational and astounding displays, the younger kids will enjoy "interpretative stations" that host hands-on activities like writing in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Experience outer space without leaving Chicago at America's first planetarium. Let your child become a space voyager at Planet Explorers, the most immersive, hands-on exhibition the museum has ever offered. Catch a stellar space show in one of the museums three full-size theaters. And don't let the fun stop when you leave; walk out onto the Adler's north or south terraces to view the breathtaking Chicago skyline.
Take a ride on the wild side at this amusement park overlooking Lake Michigan. The 150-foot Ferris wheel and the hand-painted musical carousel provide entertainment for all ages. If your kids are particularly adventurous, take them for a thrill ride on the Navy Pier Wave Swinger, which whisks you 14 feet in the air as it carries you over the lake. More mellow kids will enjoy riding leisurely to the top of the Light House or mini-golfing at The Links.
Amid dozens of restaurants and shops, the pavilion houses the Chicago Children's Museum (CCM). The CCM is a first-rate museum where play and learning come together for families with children through the age of 10. Also check out the Navy Pier IMAX Theater to view re-mastered Hollywood hits on a 60-foot screen. Just beyond the pavilion, explore the famous Crystal Gardens, an enormous indoor botanical park that hosts over 70 full-size palm trees.
Grab the family and jump on board Navy Pier's 148-foot, four-masted traditional schooner for a sailing adventure to remember. Whether you're a first time sailor or more experienced on the open water, this unique view of Chicago is one you won't want to miss. Marvel at unparalleled views of the Chicago skyline while learning about the history and practice of sailing from the Windy's knowledgeable and creative crew. After some instruction, practice hoisting the sails yourself. Don't forget the camera!
No trip to Chicago is complete without a stop at the Art Institute, celebrated worldwide as a leading museum for high-quality art. With the huge variety of exhibits the Institute offers, there's bound to be something everyone in the family will enjoy. Wander through the 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms (built on a one-inch-to-one-foot scale), explore the collection of medieval arms and armor, or watch the evolution of photography from 1839 to the present. Another perk-kids under the age of 14 are admitted for free!
Transportation is fun and expedient with the trolley and upper-deck bus tours offered by the gray line. This tour provides transportation to each of the above attractions in addition to several other landmark sites, restaurants, and shops. Travel around Chicago's downtown and lake front with the convenience of getting on and off the trolley at your freedom.
Whether you're in for a traditional style deep-dish pizza or a chocolaty dream dessert, Chicago will have the whole family dining happy. Check out the following restaurants and cafés (categorized by location) to experience some of Chicago's finest food.
You can't get closer to the original than this: Malnati is considered the oldest name in Chicago deep-dish pizza. You'll want a knife and fork to eat this "backward" pizza (the tomato sauce is on top!). The restaurant supplies a kid's menu for picky eaters ages 12 and under.
Treat the kids without hurting your wallet at this truly unique McDonald's. This landmark features a rock and roll exhibit, décor from the 1950's and 60's, and an escalator to the second floor. Conveniently, this location is open 24/7 and is accessible by the Hop On Hop Off Trolley by Gray Line.
Here's the perfect stop for the sweet-tooth in your family. Get your fill of the world's best loved HERSHEY'S products, pick-up some one-of-a-kind souvenirs, and bring home personalized chocolate bars. If you're a real HERSHEY'S lover, become a factory worker for the day and learn about Milton S. Hershey's famed business.
Chicago's Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop prides itself in exceptional and distinctive dessert creations. The whole family can share one dessert when you order "The Earthquake." This 8-scoop sundae features fresh bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds, chocolate chips, cherries, and your choice of any additional toppings!
Famous ice cream isn't all this dockside café has to offer. Gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, and coffee make this a great daytime lunch stop. On a nice day, enjoy eating outside on the patio. If it's not so sunny, sit inside in the large, open dining area perfect for families.
Experience the hustle and bustle on the pier while looking out on spectacular Lake Michigan. Harry Caray's offers a diverse food and beverage menu featuring salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and entrees. Enjoy the expansive patio seating that boasts a front row seat to the Navy Pier fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday.
Head to this "urban oasis" for an All-American meal that the whole family will enjoy. The kids menu, for children 12 and under, offers chicken fingers, mini kid burgers, grilled cheese, and cheese quesadillas. Adults can choose from a variety of entrées, burgers, sandwiches, and much more. If you're still hungry, ask about the dessert of the day.
Your eyes don't deceive you; there are plenty of free things to do in Chicago with kids! Add any of these fun activities to your itinerary to guarantee a full, fun, and bank account-friendly vacation.
Sharing a picnic at Grant Park, the 220-acre urban park inspired by the gardens at Versailles, is an easy thing to do in Chicago with kids. Buckingham Fountain stands at the heart of the park, shooting 1.5 million gallons of water out of its 150 jets. Looking for something to do in the evening? Colorful lights and music make Grant Park a great place for a stroll in the dusk.
Enjoy free music and family activities while exploring the renowned architecture and landscape design at Millennium Park. In the summer, the park offers the Family Fun Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a reading circle and a mix of live music and interactive dance performances.
Take pleasure in the Navy Pier atmosphere without spending money. Pack a lunch for the family to eat on the dock. As you stroll along the pier, people-watch and take pictures of your family in front of a beautiful Lake Michigan landscape.
Window shop and sight-see along the Magnificent Mile. This famous walk on Michigan Avenue has over 460 stores and boutiques. Kids will enjoy hanging out in stores like The American Girl Place Chicago, which houses the entire collection of American Girl dolls, or The LEGO Store with over 400 branded products. Start at the famous Bloomingdale's Fashion Headquarters and sight-see as you wander past the John Hancock Observatory, the Historic Water Tower, the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building, and finally the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Head over to the Chicago Cultural Center for free entertainment at one of the most visited attractions in Chicago. This city architectural landmark featuring two stained-glass domes provides plentiful free public events. Events include artist showcases, music, performances, films, and dancing. Check out the center's website before your visit to plan ahead.
Chicago is a destination that both kids and adults find appealing. Because many of Chicago's must-see attractions offer kid-friendly activities and exhibits, you won't have to miss out on any of the city's diverse culture and history. As you explore the multitude of things to do in Chicago with kids, you'll definitely create a memorable vacation for the family photo album.