Chicago Family Vacation Ideas – Attractions, Activities & Things to Do for Summer Vacation

Heading to the Windy City this summer? We’re sure you’re just as excited about visiting Chicago as we are about having you here in this amazing city. However, it’s not always easy to know what to do with kids when visiting a new city.

If you’re worried about planning that perfect summer family vacation, we’ve got some suggestions to help you out, curated by locals and industry experts who know what it’s like to have families in Chicago.

Our favorite Chicago summer family vacation ideas include:

  • Shedd Aquarium
  • 360 Chicago
  • Field Museum
  • Big Bus Chicago Sightseeing Tour
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Navy Pier & Centennial Wheel
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • LEGOLAND Discovery Center
  • Brookfield Zoo
  • Millennium Park & Lurie Garden

Save on Family Vacation Attraction Ideas

Regular admission to a number of these family friendly attractions are available on the Go Chicago Card.

Choose as you go from top visited attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Learn more about our Chicago passes, attractions and prices.

Shedd Aquarium

Shedd-Aquarium-Discount-3One of Chicago’s best family attractions, the Shedd Aquarium is the perfect place to take the kids this summer.

Filled with tens of thousands of fascinating marine creatures, there is no end to the wonders you’ll discover at this attraction.

Exhibits include the fascinating “Waters of the World,” the festive “Caribbean Reef,” and delightfully kid-centric “Polar Play Zone.”

Be warned, though, that lines can be wickedly long in the summer. Good thing Go Chicago Card holders get priority entry! You’re also close to the rest of Museum Campus, so why not make a day of it?

Getting In: Shedd Aquarium tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card. 

360 CHICAGO

360-Chicago-John-Hancock-Tower-5Get away from it all at the 94th floor of the Hancock Building.

This observation deck is the perfect place for panoramic views of Lake Michigan, the city below you, and even glimpses of the Illinois plains.

Families treasure the chance to take unique photographs, and the interactive exhibits are fun to explore for everyone.

Its convenient location on Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile) also makes it easy to build a visit here into a broader itinerary.

Getting In: 360 CHICAGO tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Field Museum

A curved projection surrounds visitors with a recreation of the ancient sea and its various life forms.

Image credit: Greg Neise The Field Museum

Also part of the Museum Campus family of institutions, the Field Museum is one of the most exciting attractions in all of Chicago for curious kids and their parents.

You’ll find that their endlessly intriguing collections have much to offer, from the world’s largest complete T. Rex skeleton (aka, Sue), to minerals and gemstones to an extensive collection of ancient Chinese art and artifacts.

Your visit here also includes admission to one special exhibit, which is a great additional benefit.

Getting In: Field Museum tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Big Bus Chicago Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour

chicago-bus-tourWhether you’re a first-time visitor to Chicago or a returning vet, sometimes all you need is a good bus tour to get you going.

Join up with Big Bus on their informative and entertaining hop-on hop-off tour of Chicago, which covers many of the major highlights while traveling between 14 different stops.

Get off where you’d like to explore further. You can even use the bus to get to attractions like those at Museum Campus (although do be aware that traffic may get in the way of getting any place in a timely manner).

Getting In: Big Bus Chicago tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum-of-Science-and-Industry-5Head to a new area of Chicago with a visit to Hyde Park on the South Shore. The Museum of Science and Industry will more than make your transit time worthwhile!

This kid-centric museum is filled with educational exhibits, interactive spaces, and hands-on activities.

Some of our favorite attractions within this museum (the largest science museum in the country, by the way) include a real German submarine from WWII, an Illinois coal mine, and a challenging mirror maze.

Getting In: Museum of Science and Industry tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Adler Planetarium

Adler-Planetarium-4Another star of the Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium. A longtime family favorite, this “stellar” attraction is the place to explore everything from the surface of the moon to the furthest reaches of space.

Your all-access pass includes exciting exhibits like “Mission Moon,” “Planet Explorers,” “Our Solar System,” and many more.

You’ll also get access to the historic Atwood Sphere, Chicago’s oldest and most storied planetarium. Plus, get to see unlimited shows like the new Planet Nine.

Getting In: Adler Planetarium tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Navy Pier & Centennial Wheel

Navy-Pier-centennial-wheel-2The centerpiece of your family vacation to Chicago really should be a visit to Navy Pier.

This delightful wonderland is filled with exciting attractions and things to do for families with kids of all ages, with options like theater performances, bike rides, boat cruises, museums, and many more.

One of our favorite things to do is to hop aboard the famed Centennial Wheel – Chicago’s signature Ferris wheel (which you can also spot from 360 CHICAGO!).

You can also dine, shop, and people watch to your heart’s content.

Getting In: Navy Pier is free to explore. Navy Pier Centennial Wheel and Ride tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago-Children-s-Museum-3If you’re stringing together an itinerary from our ideas, it’s quite a convenient thing that the Chicago Children’s Museum is located right on Navy Pier.

Primarily designed for younger and middle-grade children, this educational institution is all about creative thinking and interactive fun.

Exhibits are geared towards teaching children an important skill or set of information while remaining entertaining.

“Dinosaur Expedition,” for example, allows kids to dig for “fossils” while learning about a real prehistoric creature, about paleontology, and about natural history.

As a bonus, they have extended hours in the summer, too, so there will be more time to explore this amazing place with the kids. 

Getting In: Chicago Children’s Museum tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center

LEGOLAND-Discovery-Center-2If you’ll willing to take a bit of a drive out of Chicago proper, you’ll find that LEGOLAND Discovery Center is worth the effort.

This expansive indoor attraction is filled with everything LEGO, from building stations guided by Master Model Builders to rides like the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride.

Be sure to stop by MINILAND, too, where you’ll find small-scale replicas of downtown Chicago landmarks.

This attraction is best suited for children under ten or so.

Getting In: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield-Zoo-1What’s not to love about Chicagoland’s largest and most popular zoo?

This amazing zoo (another bit of a drive outside of Chicago, although not as far as LEGOLAND) is a delightful place for families to visit in the summer.

You’ll get to encounter some of the world’s most amazing animals right in America’s heartland.

One of our favorite exhibits is the “Great Bear Wilderness,” where you can meet amazing giant creatures like polar bears and grizzlies.

Getting In: Brookfield Zoo tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card.

Millennium Park & Lurie Garden

Millennium Park ChicagoAnother must-visit on your trip to Chicago is Millennium Park.

The heart of downtown Chicago, this massive urban greenspace is filled with fun things to do (like the Art Institute of Chicago, which is another great family attraction for art lovers), sculptures to see (like the Bean), and interactive art pieces to enjoy (the Crown Fountain is a favorite in the summer).

You can also roam the Lurie Garden, a free outdoor botanical garden that grows beautiful plants year round. It’s a great place to learn about nature, and makes for some fun photos, too!

Getting In: Millennium Park is free to explore.

Remember to Save on Family Friendly Admission

There you go. A few suggestions for attractions and activities for your upcoming Chicago family vacation.

Regular admission to a number of these family friendly attractions are available on the Go Chicago Card.

We hope you consider adding some of these fun ideas to your family vacation itinerary.

Go Chicago Card

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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