Chicago is one of the top family travel destinations in the United States. Scroll down to find out the top 10 kids activities in Chicago, Illinois for your next family vacation!
This kids activities in Chicago post was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Guest post by Anca of One Day Itinerary
Chicago. The Windy City. Without a doubt, one of the greatest US cities.
A global leader in many different industries and a place visited by tens of millions of people every year. Culture, education and sports have all flourished here, and the amount of history you can discover is simply mesmerizing.
However, if you’re visiting Chicago with kids it may not be immediately apparent to you where you should take them.
Trust me, though, there is more than enough here to keep the little ones occupied. There are plenty of attractions for them, you just have to know where to look.
That’s what this article will help you with, so read on and choose how you want to make your children’s visit to Chicago a memorable one.
Top 10 Kids Activities in Chicago for a Fun Vacation
1. Head to Kohl Children’s Museum
Kohl Children’s Museum is a great place to visit, especially if your kids are still fairly young.
The toddlers will love engaging in art, learning about medicine and nature, playing within a model of a whole city or even constructing their own house.
There are 17 permanent exhibits here, all interactive and designed to develop your child’s creativity in a very entertaining way.
And while this is primarily meant for kids up to about seven years of age, older kids should have a blast, too.
Heck, I couldn’t pry off my husband from the water engineering section. For $13 a ticket, the value you get is quite high and your kids will have a blast.
2. Visit a Zoo
Yes, a zoo. While probably every decent city in the world has some kind of a zoo, Chicago has two you really should visit.
Lincoln Park Zoo is free to enter, has a part called Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo and even a carousel representing endangered species your kids can ride.
Your kids will also be able to get up close and personal with many African animals here. Don’t worry, a thick glass always separates them.
Brookfield Zoo is another animal-focused place you will want to visit with your kids because this is where Hamill Family Play Zoo is located.
Kids here can learn about what it means to be a veterinarian and even get to touch some smaller animals, all under expert supervision, of course.
Yes, zoos are indeed a great place to take your kids to in Chicago.
3. Go to Shedd Aquarium
Since we’re on the topic of animals, you can also visit Shedd Aquarium with your children.
I actually heard it is one of the largest aquariums in the world. And when you go in it certainly looks that way.
Turtles, otters, dolphins, sharks and even whales are there to be seen. And the line-up will leave both you and your kids speechless.
Honestly, our two little boys are usually very talkative. But now they were a little bit stunned when they saw some pretty alien-looking things from the deep.
However, they quickly got their energy back after seeing a dolphin show.
I recommend buying tickets online, like we did, because it will save you from waiting in lines which were huge when we were there. For a good reason, though.
4. Spend Some Time in the Sun in The 606
The 606 is a very cool urban park in Chicago that lets you enjoy biking, jogging, roller-skating and all other similar activities.
So, if your kids need to burn out some energy and they’re not too young, get them a bike and come here or just let them run around.
The park also has loads of art installations all over the place, a picnic area, a learning garden and an area where kids can freely play, so there certainly is a lot to do.
The aforementioned art is something adults can enjoy too, and the fact that this is all 18 feet above the street level just adds that wow factor. A great way to enjoy a day out in the sun with your family.
5. Eat at a Kid-Friendly Restaurant
After a busy morning, you are bound to hear that “Mom, I’m hungry” tune once or twice.
Dutch & Doc’s is where we went, and they have a kids menu with grilled cheese, mac and cheese, PB&J and all that stuff kids usually love.
The location is right next to the famous Wrigley Field, which my husband approved of very much. Oh, and if your child is younger than 12 – they eat for free if there’s no game on!
But there are many kid-friendly restaurants all over the city.
One that really stands out to me, however, is Parachute because it has a Michelin star AND a kids menu, which is really something you don’t see very often in the world of fine dining.
6. Enjoy Yourselves at Navy Pier
Going to Navy Pier turned out to be a great decision.
It’s a bustling place full of life with loads of rides and games your children will enjoy. Swingers, carousels, a climbing wall and, of course, the famous Centennial Wheel are all there for you to enjoy.
We went to the latter attraction as a family and I can honestly say that the view from this huge Ferris Wheel was fantastic.
Later, the boys rode carousels and climbed the wall, so the two of us could take a breather and enjoy Chicago life all around us a bit.
There are also plenty of bars and restaurants here, so I wholeheartedly recommend setting some time aside for this. You won’t regret it.
7. See a Children’s Show
While you’re in town and if you have enough time, why not go see a show for kids?
Chicago Children’s Theatre is a great place for that because they write and produce plays themselves, plus they have some seriously large puppets.
Therefore, the chances are you and your kids will see something completely new here. The shows are suited to children of all ages, so no matter how big (or small) your kids are you’ll be able to find something for them to enjoy.
The prices are also reasonable, which just makes the whole thing even more attractive. Really a nice way to provide something memorable to your child.
8. Explore the Field Museum
Field Museum is a museum of natural history, but don’t worry – it’s much more exciting than you might think.
It has a spectacular skeleton of a real T-rex (called Sue) which caused our boys to drop their jaws in amazement.
And when they saw the mummies… Oh, my god, the excitement!
If your kids like bugs, on the other hand, they’ll love the section which shows what it would be like if you were a hundred times smaller and how you’d compare to things like crickets and spiders, but this really wasn’t my cup of tea.
Younger kids (up to 6 years) can go to the Crown Family Play Lab and touch and inspect things as much as they want or even dig and uncover dinosaur bones. Who could resist that?
9. Meet a Real Magician
Magic shows are always something to look forward to, but the one Chicago Magic Lounge sets up every Sunday is primarily meant for kids.
You’ll love the way you get into the theatre – a couple of secret passageways lead to it.
Once you figure everything out, you can grab a table and order some food and drinks before the show starts.
With a bit of luck, your kids can be chosen by the magician to be his assistant on the stage, and after the show you can even meet the guy.
All in all, this was a very pleasant experience, and our boys loved it. They didn’t get picked to go on stage, though, but we met the magician later.
And it was nice not to worry about where they are for a change.
10. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago
I know that this may not sound like something suited for children at first, but hear me out. The Art Institute of Chicago will grant free access to children under the age of 14 and their Ryan Learning Centre is fantastic.
It has a Family Room with various art projects your kid can participate in, even in digital form.
What I liked the most, though, was the interactive gallery which is actually equally interesting to both kids and adults and my whole family loved it.
So if your child has an interest in arts, this is certainly the perfect place to take them. And you’ll feel a bit like an adult too with all those world class works surrounding you.
5 Extra Tips for Visiting Chicago with Kids
Every trip that includes kids requires detailed preparation. The younger they are, the more planning you must do.
Chicago is a true big American city, so it’s good to know a thing or two about how bringing kids along will affect you and how you should plan.
Here are some tips that may be of great help:
1. TRAFFIC LAWS
The states in the U.S. don’t have the same traffic laws as other countries.
So, if you’ll have your car with you or if you’re planning to rent one out, keep in mind that children under the age of 8 have to ride in a child seat.
If you’re not going to be using a car, you can download one of the public transport apps. They are very useful and make your planning a whole lot easier.
Take a look at the public transportation stops as you figure out where to stay in Chicago.
3. TRAIN STATIONS
Not all train stations are equally accessible. Sure, most of them have elevators or ramps, but some don’t and that can be quite a drag if you have small kids in a stroller with you.
Check if the station next to you has everything you need.
While Chicago has a reputation of having a problem with crime, areas in which tourists spend most of their time (including the ones mentioned in this article) are very safe.
Simply use common sense, don’t walk alone with your kids in suspicious neighborhoods at night and you’ll be fine.
If you’ll be staying in the city for several days, consider getting a Chicago CityPass for you and your kids. It will allow you to skip lines at some of the attractions and save a pretty penny.
As a conclusion, I have nothing but positive things to write about this city. You can feel its greatness at every corner, as it offers so much to every visitor.
No matter if you’re a sports fan, a culture lover, a foodie or you simply want to visit a place that will show you something new and special, this really is a perfect destination.
And if you want to visit Chicago with your kids, you won’t be disappointed. There are so many things you can do with them, so many things they can explore, that you’ll be absolutely delighted to have brought them along.
I would recommend getting a car to get around, though, as it keeps things nice and simple.
In any case, my husband and two 12-year-old sons were absolutely delighted with what they experienced here. And this visit to Chicago will always be one of our favorite trips.
We spent the whole week exploring and having loads of fun, without anything that could be considered negative.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a great destination for your next family trip, Chicago should definitely be at the top of your list of candidates. You will love it here.
Anca is the chief editor and the person responsible for founding One Day Itinerary, a travel blog for people who want to make the most of their time in a new city, even if they don’t have much time on their hands there.
Thanks to the fact that she has traveled literally all over the world, she can tell you the dos and don’ts of pretty much every major city in the world. As a matter of fact, she’s already done so in her blog posts.