Curious What to Do in Chicago with Kids? We’ve got you covered with our Top Ten Chicago Attractions for Families.
Chicago with Kids
Chicago is one of my family’s favorite places to head for a quick foodie family vacation.
This city has it all – amazing food, great family-friendly attractions, and so many vibrant, multicultural neighbourhoods full of gems!
Unlike the city that never sleeps, Chicago embraces sleeping in – with most attractions opening at 10am or later, so be sure to check their websites when planning your visits. (On our last trip, we headed to Andersonville at 7am to grab some cinnamon buns and do some shopping before the Swedish American Museum opened… and all of the shops were closed until 11am or later!)
I also love how affordable Chicago is, especially compared to other big cities that we’ve visited. You can pay individual admissions or grab CityPasses if you plan to visit several of the attractions offered in one trip. (I usually just buy them for the grown-ups as kids are often free or significantly discounted in Chicago.) Not only do you save over 50% off the cost of admission, you get VIP admission (which for the Skydeck saved us 2 and a half hours of waiting in line) and bonus add-ons like 4D shows at the Shedd Aquarium or special exhibits at the Field Museum.
We’ve stayed at a variety of hotels in the city but our favorites have been Loews Chicago (super close to Navy Pier and very family-friendly) and in the summer months you can’t beat the budget-friendly prices at University Centre.
This post covers our top 10 Chicago Attractions for Families, but we also have a giant list of 100 Things to Do in Chicago with Kids, so be sure to check that out as well!
Chicago Children’s Museum
Hands down, our favorite Children’s Museum that we’ve visited – the Chicago Children’s Museum has it all! Hands-on sensory experiences, STEAM workshops, create spaces, and literary exhibits – all gorgeous and engaging.
Everything at the museum just feels like play – but there is so much learning going on under the surface. We usually spend a full day there and still leave feeling like we could spend a few more hours. It’s conveniently located at Navy Pier – so you can pack a lunch or buy something from one of the awesome options on hand.
We were there on a Thursday before the free night of play started and it seems like it gets pretty busy, so personally I’d rather pay to go at a time that it won’t be too busy than save a few dollars and go when it’s crowded – but I think it’s awesome that they have that option!
360 Tilt at the John Hancock Building
While there are a couple places in Chicago to take in that gorgeous city view, the John Hancock Building (Hancock Observatory) is now called Chicago 360 and offers the 360 Tilt Experience, which is a completely safe thrill of being adjusted to a 30° angle above the city, at 94 stories high!
You can also stroll around and take in the view with champagne in hand – or head over to the Signature Room for a variety of appetizers and cocktails (and I hear that the views from the ladies’ room are some of the best in the city). They also have a ChiSeries with bonus activities every day of the week – like yoga, painting, etc.
Plus, the location is fabulous – head downstairs for some shopping on Magnificent Mile (Dylan’s Candy company and the Disney Store’s special Chicago offerings are Ella’s favorites) or grab a bite at the Cheesecake Factory or Texas de Brazil!
Ride the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier
Another experience not for those who are afraid of heights – my daughter was afraid to try the Centennial Wheel originally, but she quickly loved it and was begging to revisit during the rest of our stay (the view from our hotel room was Navy Pier so that didn’t help!)
You get a peaceful three cycles in the giant, enclosed ferris wheel, complete with gorgeous views of the city and air conditioning!
Chicago has a bit of a reputation for having amazing cupcakes and donuts. My daughter’s favorite donut place is Stan’s Donuts and she always manages to convince me that she needs the Biscoff Gelato Shake (basically a cookie butter milkshake) – our favorites there are the Apple Fritter and Pistachio Old-Fashioned, along with anything with Biscoff!
We have a few favorite cupcake spots but Molly’s Cupcakes and Swirlz are unique to Chicago and both promise amazing cupcakes. Pam, the owner at Swirlz, is a cake genius and Molly’s has a cool set-up with swings you can eat your cupcakes on at the store.
Pose with the Bean at Millennium Park
There are so many amazing art installations at Millennium Park, but the most iconic is definitely Cloud Gate, aka the Bean. Make some time to stroll around and explore the park, maybe making your way down to Buckingham Fountain, as well.
Watch the Dolphin Show at Shedd Aquarium
Whales, dolphins, penguins and more are on full display at the amazing Shedd Aquarium.
Don’t forget to check what time the dolphin show is and get there early to snag some good seats! (The show is included in your admission.)
Museum Campus also boasts the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium – Ella is still a bit too nervous at Adler and wants to leave quickly (some of the attractions are quite dark) but we can spend a whole day at Field and Shedd.
The Field Museum of Natural History has amazing immersive history exhibits that are just as engaging for kids as they are informative for adults. It was the museum that first peaked my daughter’s love of science with their amazing dinosaur exhibits.
Grab a Slice
Deep dish pizza is a way of life in Chicago, so be sure to hit up Lou Malgnetti’s (our personal favorite) or for a pizza pot pie, you can’t go wrong with Chicago’s Pizza and Oven Grinder (which is located super close to Swirlz Cupcakes). Chicago dogs are also a must-do.
Whether you opt for a Riverboat Cruise or hit Lake Michigan in style for a dinner cruise or pirate adventure, there are so many fun ways to take to sea and soak up all those gorgeous Chicago views.
We’ve done Tall Ship Windy (pirate experience), Riverboat Architectural Cruise, and an Odyssey Champagne Cruise (which included a gourmet dinner and dancing) – and we enjoyed them all! Just pick based on the experience you want. The Pirate Cruise is great for pirate-obsessed kids and does give a good Chicago history lesson, while the Riverboat tour is scenic and educational, but perfect for a low-key afternoon activity (especially if you have little people who need to nap), while the Champagne Cruise was a fancy late-night activity that we got dressed up and danced (and ate) all night at.
Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
Even if your kids couldn’t care less about science class, this museum has something for everyone! You honestly could spend an entire day here and not see everything, so just let the kids explore the rooms that they are actually interested in. Ella loved the real steam engine and the music room and there was a string orchestra playing in the lobby on the day that we visited!
It’s a bit out of the way in the South Side of Chicago, so I suggest grabbing a cab or a Lyft.
I hope this list helps you prioritize your Chicago travel plans – these are our family’s favorite things to do in Chicago and you are guaranteed an awesome trip if you incorporate even just a few of them into your visit!