Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, the sparkling shores of Lake Michigan, and ooey gooey deep dish pizza. The Windy City may have many dazzling attributes, but few visitors are aware of the family-friendly nature of Chicago.
Follow along to uncover the 17 best kids activities in Chicago.
Lace-up those skates and glide around the Maggie Daley skating ribbon, or admire the flowing tresses of African Lions at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Try to determine the best Chicago-style hot dog, or refine your brick-building skills at LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
From science museums to Medieval tournaments, there is no end to the fun things to do with kids in Chicago.
Ready to craft a kid-friendly Chicago itinerary? Read on..
Your first step to a five-star family trip to Chicago? Reserving some superior Second City accommodations. Sleep just steps away from Magnificent Mile, Wrigley Field, and the Navy Pier. Or, tempt your brood with luxurious amenities such as indoor pools, state-of-the-art fitness centers, and flat-screen TVs.
Partake in a complimentary continental breakfast before your day of sightseeing, or stay cozy in your contemporary appointed suite. From boutique lodgings to more budget-friendly inns, our Chicago Hotels provide options for every type of traveler.
As always make your bookings worry-free knowing you are always guaranteed our lowest rates online.
Psst..interested in more Chicago parent things to do? Check out our guide to Things to Do in Chicago for Couples.
Chicago Activities for Kids
Unforgettable Beluga Whale encounters, old-fashioned banana splits, and awesome Skydeck views. Kids' activities in Chicago may be PG rated, but this city’s attractions and landmarks can be enjoyed at any age.
From soaring rides on the Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel to extraordinary meet and greets with penguins, tots, teenagers, and adults alike will be clamoring to conquer the best of Chi-town. In fact, many of our most beloved children’s activities can also be used as things to do with parents in Chicago.
Water, water everywhere! Make a splash when you swing by Chicago’s most arresting aquatic attraction. For almost a century, the Shedd Aquarium has served as a beacon of education, conservation, and connection. Once considered the largest indoor facility in the world, today the aquarium is home to over 30,000 animals.
Budding marine biologists will be in awe as they connect with sea otters, sting rays, California sea lions, and more. Dive into a multitude of underwater habitats including Philippine reefs, Amazon forests, and the Great Lakes. Let yourself become mesmerized by the swaying kelp forest, or seek out the shrouded mysteries of the Giant Pacific Octopus.
Spend a moment touching the skin of a velvety soft Cownose Ray, or appreciate the fragrant flowers, birds, and bees of the Shedd’s garden facilities. Don’t forget to check the aquarium’s schedule to stay abreast of special family events such as ‘Asleep with the Fishes’ sleepovers or Kayaks for Conversation.
Chicago Children's Museum
Imaginative play is what’s on the menu at the Chicago Children’s Museum. This esteemed establishment has been serving the local community for over thirty years, providing a home for arts programs, STEM experiments, and more. The Children’s Museum is located at the Navy Pier and is a ‘must visit’ for all curious kiddos.
Treat the Chicago Children’s museum like your own living laboratory as you solve engineering problems in the Tinkering Lab, or create original artwork in the Sky Studio. Fans of prehistoric predators will be in awe of the life-size skeleton of the Suchomimus, while brave climbers will revel in rappelling through every nook and cranny of the Cloud Buster. This 37 feet tall climbable structure of steel, wood, wire, rope, and fiberglass provides hours of tactile thrills.
Prior to your visit be sure to check the museum's events calendar to stay abreast on special offerings and programs in the Art Studio, Great Hall, Pritzker Playspace, and Tinkering Lab.
Go Chicago Explorer Pass
Not sure how to conquer sightseeing in the Second City? Tick every last Chicago landmark and icon off your bucket list with the Go Chicago Explorer Pass. Preserve your vacation budget and get your fill of premium attractions including the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Relish savings of up to 35%, as you choose from over 25 renowned locales.
Soak in panoramic views from the Skydeck Willis Tower, or enjoy the marvels of modern building with a Shoreline Architecture River Cruise. Work those quads with a spirited bike ride around the city, or leave the transportation and narration to the experts with a Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Chicago: 1-Day Classic Tour.
Choose from 3 to 5 choice Explorer pass options, and take advantage of the flexibility to choose attractions as you go.
Have your eye on even more Chicago activities and attractions? Revel in unlimited exploration with the Go City Chicago All-Inclusive Pass.
Centennial Ferris Wheel
Sweeping city vistas, a pinch of nostalgia, and a host of classic carnival games come together to make the Navy Pier a kid-certified hit. Scope out the glittering city below, as you climb nearly 200 feet in the air on the Centennial Ferris Wheel. An indisputable part of Chi-town history, this stunning ride delivers unrivaled 360-degree views of both the city and Lake Michigan.
Thanks to the enclosed gondolas, families can appreciate the scenery and thrilling ride no matter the Windy City weather. After a few turns on the wheel, be sure to spend some time wandering through the rest of the Pier’s offerings. Mount a beautifully painted horse on the Carousel, hold on for dear life on the Light Tower, or test your cognitive skills at the Funhouse Maze.
After hours of amusement be sure to refuel with a Chicago-style hot dog at America’s Dog and Burger, or a bucket of Chicago-style popcorn at Garretts.
Ice Cream Shops
You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream! Inject some sweetness into your Second City plans, when you schedule in a sugar rush. Put the monuments and museums on pause when you round up your brood for an afternoon of sundaes, frozen custards, and more:
- Elis Ark Chicago - prime yourself for an onslaught of ‘aww’ when you purchase a delectable cone at Eli’s. This seasonal gelato shop in Wicker Park is known for their adorable animal-shaped scoops. Choose from yummy offerings like Dolce & Banana or Mint to Be, and snap a photo before devouring your bear, unicorn, or bunny shaped cone..
- Scooter's Frozen Custard - get your hands on this decidedly Midwestern treat when you swing by Scooters. For over 20 years, this Chicago staple has served up fresh, creamy custard sourced from local farmers. Dig into fun flavors like the ‘Elvis’ or ‘Java Lava’ peppered with mix-ins such as peanut butter cups, coffee syrup, and snickers.
- Margie's Candies - did someone say ‘sock hop?’ Travel back to the 1950s in the most delicious way when you sample a giant sundae from Margies. Outfitted like a retro diner or soda fountain, this charming shop has been serving homemade sundaes, shakes, and hand-dipped candies for over 90 years.
Free Kids Activities Chicago
Who says Windy City activities need to cost a windfall? Keep your rambunctious rugrats entertained with a free scavenger hunt. An ideal way to combine the city’s most recognizable sights with some fresh air fun, scavenger hunts are an easy and free way to tour Chi-town.
Add locales like Wrigley Field, the Willis Tower, and the Chicago Theatre to your list, and get snapping. Have your team return with photo evidence of each locale and then celebrate your completed list with a slice of deep-dish pizza.
Teenagers, toddlers, and adults flock to Chicago’s premier park for days of outdoor entertainment. Kick off your Millennium Park adventure with some Instagram-worthy selfies at the famous ‘Bean’ before wandering past the Crown Fountain or the lusciously floral Lurie Garden.
Little ones can scramble around the play area and climbing wall at Maggie Daley Park. And, if you happen to visit during the winter months, ice skating at the skating ribbon is completely free.*
*Skating is free but a fee is charged for all skate rentals.
The family that sweats together stays together! Get ready to hit the pavement as you and your offspring walk, jog, bike, or blade together through 18 miles of Lakefront Trail. Appreciate the exercise endorphins, as you cruise past renowned downtown landmarks like Buckingham Fountain, Navy Pier, Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and Soldier Field.
Check out cuddly canines at the dog beach, spot boats on Lake Michigan, or admire the skills of the beach volleyball players at North Ave.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Looking for a completely gratis kids' activity in Lincoln Park? Get wild and forget that wallet at homeii when you head to the Lincoln Park Zoo. For 150 years this headquarters of conservation and animal appreciation has kept its entry free.
Eastern Black Rhinoceros, African Lions, Lemurs, and more populate the unique exhibits of this Zoo. Over 200 species from around the world and 2,000 individual plant species can be found here. Budding biologists will be tickled pink to peek at creatures such as thought-to-be-extinct, Jamaican iguanas or hulking Western Lowland Gorillas.
In addition, the Lincoln Park Zoo loves holidays, from easter egg hunts to holiday lights, so don’t sleep on checking their schedule for fun-filled kid-friendly events.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Blooming flowers, ancient ferns, and towering palms. Embrace your inner tranquility when you hightail it to the verdant grounds of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. From vivid tropical fauna to bubbling fountains, the Lincoln Park Conservatory serves up serenity in spades.
While the gardens are free to enter, we highly recommend making advanced reservations as this is a popular conservatory. Stroll through the grounds steeped in history as you make your way through the four display houses: the Palm House, Orchid House, Fern Room, and Show House. Be sure to capture the glinting glory of the Victorian Glass House before sweeping by the Sunshine Playscape.
This unique experience expertly melds elements of nature with traditional playground fun to foster creativity, curiosity, and relaxation. The Playscape also features a wealth of native trees and plants that can be found throughout the North Pond Nature Sanctuary.
Free Museum Days
Art Institute of Chicago
Do you have a pint-sized Picasso on your hands? Start the art appreciation early when you immerse your kiddies in the beauty of a world-class art collection. The Art Institute of Chicago is considered one of the top museums in the world and hosts an enviable collection of contemporary, modern, and classic pieces.
Art-inclined visitors will be overwhelmed by the breadth of their more than 300,000 works, containing masterpieces from Vincent van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, and Andy Warhol. Tour the globe through the lens of creativity, as you take in exhibits showcasing African art, Ancient Egypt, and more. From Georgia O’Keefe to Salvador Dali, every genius of the art world is on display here.
The Art Institute takes its commitment to the younger generation seriously and is proud to provide free museum access to children under 14 and Chicago teens under 18. Furthermore, free access is also afforded every day to Link and WIC cardholders, and Illinois educators.
Museum of Science and Industry
Let’s empower our next generation of STEM leaders! Inject your Second City sojourn with some ‘educainment’ when you trial the captivating exhibits, tours, and experiences of the Museum of Science and Industry. Designed to encourage inventive inspiration and genius, the Museum of Science and Industry has been fanning the flames of curiosity since 1933.
One of the largest science museums in the world, today the MSI has received more than 180 million guests. Here learning is more than textbooks and dry facts. Children can actually watch baby chicks being born, uncover the moral dilemmas of genetic engineering, or step aboard one of America’s first diesel-electric streamlined passenger trains.
Discover what living conditions were like aboard a WWII submarine, or glean first-hand knowledge on the physics of tornadoes and avalanches. Press pause for a moment when you escape to the Giant Dome Theater for a fascinating flick, or nosh on a mouthwatering pastry confection from Chi-town favorite, Stan's Donuts.
Please note that the MSI offers free Museum Entry on select dates throughout the year to Illinois residents who show valid proof of residency. Additional information on museum discounts and savings can be found here.
Indoor Activities for Kids in Chicago
Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament Chicago
Dinner, a show, and some dynamic sword fighting? Yes, please! Throw out those table manners and that silverware, because we are heading to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament Chicago. Prime your palate for a feast worthy of royalty as you dine like the kings and queens of yore.
Tuck into a succulent banquet of garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, and roasted chicken. Prior to your meal be sure to arrive early, so you can explore the Castle grounds and find your seat. Stay alert as you won't want to miss a second of jousting, or feats of strength and skill.
Devour your sweet Castle dessert and stamp your feet, as you cheer on your champion’s Andalusian steed.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago
Brick, brick, boom! Take cover in case of nasty weather, with a day of bricktacular magic at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago. This one-of-a-kind plastic paradise is bursting with rides, attractions, and activities. Pepper a pro-LEGO builder with your most burning questions, tour the LEGO factory or hop on a royal chariot with the Kingdom Quest Ride.
Build your own custom car creations with LEGO Racers Build and test or reunite with your beloved LEGO movie characters during a 4D Theater screening. Make your mates walk the plank in Pirate Adventure Land, or admire a LEGO Millenium Park in Miniland.
Gangsters, the Bears, and world-renowned architecture are all trademarks of the Windy City. However, this Midwestern mecca of culture, entertainment, and history is also home to a plethora of kid-friendly pursuits.
Size up the ocean’s apex predators behind the safety of a glass 400,000-gallon shark habitat, or keep your eyes peeled for the aquarium-rescued green sea turtle Nickel.
Pass away hours traversing the Navy Pier’s amusements and attractions as you spin around in giant Tea Cups or go wild on the classic Wave Singer.
Strengthen cerebral connections and dive into the unknown with space exploration and genetic mutations at the Museum of Science and Industry, or indulge in dessert before dinner with a frozen custard at Scooters.
Whether you’re a Chi-town veteran or it's your premier voyage to the White City, this staggering urban epicenter is pure kid catnip.
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