Best Things to Do in Chicago with Toddlers: 11 Most Entertaining Ideas

December 1, 2022

Soaring skyscrapers, dynamite museums, and deep-dish pizza! You might not think there are toddler activities in Chicago, but oh, contraire! With its lush gardens, aquariums, and miles of waterways, Chicago is a genuine recreation hub for both kids and adults alike!

This windy city has so much to see and do, planning an itinerary can overwhelm even the most diligent helicopter mom. No worries here! We have the best things to do in Chicago with toddlers or babies.

Also, don’t let the fact that your young children might not remember these vacations. Experts say building shared experiences as a family is what counts. Each encounter with your child is new and exciting at this age. You’ll remember these special moments and have pictures to share later!

About Chicago

Chicago is the perfect destination for a family adventure. The opportunities for high-intensity fun are endless, with ample parks, museums, and playgrounds.

At first glance, with its high-congestion traffic and booming nightlife, Chicago may not seem like the ideal refuge to take young kiddos on vacation. However, the things to do in Chicago with toddlers may surprise you. From play zones to youth activity centers—plenty of museums now cater to the younger generation.

The truth is there are many kid-friendly attractions and things to do in Chicago for toddlers; you just have to know where to look. Chicago is an excellent family hotspot with monster-size adventures to entertain inquisitive, newly minted young minds.

Follow along as we take you on a Chi-town journey to explore the best things to do in Chicago with toddlers.

The Magnificent Mile Buildings from ground with taxis and pedestrians in Chicago, Illinois, USATop 11 Things to Do with Toddlers Chicago

When visiting the City of Big Shoulders with your little ones, visit these top destinations for epic family escapades.

Navy Pier

This lakefront treasure is a top Chicago playground on Lake Michigan. The 3,300-foot-long Pier features waterfront activities, sightseeing cruises, shops, art installations, and other exciting entertainment.

Plus, the Navy Pier is free and open year-round, so if you must leave due to unhappy little campers, there is no harm or foul. What’s more, the Pier is full of things to do, including the Chicago Funhouse Maze, the IMAX theater, the iconic Ferris wheel, and free fireworks shows.

Other Navy Pier venues include:

  • The Chicago Children s Museum
  • Centennial Wheel
  • Build-a-Bear-Workshop
  • Polk Bros Park

With so many things to do in one spot, plan to spend at least half a day there to get the full experience and give your toddler time to investigate. The Pier also hosts a plethora of events and festivals year-round to stimulate little minds. Check their event schedule to see what toddler friendly attractions are happening during your trip.

Kids might enjoy the Big Bus Tour Chicago with top-deck panoramic views of the town’s iconic sights.

wide view of navy pier with the skyline in the background in Chicago, Illinois, USAMuseum of Science and Industry

Don’t let the big name fool you; this Museum is a jewel, and a trip here must be on your to-do list. This fascinating Museum inspires kids to embrace their curiosity, broaden their imagination and explore the senses.

It’s one of the most incredible things to do in Chicago with young toddler minds. In addition, kids love the Baby Chick Hatchery, and parents will love the Chicago architecture and history. For example, the Hyde Park building housed the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Family-friendly exhibits include:

  • Brick by Brick
  • Robot Revolution
  • Future Energy Chicago
  • Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze

From robotics to biology, this Museum explores a huge range of topics sure to spark the flames of your little mad scientist.

If you happen to be traveling to Chicago with toddler age children, don’t stop scrolling yet! We have even more behemoth ventures to keep little ones active for hours.

Child and Mother at the Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago via Facebook

Millennium Park

No trip to Chicago is complete without a stroll through this legendary landmark. Kids will gawk at themselves in “The Bean,” the famous art installation also known as Cloud Gate, as adults can gaze at the many traveling art exhibits. Millennium Park offers several things to do with toddlers in Chicago and older kids. Here are just a few!

  • Lurie Garden
  • McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
  • Jay Pritzker Pavilion for Music Events and Festivals
  • Crown Fountain

Kids love roaming through the dreamy Lurie Garden, home to hundreds of gorgeous flowers, plants, and flora—all creating a surreal adventure. Best of all, admission to the Garden is free!

Plus, if the icicles are formed, and you’ve made your list for Santa, it might be time to rent some ice skates and glide across the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. It’s a winter tradition and one best toddler activities in Chicago you can’t overlook.

people seated on grass at Millennium Park for Summer Music Series event during daytime with buildings in background at Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Enrique Garcia via Facebook

360 Chicago and Skydeck Chicago

Don’t let your fear of heights stop you from checking out these epic attractions. Besides, Junior may be fearless and want to experience the views from afar! Your kids will surely be impressed with the jaw-dropping city landscape of Lake Michigan from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center.

Similarly, if you have little daredevils on your hands, try TILT, the highest moving experience in Chicago.
The 360 Chicago Observation Deck also provides even more things to do with toddlers in Chicago, such as:

  • Online Activities for Kids
  • Interactive Displays
  • Audio Tours

Skydeck Chicago, another city rite of passage, is on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago. Skydeck offers the infamous Ledge, glass boxes that put you 4.3 feet outside the building and tower 1,353 feet high. During your visit to Skydeck, be sure to check out the additional features:

  • Interactive Exhibits
  • Theater Presentation
  • Food and Beverage Snack Stations

If you’re wondering which observation deck is right for your family, check out our in-depth look, “360 Chicago vs. Skydeck: Which Observation Deck Should You Visit?”

View looking down from the Skydeck in Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Skydeck Chicago via Facebook

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago

No tantrums allowed here! If you just googled ‘things to do with toddler in Chicago, ’ chances are LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago was at the top of the list.

What toddler doesn’t love LEGOs? At LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, your tyke will be immersed in the LEGO universe.
Discovery Center Chicago toddler activities include:

  • MINILAND Chicago
  • Jungle Expedition
  • LEGO Factory Tour
  • LEGO 4D Cinema
  • Kingdom Quest Laser Ride
  • Merlin’s Apprentice Ride
  • Pirate Adventure Island

Building, racing, and collaborating, LEGO fun is never-ending. Kids can also slow down to watch a 4D film or speed up with an exhilarating LEGO-inspired ride. To make the most of your visit, plan to spend a minimum of two hours at this attraction.

Chicago Exhibit at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago - Chicago, Illinois, USAShedd Aquarium

Your ‘toddler activities Chicago’ list would not be complete without checking off the Shedd Aquarium. This mainstay of Chicago is one of the founding anchors of the city. As one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums, Shedd Aquarium is home to incredible aquatic wildlife, including penguins, stingrays, starfish, and even a Beluga whale!

Furthermore, the mammoth aquarium layout captivates visitors of all ages. Be sure to take advantage of these additional experiences available throughout the marine museum:

  • Animal Encounters
  • Educational Shows
  • 4D Experiences
  • Dive Chats
  • Aquatic Presentations

Pro Tip: Since this fish tank mecca is a popular Chicago with toddlers destination, arrive early to beat the crowds!

children looking at aquarium at Shedd Aquarium - Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Shedd Aquarium via Facebook

Kohl Children’s Museum

No activities for toddlers Chicago itinerary would be complete without a jaunt to this hidden secret menagerie of fun. It’s a little bit outside the city but well worth the detour. The Kohl Children’s Museum has over 17 amazing exhibits explicitly designed to enhance children’s creativity, release their inner Picasso/Einstein/Beethoven, and have fun experimenting!
Exhibits include:

  • Adventures in Art
  • Habitat Park
  • Hands-on House
  • Powered by Nature
  • Pet Vet
  • Ravinia’s Festival Music Makers
  • Marquee Sports Network

Khol’s Museum also welcomes traveling special exhibits throughout the year for even more kid-focused frenzied learning!

Lincoln Park Zoo

A fabulous family outing any time of year, the Lincoln Park Zoo provides hours of thrills. And it’s just around the corner from the Peggy Notebaert Museum, so you can hit them both in one day—two phenomenal activities for toddlers Chicago!

Still, the best part is the zoo is completely free of charge! That’s right; Lincoln Park is one of ten U.S. zoos without an admission fee. In addition to the wild beasts and exotic creatures you’ll encounter, the zoo also offers the following:

  • Visitor Animal Feedings
  • Animal Meet and Greets
  • Zookeeper Talks
  • Animal Flight Shows

From owls to zebras, your little guys and gals will develop a greater admiration for the universe’s wide-ranging living things.

Lions in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo via Facebook

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Still, wondering what to do in Chicago with toddlers? Head outdoors and check out the world around you! Natural wonders and glorious sites abound in this Chicago staple. Located in Lincoln Park, the natural habitat is dedicated to educating visitors about our environment, conservation, preservation, and restoration through hands-on fun. Toddlers love exhibits and museum areas, especially the following:

  • Butterfly Haven
  • The Bird House
  • Extreme Green House
  • Nature’s LunchBox
  • Hands-on Habitat

Most importantly, the Museum is open seven days a week from 10 am to 4 pm.

We also have an in-depth guide when traveling to Chicago with kids. Check out our: Chicago for Kids: The Ultimate Parent's Guide.

Maggie Daley Park

Hands down, Maggie Daley Park is the ultimate park for toddlers and children of all ages. This park has everything—seriously!
Check out the Maggie Daley Amenities here:

  • Mini Golf
  • Climbing Wall
  • Play Garden
  • Tennis Courts
  • Ice Skating

Maggie Daley Park’s recent redesign focuses on providing kids with a safe and entertaining place in Chicago. Don’t miss the chance to experience this marvelous park. It’s one of the perfect Chicago things to do with toddlers.

Hopefully, our ‘what to do in Chicago with a toddler’ list has left you awestruck, but we have one last activity you simply can’t miss.

families with children playing at Maggie Daley Park - Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Maggie Daley Park via Facebook

Adler Planetarium

You’ll be seeing stars literally at this magical, elaborate center for learning. The Adler Planetarium offers edu-tainment of the finest caliber. Visitors of all ages will become truly mesmerized with the universe and see incredible modern-day scientific discoveries in the amazing ‘sky theater.’

The Planetarium teaches about planets and constellations, using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning practices in presentations.

In fact, Adler Planetarium was the first Planetarium in the United States. Plus, the Planetarium boasts a wide variety of Chicago for toddlers exhibits focusing on space exploration and our galaxy, such as:

  • Telescopes Through the Looking Glass
  • Cosmic Wonder
  • Destination Solar System
  • Mission Moon
  • Our Solar System

Aerial Adler Planetarium and skyline view with lake in the background - Chicago, Illinois, USAPlan Your Family’s Trip to Chicago Today

Despite the many free attractions, vacationing in Chicago with a toddler can become pricy. So start your trip off right by bundling your Chicago hotel with activities for exclusive savings!

Visitors can also save big time with the Go Chicago Explorer Pass. It’s the best way to see all the iconic attractions, including the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

Avoid a major meltdown, and stop procrastinating your planning! Your children are only small once, and Chicago is the perfect town to explore any time of year. Start building lasting memories today.

Have You Been to the Windy City with a Toddler or Baby?

If so, we’d love to hear your itinerary and any tips you can share. Leave us a comment below:


close up of Erin smiling on a sunny day

Written By Erin

Erin Poche` is a Utah-based writer and editor for Tripster and contributing writer for BeyondType1. She also writes and edits for an indie publisher of fanta ...

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