Despite its big city atmosphere, Chicago is a great destination for families. With a variety of activities, and central Midwestern location, the Windy City will easily keep your kids busy for a long weekend trip. Museums, parks, sports, and more offer activities both indoors and out for year round fun. Here are some of the places to go and things to see on your Chicago vacation.
If anything, Chicago is easy to get to and, once there, simple to get around. Two major airports, O’Hare and Midway, service all of the major airlines with flights coming in from all over the country. Chicago is also a major train hub bringing together the East, South, and Western lines. Amtrak will bring you into Union Station, which is only a few blocks from all the action downtown. Major highways, such as the I80/90 Interstate pass right through town.
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find getting around town easy too. City buses ply the streets connecting all of the major attractions while cabs can quickly get you wherever else you need to go. The elevated train (The L), runs parallel to the downtown strip and may come in handy if you’re staying a bit further out of town.
Chicago is well known for its museums, both large and small. No matter what your children find interesting, Chicago will have something to keep their minds, and hands, occupied for hours. Some museums are large enough to keep visitors busy all day, while others can be toured within a short time. Here are a few of the more popular options.
The Field Museum of Natural History is located right in the heart of downtown and is famous for its vast collections from the natural world, including dinosaur bones, ancient pottery, and a room full of precious gems.
Even more kid friendly is the Museum of Science and Industry on the South Side. The building is chock full of interactive exhibits and plenty of things for youngsters to touch, which always makes a museum visit more fun for all involved. Watch chicks hatching, learn about coal mining, and tour a captured WII German submarine.
The Art Institute of Chicago has a collection on par with other major art museums and is a feast for the eyes of any art lover. Kids will love peering into the tiny houses in the Thorne Miniature Rooms collection and the Institute offers hands on art activities for various age groups. Bonus, kids under 14 get in free.
The Adler planetarium, located next to the Field Museum, is perfect for those who wish to explore the heavens. Discover the wonders of the universe through displays featuring the stars and planet and learn about the history of space exploration. A variety of shows play throughout the day in the theater and younger kids will enjoy the hands on planet exploration area.
The Childrens Museum of Chicago is perfect for younger kids who love to get their hands on everything. Kids can conduct experiments with water, explore a forest setting, learn about safety, or build things in the tinkering lab. There are plenty of places to climb, crawl, and run around too. Located at the Navy Pier, it’s easy to combine with other activities in the area.
Chicago Parks, Zoo, and Aquarium
The world class Shedd Aquarium features several aquatic areas ranging from the Amazon, to tropical reefs, to polar zones. Several animal chats and presentations add to the experience throughout the day. A 4D movie theater and touch tanks round out the activities. Tip: Arrive early for the best viewing since the aquarium is very popular year round.
Located in the northern end of downtown, the Lincoln Park Zoo brings the wild into the city. This free zoo features animal habitats from around the globe with exhibits areas including penguins, big cats, and more familiar farm animals. A boardwalk offers a chance to relax and enjoy views of the city in the background. The adjoining Lincoln Park Conservatory and gardens are also worth a stop while in the area.
Centrally located on the lakefront downtown are Grant and Millennium parks. These wide open green areas are in sharp contrast to the skyscrapers and provide a welcome getaway from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets. Several activities are available from rock climbing, strolling the gardens, to splashing in the Crown fountain. Concerts and other events are often happening throughout the warmer months. The parks are bracketed by the museum complex campus to the south, Art Institute on the west, and Lake Michigan on the east.
Navy Pier on Lake Michigan
The Navy Pier, once a launching platform for pilot training, is now home to a huge collection of rides, eateries, and activities. The Navy pier has been undergoing improvements the past few years to make it a more entertaining destination. A giant Ferris wheel, carousel, and other attractions give it a carnival style feel. Restaurants ranging from local Chicago deep dish pizza and hot dogs to national chains and plenty of treats will keep you fueled. A variety of cruises depart from the Navy Pier for architectural sightseeing, brunch, or evening fireworks viewing from the lake.
Visitors will enjoy live music daily with several larger events throughout the warmer months. Surprisingly, you’ll also find a Shakespearean theater here. Cap off your day with fireworks Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Chicago Food Scene
Kid friendly? Well, Chicago is famous for pizza and hot dogs after all. Visitors will find an amazing variety of restaurants all over Chicago to appease both adventurous and picky eaters whether snacking on the go or enjoying a fun family dinner. Check out these 17 kid friendly restaurants recommended by Travel Mom Jamie Bartosch.
Chicago offers a huge variety of activities for families and is perfect for quick weekend or even several days exploring. To keep help keep costs down, look into buying a CityPass combo ticket on longer trips or taking advantage of museums which have partner offers with other attractions. Many activities, such as parks and the Lincoln Park Zoo are free to enjoy.
For more information on the attractions mentioned in this post, take a look at the Choose Chicago website for the latest information and links to individual events and activities. To get you started with planning a Chicago vacation, check out this 3 day itinerary by Traveling Mom Andrea Guthman.