When you think “kid destinations,” Chicago, Illinois, might not be the first place that comes to mind. But, here’s a secret, Chicago is an amazing urban destination for a family vacation. The Windy City is packed with kid-friendly museums, shops, parks, restaurants and events, plus there are great views to be had. Here are six unmissable attractions for visiting Chicago with kids.
Chicago with Kids
1. Shedd Aquarium
Let’s start at the museum campus with the Shedd Aquarium, a fascinating place to explore for both kids and their parents. The largest residents at the Shedd are the whale sharks, but you could spend hours mesmerized by the 32,000 other creatures here. Dolphins and penguins are some of the favorites, but don’t miss the magical jellies, the Giant Pacific Octopus or the Dragon Moray Eel. In the Polar Play Zone designed just for them, kids can slide around in a penguin suit and touch sea stars.
2. Field Museum
At the nearby Field Museum, also located at the museum campus, kids can meet SUE, the largest, most complete T. rex ever discovered – a whole different experience than reading about T. rex in book, and one that might just inspire some young paleontologists! On the opposite end of the scale, you and your kids can get a bug’s-eye view of the world when you magically “shrink” to 1/100th of your actual size to explore an immersive environment of worm tunnels and soil chambers in the Underground Adventure exhibit. And it doesn’t stop there – other exhibits explore ancient cultures, geography, evolution and more.
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3. Navy Pier
As far as fun things to do for kids in Chicago, Navy Pier and the Chicago Children’s Museum provide endless opportunities for play. Forts gives kids the raw materials to construct their own creative, crazy forts (and we all know a kid can make a fort out of anything!). Hit the Artabounds Studio to paint, print, press, sew, sketch and sculpt. Ready for more dinosaurs? Dinosaur Expedition recreates the real Saharan expedition where Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno discovered a new type of dinosaur and allows your kids to be part of the dig. Kids will have so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re learning.
4. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum at Lincoln Park
Moving on to Lincoln Park, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is home to the popular and world-renowned Butterfly Haven, a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse filled with pools of water, flowers, tropical trees and 1,000 butterflies, as well as some beautiful birds. Other exhibits allow kids to explore the different “wilderness” environments in Chicago, learn about the birds of Chicago, and discover the different types of marshland found in Chicago.
5. Lincoln Park Zoo
If you’re visiting Chicago with kids, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a must-see. From the mammals to the birds, to the reptiles and amphibians, kids will love seeing their favorite animals in person and enjoy learning about the unfamiliar faces they’ll come across.
6. SkyDeck Chicago
Get ready to ride and enjoy incredible view of Chicago’s impressive skyline. The high-speed elevators at the SkyDeck Chicago will zip you 1600 feet per minute up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The 360-degree views are amazing, with 40-50 miles of visibility, and you can see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan (there’s that geography lesson I mentioned). For those not afraid of heights, dare to step out onto the Ledge, a glass box extending 4.3 feet out over the Chicago streets 1353 feet below. Don’t look down!
What to Eat in Chicago with Kids
Attraction-hopping works up a hearty appetite, and we all know what happens when kids get hungry. Luckily, it’s an easy problem to solve in Chicago. Deep-dish pizza and Chicago are synonymous, and what kid doesn’t love pizza? There are so many great pizza places in Chicago (including the home of the original deep-dish pizza, Uno’s) that we won’t tell you where to go. Suffice it to say you’ve got a lot of options where pizza is concerned. Other places to consider dining with kids include the Rainforest Café, American Girl Place Café, or Medieval Times in Schaumburg for dinner and a show.
Use the Chicago CityPASS
For big savings on your trip to Chicago, check out Chicago CityPASS. It saves you 50% on admission to 5 great Chicago attractions: Shedd Aquarium; the Field Museum; SkyDeck Chicago; Museum of Science and Industry OR John Hancock Observatory; and Adler Planetarium OR the Art Institute of Chicago. And even better, you can skip the main ticket lines and enjoy Fast Pass/VIP entry at all the attractions, saving you time and keeping the kids happy.
Disclosure: The Travelling Mom thanks CityPASS for the sponsorship of this post.
Have you visited Chicago with your family? What’s your favorite thing to do in the Windy City? Share your comment below.