If you are visiting Chicago with your kids (that would be tadpoles to us frogs) you will be blown away by all the fun things the Windy City has to offer. From skyscrapers to beaches and parks to world class museums, interactive art exhibits and shopping, Chicago can keep your froglets hopping for days. Here are some of our top things to do in Chicago with kids.
Top Things to Do in Chicago with Kids
There are so many fun things to do in Chicago on a family vacation. If you have a few days to explore, you might want to look into the Chicago Explorer Pass to save money on many top attractions. If several toadally awesome Chicago museums are on your must-do list, you might consider hopping on the CityPASS ticket to skip the lines and save money!
Hop on Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
One of the first things we like to do when we visit a new city is to hop aboard a double decker bus to get our bearings and learn fun facts. With the Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tour, you can further explore 14 different must-see locations without worrying about directions or finding parking!
Explore the Top Museums
Chicago is home to some amazing museums that will thrill family member of any age. The Field Museum of Natural History offers plenty of exciting subjects for tadpoles such as Dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies, an extensive exhibit on our evolving planet, a play lab for littlest tadpoles, bugs, DNA, meteorites, hands-on science activities at the Grainger Science Hub. Be sure to look into programs and cool experiences for families.
Next door to the Field Museum you can dive in to the Shedd Aquarium with over 32,000 aquatic animals. And just a little further down the path you can launch your space lovers into the Adler Planetarium. The Art Institute of Chicago, near Millennium Park, has family programs and art from all the masters. It is definitely worth a visit for art lovers.
One of the most interesting museums in Chicago is the Museum of Science and Industry. On the south side of the city, this hand-on museum has plenty of interactive opportunities to get creative and immersed in projects. Whether you are innovating, designing, watching baby chicks hatch or descending into a coal mine, this museum experience will stay with your tadpoles all their lives. I still remember some of the exhibits I encountered there as a small tadpole and love revisiting them with my tadpoles and experiencing what’s new. Visiting at least one museum each time we visit is among our top things to do in Chicago with kids.
Many of these museums and other attractions come with prepaid admission and VIP entry on the CityPASS ticket.
Visit Water Tower Place
Water Tower Place is a mall, but it is also home to the American Girls Doll flagship store and café. You’ll find the enormous American Girl Place at Water Tower Place. This fancy mall is on North Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent Mile of shopping. If you have a child obsessed with all things American Girl Doll, then you can’t miss this experience. Whether you are shopping for dolls or accessories, or just checking it out, it’s quite a sight. You can make a reservation for brunch, afternoon tea, lunch or dinner — and be sure to bring the doll, who will be seated in her own special chair! The much-loved doll who has a few tangles can get her hair done at the salon.
Family members who are not into dolls might enjoy playing with the interactive experiences at the Chicago Sports Museum at Water Tower Place. You’ll find Water Tower Place at 835 North Michigan Avenue. It's near the base of 875 North Michigan Avenue, one of Chicago’s iconic black skyscrapers. That brings us to a discussion of Observation Decks.
Get a Birds-Eye View from an Observation Deck
We hope you are not afraid of heights. Chicago has some very tall skyscrapers with observation decks — Willis Tower and 875 North Michigan Avenue being the most popular for visitors. Willis Tower used to be called the Sears Tower and it stands at 108 stories. Sky Deck Chicago is in the 103rd floor. If your stomach can take it, step out into the glass Ledge “cube” so you can look straight down through the clear floor at the tiny cars below.
You might find the former name of 875 North Michigan Avenue to be more familiar. It used to be called the John Hancock Center. This skyscraper has an observation deck on the 94th floor called 360 Chicago. It has a café and bar, and the adults in the group might want a drink before experiencing TILT. TILT is a glass area that extends out so up to 8 people can look down on the city 1,030 feet below.
Another option in the building is to dine at The Signature Room on the 95th floor. The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor serves cocktails and appetizers or small meals and desserts. They offer another way to get the same view while also getting a meal or bite to eat. Get the best of both worlds by visiting before sunset to see the city by day. Then catch the city lights once it gets dark. Getting to experience the city from so high is definitely one of the top things to do in Chicago with kids not to be missed.
Hop on a Bike
Chicago is a very flat city with 18 miles of trails along Lake Michigan, making it an excellent place to take a family bike ride. There are parks along the way, museums, Navy Pier, beaches and even the free Lincoln Park Zoo. Why pay for parking or go through the stress of searching for a parking space when you can ride right up on a bike and hop off to enjoy the sites, especially if you visit on a beautiful day? Take a more in-depth look at riding bikes and exploring the Lakefront Trail in Chicago.
Several bike shops rent kid equipment like children’s bikes, tandem bikes, bike wagons, baby seats, tagalongs and even surreys. Bobby’s Bike Hike and Bike and Roll also rent single and double jog strollers. You can get maps, helmets and bike locks to make your journey safe and complete.
If you want to join a bike tour to give you that perfect mix of nature and sightseeing, book with Bike City Sights Tour. You'll experience the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park, North Avenue Beach, the Lakefront and The Loop in two to three hours. Snack and water included!
Make a Splash on a Boat Tour
Chicago is located on one of the Great Lakes — Lake Michigan — and has a river running through it as well. That gives you several boat options. You can take an architectural tour of Chicago from the river. Or you can go through the famous lock system to get to the lake. Also, you can simply take a trip out on the open water on a sunset or brunch cruise or sailboat. You can go kayaking or canoeing, and even rent paddle boards at some points along the lake. Choose your own adventure, but don’t miss this exciting way to experience Chicago.
Play in the Parks
Chicago is home to many huge and amazing parks. Our family favorites include Grant Park and Lincoln Park. Grant Park includes several amazing smaller parks in its 319 acres along the lakefront. It's where you'll catch sight of Buckingham Fountain. If you are visiting during the Taste of Chicago, Grant Park is in the heart of the action. Millennium Park in Grant Park is a top attraction. It's where you will find Cloud Gate. That's the official name of the shiny reflective piece of art more commonly called “The Bean." You'll also find Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, flower gardens and an amphitheater.
While in the area, families should definitely wander, hop or bike over to Maggie Daley Park. This playground offers hopping fun with unique and immense play structures, a skating ribbon, a climbing wall and a watering hole for splashing on a hot day. You can get lost in fantasy outdoor play and tall plants. You'll likely froget you are in a major city.
Lincoln Park is Chicago’s largest public park, with 1,209 acres just north of downtown. It is home to the free Lincoln Park Zoo. Lincoln Park has many trails for biking or walking, a rowing canal, The Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Beaches, statues, a lily pond, recreational facilities and five playgrounds. It is a great park to explore by bike due to its size.
Visit Navy Pier
Navy Pier is one of the most-visited attractions in the Midwest. It juts out toward the water and can be seen from a distance due to its tall colorful Centennial Wheel (with gondolas that are air conditioned in summer and heated in winter). There is a carousel among the other amusement rides and games. Tadpoles will love the Chicago Children's Museum. Older froglets will get a rush from the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze and sensory experiences and games.
Navy Pier is a great stop for lunch or for some sightseeing if you are riding a bike along the lake. You can also take the free trolley, which runs from State Street to Navy Pier. At Navy Pier can hop on a cruise of the lake to get some great views of the Chicago Skyline, or catch a bus tour there. They launch fireworks off Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Catch a Game
Calling all sports fans! Chicago is a huge sports town with loyal fans of baseball, hockey, football and basketball. Catch the Cubs play at the iconic, ivy lined Wrigley Field. Or see the White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks or Bulls play. Chicago also has a Major League soccer team, the Fire. Chances are at least one sport will be in season when you visit, so if you and your kids are a sport fans, then getting tickets for a game definitely tops the list.
We could go on all day about how to have fun in the Windy City. But we’ve had to limit our list to just our must-see top things to do in Chicago with kids. Before you travel, be sure to check out our tips for visiting Chicago with kids. As much as we love sightseeing in a city, we also love saving some green while when traveling. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly Chicago hotel or rental car for your journey, Undercover Tourist has some hoppin’ deals for families.