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Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Photograph: Chris Strong

The 34 best things to do with kids in Chicago

Keep the little ones busy all year with the best things to do with kids in Chicago.

Written by
Morgan Olsen
,
Krista Diamond
&
Erin Yarnall
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When kids are restless they get antsy and irritated, so why not avoid boredom altogether by taking them on an adventure in Chicago? With a sprawling skyline, lakeside location and endless activities to check out, the Windy City is a top-tier place to explore with kids. The city is home to plenty of children's museums and parks to entertain your little one, and some of the most notable Chicago attractions are kid-friendly, too.

Here’s our list of the best ways to have a blast with your kids, whether you’re in the North Side, West Side, South Side or right downtown. Some of these require a bit of travel to nearby suburbs, so get ready to pack the kids into the car and take off to make some new memories together—we’re willing to bet you’ll have just as much fun as the kiddos.

RECOMMENDED: Discover more of the best things to do in Chicago

Best things to do with kids in Chicago

  • Things to do
  • Lincoln Park

What is it? One of the country's last free zoos, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Why go? The 35-acre attraction connects visitors with animals from all over the world—from aardvarks and African penguins to trumpeter swans and zebra tilapia—and a variety of seasonal events and special programming keep families coming back again and again.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Millennium Park

What is it? Located in the heart of the Loop, this 20-acre public park houses one of the most epic playgrounds we've ever seen.

Why go? When the sun is shining, set the kids loose at the Play Garden or let them put their skills to the test on the Climbing Wall, with supervision from the park staff. The fun doesn't stop when winter rolls around; return for a lap or two around the Skating Ribbon when the snow starts to fall.

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  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Museum Campus
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? One of the world's largest indoor aquariums, home to thousands of scaled, finned and feathered animals.

Why go? For a chance to get up close and personal with schools of colorful fish, playful otters, beautiful stingrays, not-so-scary sharks and hard-shelled turtles. There are 13 exhibits to explore and additional experiences you can tack on during your visit, like 4-D shows, Animal Chats with Shedd experts and Animal Encounters.

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A deep dive into natural history—and one of Chicago's most beloved institutions.

Why go? Archaeologists-in-training can check out ancient mummies, get a closer look at towering dinosaur skeletons and marvel at rare jewels in the Grainger Hall of Gems.

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  • Things to do
  • Lincoln Park

What is it? Tucked behind Lincoln Park High School, this 14.4-acre park is named for one-time Lincoln Park resident L. Frank Baum (who famously penned The Wizard of Oz).

Why go? Aside from a wooden playground cheekily titled "Dorothy's Playlot," the park's verdant grounds are also dotted with statues of famous characters from Baum's book—perfect for a scavenger hunt on a long, leisurely walk.

  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Streeterville

What is it? A 50-acre landmark situated on the shoreline of Lake Michigan that's packed with restaurants, retail and attractions for the entire family.

Why go? Take a spin around the year-round Centennial Ferris wheel, see a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater or run around the Chicago Children's Museum—all of which are housed on the massive Pier. Don't forget to treat the kids to a loaded Rainbow Cone before hitting the road.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • East Garfield Park

What is it? A stunning, glass-topped botanical conservatory that's home to hundreds of plant species and interactive exhibits.

Why go? Get your green fix while wandering the Palm House, Fern Room, Desert House and outdoor gardens. The littles will adore the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, which is currently closed but will reopen in 2023 after undergoing a $5.6 million renovation.

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Hyde Park
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? One of the largest science museums in the world.

Why go? Boasting an array of family-friendly programming on everything from tornados to robots, MSI is a must-see Chicago attraction. Little ones will love the Baby Chick Hatchery and the awe-inspiring Mirror Maze; teens will dig exhibits on energy, glaciers and space exploration.

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  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Suburbs
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Twenty-seven breathtaking gardens spread across 385 acres within driving distance of downtown in Glencoe, Illinois.

Why go? Aside from offering preschool and middle school classes, youngsters will get a kick out of the garden’s regularly scheduled nature walks, and its annual Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns, which features more than 1,000 hand-carved pumpkins each fall.

  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • Beverly
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? An iconic South Side ice-cream shop that's been scooping cones, milkshakes and banana splits since 1926.

Why go? To try the signature five-flavor Rainbow Cone, with scoops of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio and orange sherbet. Psst: They've got a stand at Navy Pier, too!

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  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Pullman
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? The exhibit hall is home to exhibitions and other preservation materials related to the history of the South Side neighborhood, which was once the site of the Pullman company town. It's since been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Why go? The railroad car company's planned community was one of the most famous in American history; it played a commensurately important role in the development of the country's labor movement. You can embark on a self-guided tour of the area or visit on the first Sunday of the month (May–October) for a guided look around.

  • Things to do
  • Loop
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The 103rd-floor observation deck situated near the top of the Willis Tower, complete with glass boxes that hang out over the side of the building.

Why go? If you're looking to see more of Chicago than you'd be able to take in on a walking tour, the Skydeck is your best bet. Views from this high up are expansive, allowing guests to see up to four states and 50 miles out. While you’re up there, learn about the city’s landmarks from a multilingual computer program and about its history from wall exhibits.

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What is it? A 90-minute tour tracing the history of Chicago's built environment along the riverfront, including famous structures like Marina City and the recently completed St. Regis Chicago.

Why go? It's never too early to learn about the history and architecture of the city, and these river cruises offer an entertaining, easy-to-follow window into Chicago's past, with stunning skyline views to boot. For an extra $5 you'll also gain admission to all of the exhibitions on display at the Chicago Architecture Center.

  • Kids
  • Suburbs
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A sprawling, 30,000-square-foot space dedicated to the iconic plastic building toy.

Why visit? With a Kingdom Quest interactive laser ride, 4-D movie theater, daily building workshops and the ever-popular Miniland featuring Chicago landmarks, you can easily spend half a day here.

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  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Calumet Heights
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? A children’s museum on the South Side that focuses on African American history and innovation.

Why go? The Bronzeville Children’s Museum is the first—and the only— children’s museum in the country that focuses on the impact of African Americans. Kids can learn about African American inventors ranging from 18th-century naturalist Benjamin Banneker up to Donna Auguste, an engineer at Apple who helped to create the PDA, as well as exhibits on S.T.E.M. and Bronzeville history.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Oak Park
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? The country's most famous architect honed his Prairie School design style while living in this Oak Park home, which he designed himself. 

Why go? Wright's legacy is unparalleled in Chicago, and you can observe his influence—naturalistic elements, straight lines, low-hanging roofs—up close in an interior tour of his home and studio. After you're done, mill around the surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District to take in more of his iconic work.

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  • Museums
  • Loop

What is it? A museum based in the Loop that celebrates both the history of American writing and contemporary writers in the country.

Why go? With regularly-scheduled programming and a host of virtual and in-person exhibits, it’s impossible to walk away from the museum without learning something interesting about the work of American writers. The museum also is home to the Negaunee Foundation Children’s Literature Gallery, an interactive reading space that prominently features a mural by children’s book illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, and a reading area packed with family-friendly books.

  • Things to do
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A 94th-floor observatory deck perched atop the John Hancock Building.

Why go? Don't let a rainy day put a damper on your sightseeing adventure in Chicago. Pack up the kids and head straight up to 360 CHICAGO for epic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan and major landmarks. Plus, kids will get a kick out of TILT, a glass-enclosed platform that quite literally tilts visitors out over Michigan Avenue.

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  • Museums
  • Sport
  • Streeterville
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? A 23,000-square-foot museum focused on Chicago’s professional sports teams.

Why go? Sure, your kid probably won’t match up to Scottie Pippen’s wingspan—and they probably can’t jump as high or as far as Michael Jordan—but they’ll have fun trying at the museum’s Measure Up exhibit, where visitors can learn about some of Chicago’s most impressive athletes. The museum, which houses several exhibits, also features an installation on the curses and superstitions that have kept the city’s teams down for so many years. Thanks a lot, billy goat!

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Humboldt Park

What is it? A 2.7-mile elevated path that runs through Logan Square, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park.

Why go? Also known as the Bloomingdale Trail, the 606 connects Chicago's hippest 'hoods. It's also dotted with beautiful parks and art installations, making it a one-stop shop when the sun is shining. Walk or run the path with a stroller, or let the kids take their bikes or scooters for a test drive on the elevated pathway.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Grant Park
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Chicago’s premier art museum, housing thousands of works from ancient Egypt to contemporary  Chicago-based artists.

Why go? If your child is an art appreciator, you can spend your time strolling the halls and taking in the museum’s seemingly endless works, including the impressive Impressionism collection. Or head straight to the museum’s family spaces, including the Artist’s Studio, where they can make their own artwork to hang in the halls of your home. Also, admission is free for kids under 14, making one of the city’s top attractions even more accessible.

  • Things to do
  • Suburbs

What is it? This 300-acre outdoor adventure park, located a little over 20 miles from downtown Chicago, is filled with ziplines, a mountain biking course, kayaking and canoeing spots and more.

Why go? From outdoor laser tag and a towering aerial obstacle course to a safety-netted kids zone, there's truly something for everyone in this massive recreation space.

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  • Attractions
  • River North

What is it? A wind tunnel that keeps participants afloat in the air for a skydiving-like experience in an indoor setting, no planes or parachutes required.

Why go? Maybe jumping out of a plane with your kids isn’t how you’d want to spend your time. If you want the thrill of skydiving without the fear that comes with leaping out of a moving plane, then iFLY—which accommodates kids as young as 3—might be the option for you. The experience lasts for one hour and 45 minutes, and includes a training session before the flight time. There are three iFLY locations in the Chicago area, including one in Lincoln Park and two suburban locations in Rosemont and Naperville.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? A Lincoln Park institution dedicated to connecting city-dwellers with nature and environmental sciences.

Why go? To take a deep breath of fresh air without leaving the city. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is home to a handful of educational, family-friendly exhibits, like Conservation Quest, where littles learn about where energy comes from and how we use it. The main attraction is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse filled with more than 1,000 winged creatures waiting to land on you.

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  • Restaurants

What is it? A stop at one (or several) of the best pizza shops in the city for slices of thin crust or deep-dish, or anything in between.

Why go? Chicago has put its own spin on the classic Italian dish. Create your own tour based on your preferences and stop at some of the most well-known old-school establishments like Lou Malnati’s and Uno’s, or follow one of several guided tours that visit under-the-radar, beloved local joints.

  • Things to do
  • Literary events
  • Suburbs
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? A downtown landmark that dates back more than 100 years and hosts free events all year long.

Why go? Come to simply take a look around the historic, beautiful building, but make sure to bring the kids to some of the center’s free programming, including art exhibitions, historic tours and film screenings. Don’t forget to stop by the Cultural Center’s Learning Lab, where your little one can play with a magnetic wall, listen to music and sounds from around the world and get to meet artists.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Millennium Park

What is it? Chicago's most epic (and perhaps most well-known) public park.

Why go? The kids can run around Lurie Garden, check out the massive faces at Crown Fountain, dash across the BP Bridge and catch their breath on the Great Lawn. They'll be pooped by bedtime.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Andersonville
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? An Andersonville museum focusing on the culture and lives of Swedish American immigrants and their families.

Why go? In addition to the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigrationon the third floor of the museum, the Swedish American Museum also has a busy schedule of events perfect for kids, like Pancakes with Pippi, in which attendees can learn about the Swedish character Pippi Longstocking and learn how to make Swedish pancakes. If you have Swedish relatives, don’t forget to check out the genealogy area at the museum, where you can do your own research or ask for help from the museum’s dedicated genealogy society.

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  • Music
  • Lincoln Park

What is it? A hub for music, dance, theater and visual arts courses for kiddos (and adults) of all ages.

Why go? Enroll the littlest rockstars in Wiggleworms, an early-childhood music program centered around singing, dancing and fingerplays. For older kids and teens, there's group classes on drums, guitar, piano and voice as well as courses that explore the joy of dance and theater.

  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Housed inside Navy Pier, this cultural institution is built especially for tykes.

Why go? The kids think they're playing, but you know they're absorbing all kinds of amazing information through amazing, hands-on exhibits like the Kovler Family Climbing Schooner, which lets little ones crawl through three stories of ship-like rigging that leads up to a crow's nest. 

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Suburbs

What is it? A two-hour family theater experience that will take your little one back to the days of jousting, castles and, of course, large feasts.

Why go? With the crowd divided into four teams, Medieval Times is just as engaging as any sports game, and admission to the theatrical event includes a medieval-inspired feast (which can be modified for vegan and vegetarian attendees as well) that won’t leave any attendee feeling hungry.

  • Things to do
  • Suburbs
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? A 304-acre theme park, located around 40 miles north of Chicago, with 16 roller coasters.

Why go? Six Flags Great America is loaded with roller coasters, including Maxx Force, one of the park’s most recent additions, which was built in 2019 and travels from zero to 78 miles per hour in two seconds. If your little one isn’t a thrill-seeker just yet, there are plenty of rides targeted for kids, and there’s the Kidzopolis section, with seven mild rides perfect for even the most timid of riders.

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  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Loop

What is it? Chicago's central library named after the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington.

Why go? Chicago's main library is home to a staggering 1.2 million books, but that's just the beginning. It also boasts free music practice rooms, a children's library that has its own floor, artwork and the beautiful Winter Garden on the top floor.

Go to a sports game
Photograph: Shutterstock

34. Go to a sports game

What is it? A day out at the ballpark with the little one — or the football field, or basketball court, or soccer field. Chicago is home to a lot of sports teams, so take your pick.

Why go? From watching baseball at Wrigley Field or Guaranteed Rate Field to catching a game of hurling, a traditional Irish sport, out at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest, there’s an abundance of sports to become a passionate fan of all year long.

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