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The 21 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
Emma Krupp
,
Morgan Olsen
&
Krista Diamond
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If you think Chicago is impressive, imagine what the city looks like from the eyes of a kid: towering skyscrapers, massive parks to run around in and endless new things to discover. And if you're looking to nurture that curiosity, there are plenty of ways to help little ones explore the city, from kid-friendly exhibitions at the best museums in Chicago to wide-open spaces at the most beautiful Chicago parks. So, if you're one of those folks with some tiny copies in tow, there are so many options available that do everything from waterparks to dizzying heights to mummies. Best of all? These attractions are even fun for the adults (we promise). When you're here with the little ones, here's our power-list of untoppable adventures. Have a blast!

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—and 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.

Save on Chicago attractions like this one.

  • 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.

Experience a spooky Chicago ghost tour.

  • 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 (temporarily closed) or run around the Chicago Children's Museum (temporarily closed)—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 outfitted with a playscape that's surrounded by blooming plants.

  • 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.

See the top Chicago attractions with a CityPASS.

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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 Butterflies & Blooms exhibition (May 31-September 6, 2021), a habitat that's filled with hundreds of live butterflies native to Asia, South America, North America and Africa.

  • 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 center 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 America's 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 for a guided look around.

  • Things to do
  • Loop
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The 103rd-floor observation deck located on 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
  • 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. 

Book a private architecture tour.

  • 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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  • 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.

  • 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
  • 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.

  • 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. 

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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, of course, the beautiful Winter Garden on the top floor.

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