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Chicago kids
Photograph: Shutterstock

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

By Emma Krupp and Morgan Olsen
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Note: All city playgrounds and pools remain closed. Most fieldhouses are open 9am–5pm for washrooms and shelter. We'll keep this list updated, but call ahead before you plan your visit.

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. Best of all? These attractions are even fun for the adults (we promise). Here are all the best things to do with kids in the city.

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

Best things to do with kids in Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo lemur
Photograph: Chris Bijalba/Lincoln Park Zoo

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

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.

Maggie Daley Park
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

2. Maggie Daley Park

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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Shedd Aquarium
Photograph: Brenna Hernandez

3. Shedd Aquarium

Attractions Zoo and aquariums Museum Campus

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 eight 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.

Photograph: Courtesy the Field Museum

4. The Field Museum

Museums Science and technology Museum Campus

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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Oz Park, Chicago
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Oz Park

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.

Navy Pier
Photograph: Courtesy Navy Pier

6. Navy Pier

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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garfield park conservatory
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

7. Garfield Park Conservatory

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, Dessert 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.

Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: J.B. Spector

8. Museum of Science and Industry

Museums Science and technology Hyde Park

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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Chicago Botanic Garden, nature, garden, botanic, botanic garden
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden

9. Chicago Botanic Garden

Things to do Literary events Suburbs

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, a habitat that's filled with hundreds of live butterflies native to Asia, South America, North America and Africa.

Rainbow Cone
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

10. Original Rainbow Cone

Restaurants Ice cream parlors Beverly

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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Photograph: Courtesy of Christina Cou

11. Historic Pullman Foundation Visitors Center

Things to do Literary events Pullman

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.

Stand on The Ledge of the iconic skyscraper and peer down at streets and buildings in the Chicago Loop (while remaining calm).
Courtesy of Willis Tower

12. Willis Tower Skydeck

Things to do Loop

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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Chicago Architecture Center boat tour
Photograph: Barry Butler

13. Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise

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 nearly-completed Vista Tower.

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.

14. LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Kids Suburbs

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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Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Photograph: James Caulfield

15. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Museums Art and design Oak Park

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. 

Tilt gives visitors a unique view of the city from the top of the John Hancock Center.
Photograph: Martha Williams

16. 360 CHICAGO

Things to do Streeterville

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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Photograph Courtesy Trust for Public Land

17. The 606

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.

The Forge: Lemont Quarries
Photograph: Courtesy The Forge: Lemont Quarries

18. The Forge: Lemont Quarries

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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Millennium Park
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

19. Millennium Park

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 in a social distancing circle in the Great Lawn. They'll be pooped by bedtime.

359.wk.at.NewOldTownSchoolofFolkMusicBuilding.jpg
Photograph: Ian Spula

20. Old Town School of Folk Music

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. It's all available virtually this summer.

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harold washington, harold washington library, library, chicago library, CPL, loop, downtown, the loop, shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. Harold Washington Library Center

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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