Chicago Family Vacation Ideas – Attractions, Activities & Things to Do for Vacation

Heading to the Windy City for vacation? We’re sure you’re just as excited about visiting Chicago as we are about having you here in this amazing city. However, it’s not always easy to know what to do with kids when visiting a new city.

If you’re worried about planning that perfect family vacation, we’ve got some suggestions to help you out, curated by locals and industry experts who know what it’s like to have families in Chicago.

Our favorite Chicago family vacation ideas include:

  • Shedd Aquarium
  • 360 Chicago
  • Field Museum
  • Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Tour
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Navy Pier & Centennial Wheel
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • LEGOLAND Discovery Center
  • Brookfield Zoo
  • Millennium Park & Lurie Garden

Save on Family Vacation Attraction Ideas

Regular admission to a number of these family-friendly attractions are available on the Go Chicago pass.

Choose as you go from top visited attractions and save up to 45% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.

Learn more about our Chicago passes, attractions and prices.

Shedd Aquarium

One of Chicago’s best family-friendly attractions is the Shedd Aquarium, one of the top-rated aquariums in the country. It’s the perfect place to spend a day with the kids!

Filled with tens of thousands of fascinating marine creatures, there is no end to the wonders you’ll discover at this attraction. Exhibits include the fascinating “Waters of the World,” the festive “Caribbean Reef,” and delightfully kid-centric “Polar Play Zone.”

Don’t miss their latest special exhibit, “Underwater Beauty”, which showcases the color and beauty of life below the surface. Watch jellies, eels and rainbow fishes come alive here for a limited time.

As one of the most popular attractions in Chicago, the lines may get long here. Good thing Go Chicago Card holders get priority entry! You’re also close to the rest of Museum Campus, so why not make a day of it?

Getting In: Shedd Aquarium tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass. 


360-Chicago-John-Hancock-Tower-5Get away from it all at the 94th floor of the Hancock Building.

This observation deck is the perfect place for panoramic views of Lake Michigan, the city below you, and even glimpses of the Illinois plains.

Kids and parents alike will enjoy the chance to be 1000 feet above the city. There are plenty of interactive and educational exhibits for the children to enjoy. Not to mention how many photo opps you’ll have with such a breathtaking view!

360 CHICAGO also recently introduced another attraction at the top – TILT. TILT is an all-glass, moving balcony that extends from the side of the observation deck. Once you step onto TILT, the deck will move slowly to give you new vantage points of the city. TILT is separately ticketed.

Its convenient location on Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile) also makes it easy to build a visit here into a broader itinerary.

Getting In: 360 CHICAGO tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card. TILT is not included on Go Chicago pass but can be purchased separately. Throughout the summer, kids ride TILT free on Sundays from 9am-4pm.

Field Museum

A curved projection surrounds visitors with a recreation of the ancient sea and its various life forms.

Image credit: Greg Neise The Field Museum

Part of the famed Chicago Museum Campus, The Field Museum is one of the best institutions for kids and adults.

You’ll find that their endlessly intriguing collections have much to offer, from Maximo the largest Titanosaur ever discovered to minerals and gemstones to an extensive collection of ancient Chinese art and artifacts.

The kids will love learning about DNA in the DNA Discovery Center, playing in the Underground Adventure and exploring our Evolving Planet.

With Go Chicago Card, your general admission ticket also includes a special exhibit which is an added bonus.

Getting In: Field Museum tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Big Bus Chicago Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour

chicago-bus-tourWhether you’re a first-time visitor to Chicago or a returning vet, sometimes all you need is a good bus tour to get you going.

Join up with Big Bus on their informative and entertaining hop-on hop-off tour of Chicago, which covers many of the major highlights while traveling between 14 different stops.

Get off where you’d like to explore further. You can even use the bus to get to attractions like those at Museum Campus (although do be aware that traffic may get in the way of getting any place in a timely manner). The double decker bus will be perfect for you and the family to see all of the city and decide where you want to stop!

Getting In: Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Museum of Science and Industry

Head to a new area of Chicago with a visit to Hyde Park on the South Shore. The Museum of Science and Industry will more than make your transit time worthwhile!

This kid-centric museum is filled with educational exhibits, interactive spaces, and hands-on activities.

Some of our favorite attractions within this museum (the largest science museum in the country, by the way) include a real German submarine from WWII, an Illinois coal mine, and a challenging mirror maze.

Kids will adore the Pixar-inspired special exhibit, “The Science Behind Pixar”. They can get a unique look at the process behind some of their favorite characters, learn about the technology, and see how these movies get made!

Getting In: Museum of Science and Industry tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass. The Science Behind Pixar is a separately ticketed exhibit.

Adler Planetarium

Another star of the Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium. A longtime family favorite, this “stellar” attraction is the place to explore everything from the surface of the moon to the furthest reaches of space.

Your all-access pass includes exciting exhibits like “Mission Moon,” “Planet Explorers,” “Our Solar System,” and many more.

You’ll also get access to the historic Atwood Sphere, Chicago’s oldest and most storied planetarium. Plus, get to see unlimited shows like the new Planet Nine.

If you’re visiting during the summer, check their website for the Adler Summer Film Fest schedule! They’ll be airing brand new planetarium shows and movies every week through September 3rd, 2018.

Getting In: Adler Planetarium tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Navy Pier & Centennial Wheel

Navy-Pier-centennial-wheel-2The centerpiece of your family vacation to Chicago really should be a visit to Navy Pier.

This delightful wonderland is filled with exciting attractions and things to do for families with kids of all ages, with options like theater performances, bike rides, boat cruises, museums, and many more.

One of our favorite things to do is to hop aboard the famed Centennial Wheel – Chicago’s signature Ferris wheel (which you can also spot from 360 CHICAGO!).

You can also dine, shop, and people watch to your heart’s content.

Getting In: Navy Pier is free to explore. Navy Pier Centennial Wheel and Ride tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago-Children-s-Museum-3If you’re stringing together an itinerary from our ideas, it’s quite a convenient thing that the Chicago Children’s Museum is located right on Navy Pier.

Primarily designed for younger and middle-grade children, this educational institution is all about creative thinking and interactive fun. Exhibits are geared towards teaching children an important skill or set of information while remaining entertaining.

“Dinosaur Expedition,” for example, allows kids to dig for “fossils” while learning about a real prehistoric creature, about paleontology, and about natural history.

As a bonus, they have extended hours in the summer, too, so there will be more time to explore this amazing place with the kids. 

Getting In: Chicago Children’s Museum tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

The Escape Game Chicago

Take the clan along to The Escape Game Chicago and put your teamwork and problem-solving skills to the test. There won’t be any time to argue, as you’ll have just 60 minutes to solve the challenge and escape before it’s too late. This activity is perfect for any weather and there are several themed challenges for you to choose from, including The Heist, where you’ll recover a stolen painting using the help of an intelligence agent, and Mission Mars, where you’ll work together to repair a spaceship.

The Escape Game Chicago is recommended for ages 13 and up, but younger players are allowed in if accompanied by an adult.

Getting in: The Escape Game Chicago is included on the Go Chicago pass.

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center

LEGOLAND-Discovery-Center-2If you’ll willing to take a bit of a drive out of the city, you’ll find that LEGOLAND Discovery Center is worth the effort.

This expansive indoor attraction is filled with everything LEGO, from building stations guided by Master Model Builders to rides like the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride.

Be sure to stop by MINILAND, too, where you’ll find small-scale replicas of downtown Chicago landmarks.

This attraction is best suited for children under ten or so. It’s a great activity to take the kids to on a day with iffy weather.

Getting In: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield-Zoo-1What’s not to love about Chicagoland’s largest and most popular zoo?

This amazing zoo (another bit of a drive outside of Chicago, although not as far as LEGOLAND) is a delightful place for families to visit in the summer.

You’ll get to encounter some of the world’s most amazing animals right in America’s heartland. Dive deep into the oceans and watch the dolphins at Seven Seas, get eye-to-eye with grizzlies and learn more about the intelligent primates of the rainforest in Tropic World.

Getting In: Brookfield Zoo tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Millennium Park & Lurie Garden

Millennium Park ChicagoAnother must-visit on your trip to Chicago is Millennium Park.

The heart of downtown Chicago, this massive urban greenspace is filled with fun things to do (like the Art Institute of Chicago, which is another great family attraction for art lovers), sculptures to see (like the Bean), and interactive art pieces to enjoy (the Crown Fountain is a favorite in the summer).

You can also roam the Lurie Garden, a free outdoor botanical garden that grows beautiful plants year round. It’s a great place to learn about nature, and makes for some fun photos, too!

Getting In: Millennium Park is free to explore. Art Institute of Chicago tickets are included on the Go Chicago pass.

Remember to Save on Family Friendly Admission

There you have it: some of our best recommendations for a family-friendly trip to Chicago.

Many of these attractions are close to each other, so it’s easy to use this as an itinerary or pick and choose to create your own! Don’t forget, several attractions listed are included on the Go Chicago pass. When using the Go Chicago pass, you can save up to 45% vs paying at the gate.

We hope you enjoy your family trip to Chicago and share your Chicago vacation pictures with us at @GoCity!

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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