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 for the first time.
If you’re planning a 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
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.”
Get away from it all at the 94th floor of the Hancock Building. The 360 CHICAGO 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 ops 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.
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. Your pass gives you a general admission ticket also includes a special exhibit which is an added bonus.
Big Bus Chicago Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour
Whether 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 on to a Hop On Hop Off 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 to 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!
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!
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.
Navy Pier & Centennial Wheel
The 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.
Chicago Children’s Museum
If 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.
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.
LEGOLAND® Discovery Center
If 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.
What’s not to love about Chicagoland’s largest and most popular zoo? Brookfield Zoo is a bit of a drive outside of Chicago but 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.
Millennium Park & Lurie Garden
Another must-visit on your trip to Chicago is Millennium Park. The heart of downtown Chicago, this massive urban green space 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 including 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!
Save on family-friendly vacation ideas
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!
Regular admission to a number of these family-friendly attractions is available Go City. Choose as you go from top visited attractions and save on combined admission vs paying at the gate. Learn more about our Chicago passes, attractions and prices.