City Vacations

Top 12 Family Activities You Can’t Miss in Chicago

Last updated 12th July 2018

Chicago is a big city with a small town soul. It has enough urban mojo to satisfy confirmed city slickers with a sprinkling of Midwest charm, making the bustling metropolis a refreshingly laid-back getaway.

Engaging museums, dynamic public parks, an inner city amusement pier and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see are part of the kid-approved cityscape. Spend even one afternoon here and you’ll see why the Windy City is an excellent choice for a family fling.

Field Museum of Natural History

It would take several days to fully explore this cavernous museum. Don’t miss a look at Máximo the Titanosaur, the biggest dinosaur that scientists have discovered to date. Additional highlights include dozens of mummies, the dazzling Grainger Hall of Gems and a selection of mystical totem poles.

Children ages 2-6 should not miss the Crown Family Playlab, where hands-on experiences are designed to stimulate preschoolers.

Navy Pier

What kid can resist an old-fashioned carousel, a 15-story Ferris wheel, too many carnival games to count and frequent fireworks? Rides galore plus festive energy make Navy Pier one of the best inner city amusement zones in the country.

The Museum of Science and Industry

This museum is an experiential showstopper. The full-scale coalmine replica has visitors descending into the depths of the earth and examining what life was like for the miners. A restored German submarine that was captured in 1944 and brought here a decade later gives you a real-life sense of the claustrophobic conditions that underwater servicemen endured.

For something playful, don’t miss the whimsical Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle exhibit, a miniature palace filled with exquisite tiny treasures.

Young cinephiles may take a deep dive into the award-winning Pixar animation process at the interactive Science Behind Pixar exhibit.


Lake Michigan’s miles of urban beaches are popular for waterside recreation, but Chicago’s riverside promenade offers an additional waterfront respite. Riverwalk’s kayak rentals, pier fishing, boat rides and free entertainment have loads of family appeal. And if you’re pushing a stroller, Riverwalk is accessible via ramp.

Adler Planetarium

What makes the Adler stand out is how it puts astronomy in a historical perspective. Exhibits demonstrate how ancient cultures had the same thirst to understand their place in the universe as we do today. Young children will enjoy Planet Explorers, an indoor playground with plenty of room to roam.

Shedd Aquarium

Home to some 32,000 animals from aquatic habitats around the world, this top-notch aquarium offers many interactive possibilities, including opportunities to touch sea creatures such as stingrays. A prominent animal conservation message is present, so a visit is thought-provoking as well as entertaining.

Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower

Formerly known as Sears Tower, ascend this skyscraper for sweeping views of the city, Lake Michigan and neighboring states. Daredevils should enjoy a fright-inducing step onto The Ledge, a glass box that extends a dizzying four feet outside of the 103rd floor.

Purchase a CityPASS and you’ll skip the lengthy line here as well as at other top Chicago attractions. You’ll not only save time, you’ll save money off the admission price at numerous must-see sites.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is a Chicago landmark. Rich in public art, a trip to Chicago isn’t complete without a selfie under The Bean, the iconic stainless-steel structure that reflects the city’s famed skyline in its shiny surface.

In winter, ice skate at McCormick Tribune Plaza. In summer, splash in the Crown Fountain as you watch real-time images flash on giant video screens.

Todd Rosenberg Photography, Courtesy of the Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

This zoo is home to over 1,200 animals, including polar bears, monkeys and an assortment of reptiles.  The Farm-in-the-Zoo replicates a working farm with animals that kids can feed, plus a giant John Deere tractor that that they can sit on. The staff demonstrates daily farm chores such as butter churning and milking.

The zoo is open 365 days a year with free admission.

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago boasts exhibits that even pint-size museum goers will enjoy. Dollhouse fanatics will be in heaven as they view dozens of diminutive decorated interiors in the Thorne Miniature Rooms. The Ryan Educational Center allows kids to create their own mini-masterpieces, play a game or read an art-themed book. The Impressionist collection is one of the best anywhere.

360 Chicago Observation Deck

Ascend 1,000 feet to the observation deck of the towering John Hancock Building and be rewarded with an awesome view of Chicago’s skyline. The brave will enjoy TILT, an enclosed platform that literally tilts you out over Michigan Avenue from the 94th floor.

Tour Wrigley Field

Home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, Wrigley Field is famed for its ivy-covered outfield walls and seating on the rooftops of adjacent apartment buildings. Taking a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour (often given by old-timers who’ve stuck with the team through thick and thin) is a must for die-hard baseball fans.

Bonus: Sample Chicago’s Famed Pizza

No Chicago city guide would be complete without mentioning the pizza. After a busy day of sightseeing, it’s time to satiate your family’s hunger pangs. Few foods have more kid-appeal than pizza and Chicago is famous for its deep-dish variety. More like a hearty casserole than a typical slice, it’s a good way to feed the family. Favorites pizzerias include Gino’s East with its graffiti wall, Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s and Uno’s.

By Allison Tibaldi