The Best 14 Things to do in Chicago with Kids

Chicago Skyline

I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews that I love to take on vacations. One of my favorite places to go with them is to Chicago. Weekends in Chicago are so much fun, and with small kids, it can be filled with laugher, smiles, and joy. Here are the best 14 things to do in Chicago with kids.

Chicago Skyline
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360 Chicago Observation Deck

Madison at the John Hancock Tower

Kids will love Chicago’s Best 360° views from 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue at the former John Hancock Tower. You can see Ohio Street Beach, Navy Pier and get a fabulous view of Lake Michigan. The highlight for you and your family is to experience is the 360 CHICAGO’s TILT. It’s one of the highest thrill rides on the planet that will give you a unique, downward-facing view of Chicago from 1,030 feet up in the air.

Architecture Boat Tour

Chicago Architecture Boat Tour

One of the best ways to see Chicago’s architecture is by water. You and your family will be able to see over 40 Chicago landmarks from all three branches of the Chicago River. The Architecture Boat Tour takes approximately 75-90 minutes, depending on which tour company you choose, and most of them can be found by the Navy Pier. This is a great activity to break up the day when you are trying to jam-pack everything in on your visit. Instead of running around the city from dawn to dusk, take a short break relaxing on a boat enjoying the sunshine. Make sure to bring sunglasses and hats for the ride as there isn’t much shade to be found on the boat ride.

American Girl Store

Madison at the American Girl Store

If you have little girls, most likely, you would have heard about the American Girl Store. A place that epitomizes little girls with pink everywhere, on the boxes, dresses, shoes, and hair bows, and those are just for the dolls. I treated my littlest niece to her first American Girl experience. After spending considerable time walking through the entire store, she decided on her doll, what she would wear, and what her hobbies would be. Then I took my niece and her doll to the American Girl Saloon to get her doll’s hair done. After you get the doll perfect, you can head to the cafe for a tea party or lunch. Spending an afternoon at the American Girl Store is hard on your pocketbook but worth every penny when you see those smiles beaming right back at you.

Chicago Pizza

Gino's East Pizzeria

Every Chicago trip wouldn’t be complete without having a slice of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. And one of the best places to eat pizza is at Gino’s East Pizzeria. You can tell by the long lines waiting to get in that this is the place to be. When you walk in you, get the Italian vibe with the red and white checkered tablecloths. However, what makes this restaurant unique is the hundreds of thousands of signatures on every surface, from the walls to the chairs. It was great to pass down a tradition to a new generation.

Chicago Water Taxi

Madison on the Chicago Water Taxi

Another great activity for small kids visiting Chicago is riding the Chicago Water Taxi. They can enjoy the sunshine on their faces and watch the Chicago skyline pass by as they look over the water. Plus, this is a quick way to get from Navy Pier to the Shedd Aquarium.

Cloud Gate Bean

Madison at the Cloud Gate Bean

The Cloud Gate Bean is a must-stop while visiting Chicago with small kids. This 110-ton elliptical sculpture that looks like a bean is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline, you, and the clouds above. You can find the Cloud Gate Bean at the top of Park Grill, between the Chase Promenade and McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink.

Crown Fountain at Millennium Park

Crown Fountain at Millennium Park

If you are visiting during the summer with small kids, you have to bring them to the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. The fountain is interactive, displaying over 1,000 Chicagoans whose faces loop through the video towers at the Crown Fountain with water shooting out of their mouths. Make sure to bring swimsuits or a change of clothes cause you will get wet. Kids will have tons of fun splashing in the water, letting the water rush over them next to the fountain, and getting sprayed by the firehouse of water coming out of the fountain.

Field Museum

Madison at the Field Museum

Located right next to the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum is a fun place for all ages to visit. Kids will love all the interactive exhibits about dinosaurs. They will also learn about cultures from the Ancient Americas, conservation of the earth, be like a bug underground and unlock the secrets of Ancient Egypt. This natural history museum is a must-see when visiting Chicago and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays when it is closed.

Lego Store

Madison at the Lego Store

Every small kid and even some big adults will love visiting the Lego Store at the Water Tower Place. Visiting the Lego store is the ultimate hands-on Lego experience. There are Monthly Mint Model Builds that you can make and take home, build your own Lego mini-figures, and find any Lego brick and color to complete your Lego masterpieces. Plus, don’t forget to walk around and admire the completed Lego creations. The Lego Store Water Tower Place is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it is open from 12 to 5 p.m.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Heather and Madison at Lincoln Park Zoo

Take a little ride out of the downtown area to enjoy walking around and seeing all the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo. There are 35 acres to explore by riding the Children’s Train around the complex, take a spin on the Carousel, greet the goats at the farm, and so much more. Expect to take approx. 2-3 hours to see over 1,100 animals throughout the zoo. Plus, don’t forget to get a picture of your family on the bridge on the Nature Boardwalk with the Chicago skyline in the background. The zoo is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Wednesdays, it closes at 7 p.m. And if you feel up to it, check out the Lincoln Park Conservatory to see all the beautiful orchids and other flowers.

Museum of Science and Industry

Madison creating at the Museum of Science and Industry

One thing to do in Chicago with kids that get overlooked is the Museum of Science and Industry. The museum is in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Fair on South Lake Shore Drive. This majestic building on the outside has a large three-floor fun science playground inside. Some of the cool things to do are making your own plastic toy and seeing it being made, exploring a U-505 submarine and a zephyr train, and seeing a 40-ft tornado. Don’t worry; it is contained! Make sure to look at all the details in Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. This enormous dollhouse was created in the 1930s, and you will be astounded by all the miniature details. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and will you approximately 2-3 hours to see and experience all the exhibits.

Navy Pier

Madison on the swings on the Navy Pier

If you are coming to Chicago with kids, then you have to visit the Navy Pier. First, you get awesome views of Chicago. Second, you can find all sorts of fun activities to do with your family. Make sure to take your kids on the Centennial Wheel for even more wonderful views of Chicago. And don’t forget the swings; my niece had so much fun on those. Some of the other activities to try are to visit the Children’s Museum, check out the Crystal Gardens, or watch a movie at the IMAX.

Ohio Street Beach

Ohio Street Beach

Another must-do is to take a swim in Lake Michigan. We stopped off at Ohio Street Beach for a nice break in our busy sightseeing day. My niece had so much fun splashing and swimming in the lake. Lifeguards are on guard from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Shedd Aquarium

Chicago Shedd Aquarium

Visiting the Shedd Aquarium is a definite must-visit thing to do in Chicago with kids. This aquarium holds over 32,000 animals and, for some, the only place to see dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions. Enjoy looking at all the colorful fish, sharks, and rays at the Caribbean Reef. And don’t forget to check out the Polar Play area to watch the penguins having fun. It will take approximately 3-6 hours to see all the marine animals within the aquarium. Shedd Aquarium is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stays open later to 6 p.m. from Fridays to Mondays.

Summary

Heather, Kayla, and Alex on the Chicago Water Taxi

If you are looking for a fun city adventure with your niece, nephew, or your own kids, head to Chicago for a great experience. There are museums to visit, restaurants to try, and so many activities you will have to come back again to try them all. I hope that this list helps you plan your next vacation to the windy city. If you have any other suggestions for things to do in Chicago with kids, let me know. Enjoy your adventure!

Further Reading

If you are going to Illinois or Chicago for a visit, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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