Chicago’s world-famous architecture and cultural offerings make it one of the most popular cities in the U.S., but locals will tell you that Chicago is also a great place to live or travel to with kids.
Sure, children and parents alike love the deep-dish pizza, but the Windy City offers everything from top-notch kid-centric theater productions to one of the world’s largest aquariums. It’s also a relatively easy city to navigate with kids, especially because many of the main attractions are concentrated in Chicago’s downtown.
To highlight everything that Chicago has to offer, we’ve scoured the streets to find the best activities for parents and children of all ages. Whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, here are the 24 best places in Chicago for families and kids.
Please note that the map points are ordered from north to south, not in any ranking.
Traveling to other cities with your kiddos? Don't miss our maps of the best family activities in Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Detroit, and New York City.
Located in Glencoe, the Chicago Botanic Garden is home to 27 gardens on 385 acres and even boasts a new 26,700-square-foot learning center to boot. Kids will love climbing roly-poly hills in the Nature Play Garden, running on the grassy Esplanade, and marching over the arched bridges of the Japanese Garden.
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This museum might be 30 minutes outside of the Loop, but it’s worth mentioning thanks to the 17 permanent exhibits that will get your child’s imagination firing. Don’t miss the popular pet vet center, the water works station, and a lifelike simulated Whole Foods Market.
School-aged children who are learning about the Second World War or Jewish history will find in-depth educational resources, an impressive art collection, and memorable exhibits at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
Don’t miss the Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition—geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds—where kids use hands-on activities to foster leadership skills, empathy, and self-esteem.
This Lincoln Park museum uses hands-on exhibits to explore Illinois ecology and natural history. Check out a butterfly greenhouse, splash in water tables to explore how rivers work, and learn how the museum hatches and raises wetland animals like turtles.
One of the most exciting parks to open in Chicago in recent years, the 606 trail was made possible by converting an abandoned rail line along Bloomingdale Avenue into a new public park space and a popular pedestrian and cycling path.
An ideal spot for a bike ride in the Bucktown, Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square neighborhoods, this linear park also boasts temporary and permanent art installations as well as an array of events—think outdoor yoga classes and music series.
There are plenty of other attractions from Navy Pier included on this list, but we would be remiss if we didn’t include the Ferris Wheel. At 200 feet high, the Centennial Wheel offers 360-degree views and enclosed gondolas, making it a child favorite no matter the season.
We know, it might seem like a stretch to include a theater—and Shakespeare, no less—on a kid’s map. But the Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater showcases a ton of kid-friendly performances, including shorter 75-minute abridged productions geared toward families and students. Check their website for the latest shows and schedules. Young adults under the age of 35 can take advantage of special $20 ticket pricing.
This Navy Pier outpost will spark imaginations as kids dig for bones on a dinosaur expedition, tinker with real tools in a DIY maker space, and paint or sketch in an art studio. Best for children aged 10 and under, the Chicago Children’s Museum is a don’t-miss attraction.
With the final phase of the Chicago Riverwalk extension now complete, this pedestrian walkway stretches nearly one and a half miles from the western end of the Loop to Lake Michigan. In addition to its food and beverage offerings, the Chicago Riverwalk extension currently features educational programming and pop-up “PlayCubes” in collaboration with Design Museum Foundation.
As one of the largest conservatories in the nation, the Garfield Park Conservatory displays thousands of plant species in a tropical paradise with six greenhouses and two exhibition halls. Kids will love checking out the plant life or attending family-friendly weekly programs that let you dig in the soil, listen to story time, or plant.
This former Chicago Public Library building sits in the Loop neighborhood and boasts top-notch domed architecture that will have adults snapping nonstop photos. But kids will also love the free exhibitions, concerts, and theater performances. The building is currently serving as the anchor location for the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Wander through the 25-acre Millennium Park in the Loop and you’ll find a three-story steel sculpture entitled Cloud Gate—though locals affectionally call it “The Bean”—that will wow kids with its reflection of the Chicago skyline. Illinois’s most popular attraction also boasts the gorgeous 3.5-acre Lurie Garden, the Crown Fountain, and an outdoor concert pavilion designed by Frank Gehry that hosts live music and movies.
Located in the Loop, the recently revamped kid-focused Maggie Daley Park features Chicago’s only outdoor climbing park, a path-like “skating ribbon” in the winter, tennis courts, and picnic spots. Don’t miss the 3-acre play garden. You’ll have to drag kids under 12 off of the imaginative equipment, including an enchanted forest, wave lawn, and an array of slides.
The Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theatre company devoted to children and families. Head here for everything from life-size puppets to new plays written and produced by theater staff.
Don’t be intimidated by the world-class art at the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue. This haven for all things cultural is also an oasis for kids, and children under 14 get in for free. Pick up a family-centric mini-tour or self-guide from the Ryan Learning Center—located on the first level of the Modern Wing—or head to the Vitale Family Room for puzzles, books, and colorful blocks.
This truly iconic skyscraper, which has also become an immediately identifiable symbol of Chicago, was the world's tallest building for nearly 30 years. Designed by architects Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, the Willis Tower has an observational skydeck and the tour provides a brief history of Chicago and the building’s architecture.
Older kids will like the Ledge, a glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the building to provide a disorienting view of the street below.
The main branch of the Chicago Public Library, the postmodern Harold Washington building boasts an entire second floor of children’s books, games, hands-on activities, and multimedia tools that are perfect when inclement weather strikes. Head to the ninth floor to see a gorgeous winter garden with stunning glass ceilings.
Parents will love this Beaux-Arts building situated on Lake Michigan, but kids will have a ball exploring one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums.
Even young kids will like checking out the eye-popping Amazon river tanks and the colorful coral and fish of the reef exhibits, and don’t miss watching swimming beluga whales, dolphins, and sea otters in the Polar Play Zone.
One of the prettiest planetariums in the county, Adler Planetarium has been exposing locals to Chicago’s sky since it opened in 1930. See the moon through an aperture telescope, watch sky shows, or pretend to be space explorers in the hands-on Planet Explorer area.
This Grant Park natural history museum offers dinosaurs like a world-famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton—the largest, best-preserved, and most complete T-rex on display. You can also see a real mummy, experience an array of hands-on activities in the Crown Family Play Lab, and watch a rotating schedule of 3D movies.
Geared toward children 4 to 12, the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood offers a 10,000-piece permanent collection that showcases the richness of Mexican art and culture. Highlights include bilingual camps, art classes, and family-centric gallery tours.
Originally designed by visionary architect Daniel H. Burnham as horse stables, the DuSable Museum’s 19th-century limestone and timber structure is now one of the South Side's most prominent cultural institutions. Older children will appreciate the museum’s well-curated exhibitions of art, poetry, and notable topics like the experience of black people in the armed services.
Don’t be overwhelmed by one of the world’s largest science museums, home to 35,000 artifacts and 14 acres of exhibits. Break it down into manageable pieces—it would take days to see everything—and be on the lookout for a live tornado, a huge train exhibit, a recreated coal mine, and an intricate fairy castle.
Older kids and preteens love the Muntu Dance Theater, a dance company that performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and traditional African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. Head to their calendar to see where they are performing and for more details on show times.
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