Chicago is a wonderfully family-friendly city with fun and engaging things to do for kids and grown-ups alike. Here are 26 awesome activities that will make your family trip to Chicago unforgettable!
Exciting Family-Friendly Things to Do
1. Step out onto The Ledge
One of the most exciting things to do with your family in Chicago is to go to Skydeck on the 103rd Floor of the Willis Tower, the third tallest building in the Western Hemisphere! The views are breathtaking and one can see up to 50 miles and four states.
The ride up is thrilling as you take a high-speed elevator that climbs 1,600 feet per minute. The thrills get bigger on ‘The Ledge’ where you and your family can step out into a glass box that juts out from Skydeck and look down 1,450 feet to the streets below.
2. Play an escape game
Take your family to The Escape Game Chicago for non-stop excitement as you try to escape from a ‘locked’ room in just 60 minutes by solving puzzles, clues, and riddles. There are several rooms each with unique themes and different levels of difficulty to choose from.
Fix your spaceship and escape Mars before a deadly solar flare strikes. Break out of an 1950’s style prison cell. Find a hidden stash of gold in a desolate cabin in the woods. Whatever room you choose, your family will have a blast working together to escape in the nick of time.
3. Make some waves
For the speed demons in your family, taking a ride on a Chicago Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour is a perfect thing to do. Make some waves on Lake Michigan riding a jet-propelled boat that reaches speeds of nearly 45 miles per hour!
The Seadog doesn't just go fast, it takes sharp twists, makes 360-degree turns, and even does a full-throttle slalom. You’ll get awesome views of Chicago’s skyline and learn some of the city’s history as well. And there is nothing better than a strong breeze and spraying cool water on a hot day in Chicago!
4. Go Indoor Skydiving
Has anyone in your family wanted to go skydiving but wasn't ready to take that leap? At iFLY Chicago, your family members can have a gravity-defying experience from just a few feet off the ground!
After training from an expert instructor, your adrenaline-seeking junkies can step inside a state-of-the-art vertical wind tunnel and learn what it feels like to fly without going anywhere near a plane! This activity is open to anyone in your family as long as they are above age 3 and meets weight and health requirements.
5. See the Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls is one of the most successful NBA teams ever so take advantage of your time in Chicago to see a game at the United Center, the team’s home arena. If your family has never attended a basketball game before, get ready for some fast-paced excitement!
Chicago’s got some other great sports teams as well. The Chicago Cubs are one of the oldest and best-known baseball teams and play out of historic Wrigley Field. If you prefer a different team, see the White Sox. Hockey fans can see The Blackhawks and football fans have The Bears. If you are planning a work party in Chicago that's family inclusive, taking the team to a sports game is a wonderful idea!
Outdoor Activities in Chicago For Families
6. Pose with The Bean in Millennium Park
For the best keepsake of your family trip to Chicago, take a photo in front of “The Bean”. This sculpture, actually named Cloudgate, measures 66 feet long by 33 feet high and weighs 110 tons! It’s one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world.
The Bean is located in Millennium Park which itself is a destination. One of Chicago’s largest greenspace, Millennium Park has plenty of family-friendly things to do. Roam the gardens, enjoy free events year-round, and unleash your toddlers to splash around in Crown Fountain during the summer!
7. Frolic in Maggie Daley Park
Adjacent to Millennium Park is the whimsical Maggie Daley Park. This is one of Chicago’s finest parks and it’s loaded with fun things your family can do. There’s rollerblading along the Skating Ribbon which becomes an ice-skating track in winter.
There’s also a rock climbing wall, tennis courts, and an 18-hole miniature golf course. For children 12 and under, try the Play Garden. This kid-friendly park has six playgrounds each designed for a specific age group.
8. Play at Navy Pier
Navy Pier is packed with fun activities for your family. Ride the famous Centennial Wheel for unbeatable views of Chicago from 200 feet up. You can stroll along the boardwalk, grab a bite to eat, and shop for souvenirs.
Head to Pier Park for other classic fairground rides. For the little ones, there are Tea Cups and the Carousel. Your family daredevils will like the Drop Tower and the Wave Swinger. In the summer, Navy Pier presents fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night.
9. Stroll Riverwalk
Riverwalk is a 1.25-mile-long path that runs along the Chicago River. This Chicago gem has something for everyone in your family! You can stroll and take in the sights or sit down and grab a bite to eat.
Ride a cycleboat where your family members will have to pedal if they want to get anywhere! Take one of the many sightseeing cruises that depart here. Be sure to stop off at Sweet Home Gelato for special flavors like Bubblegum, S’mores, and Birthday Cake.
When its date night, and the kids are at home with a sitter, Riverwalk is romantic place to come!
10. Go to the beach
A popular thing for Chicago families to do in the warmer weather is to go to one of more than 20 free public beaches along 26 miles of scenic waterfront on lake Michigan. The landscape and atmosphere of each beach vary so there is more to do than sunbathe if you choose.
The best beach for families looking to relax is the 57th Street Beach. It’s on the quieter side and has concession stands. Ohio Street Beach is great for swimming. At North Avenue Beach you can rent paddle boards, kayaks, and even jet skis! There are beach volleyball courts as well. Food stands and restrooms are available.
11. Take a bike ride
Active families will enjoy the beautiful bike paths and trails of Chicago. The city has 26 miles of lakefront trails that are easy on the wheels. Lakefront Bike Path is 18.5 miles long and offers a leisurely ride. You can rent bikes from a private bike rental company like Bike and Roll or Chicago Bike Adventures.
You can opt to use Chicago’s public bike-share program, Divvy. Just rent a bike from one of their 580 self-service docking stations throughout the city. When you’re finished, return the bike at any dock.
For Animal-Loving Families
12. Brookfield Zoo
Families know that one of the best things to do to keep younger kids happy is to take them to a zoo so you're in luck -- Chicago has two zoos! Brookfield Zoo is a 216-acre nature park that has more than 5,000 animals.
The zoo has hands-on experiences as well. The Hamill Family Wild Encounters allows guests of all ages to touch and feed animals while the Hamill Family Play Zoo is geared toward younger children. Brookfield Zoo is open 365 days and can be reached by car (20 minutes) or by train (45 minutes).
13. Lincoln Park Zoo
Located in Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo is smaller than Brookfield Zoo, but it still has lots to offer families. It’s convenient to get to and has a full calendar of family-friendly things to do, including its special ‘zoo lights’ during the holiday season.
In addition to over 1000 animals, the zoo has fun attractions geared towards younger kids, like the Endangered Species Carousel and the Lionel Train Adventure. Nearby the zoo is the Lincoln Park Conservatory with thousands of exotic plants housed in a beautiful 1890 glass structure, as well as outdoor gardens & fountains.
14. Shedd Aquarium
The massive Shedd Aquarium will keep your family occupied and entertained for several hours. Located next to Lake Michigan in Downtown Chicago, the aquarium has more than 32,000 animals. The exhibits take guests through different environments. Discover the creatures of a coral reef and a flooded rainforest. Meet the sea life of the Great Lakes and the Caribbean.
For an additional fee, you can participate in one of the Aquarium Encounters. Meet The Otters offers an opportunity to touch a sea otter, or even give them a snack. There’s also a Shark Feeding Encounter, Beluga Whale Encounter, and a Penguin Encounter.
15. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
The small but interesting nature museum is one of Chicago’s most family-friendly science museums. Located just north of the Lincoln Park Conservatory, it is easily reached by public transit.
See their splendid aviary collection and the Butterfly Haven with over 1,000 butterflies! The family-friendly programs are suited toward families with younger children, but everyone will find something to love about this museum.
16. Field Museum of Natural History
With 40 million artifacts and specimens, the Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The size is impressive as are the magnificent exhibits of all kinds. Perhaps the most famous exhibit in the museum is SUE, the largest known T.rex fossil. Kids and grown-ups alike will be awed by SUE, who is nearly 40 feet long and 13 feet high.
The Evolving Planet exhibit covers the four billion-year-old story of life on Earth told through fossils, animated videos, and interactive displays that keep older children engaged. The “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibit has "interpretative stations" with hands-on activities for younger children like writing in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Given how large and diverse this museum is, the Field is an ideal destination in Chicago on a rainy day!
17. Museum of Science and Industry
Curious kids and grown-ups alike will love exploring the Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science museum in the Western hemisphere. Interactive exhibits and hands-on activities bring this museum to life.
There’s a full-scale coal mine, a German submarine from World War II, and the actual Apollo 8 command module! See a replicated 40-foot tornado, a fully-functional eco-friendly home, and a section of a 727 plane as it looked when it was first introduced in 1964.
18. Art Institute of Chicago
While it is known most famously for its huge collection of Impressionist paintings, the Art Institute has all sorts of art and activities for every age. Visiting exhibits vary from themes like Art in Ancient Egypt to Surrealist Works of Salvador Dali.
Stop off at the Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit with approximately 100 miniature models of “period” rooms. Kids will find these models adorable, while adults can marvel at the craftsmanship. The museum's Ryan Learning Center lets visitors of any age create their own art they can bring home as a souvenir.
19. Adler Planetarium
Families interested in outer space will find things to see and do at the Adler Planetarium. You'll find standard planetarium objects like moon rocks, old, rare telescopes, and a moon landing rover cap. Catch one of their amazing space shows in one of three full-size theaters. The “Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time” shows how galaxies, planets, and stars were formed.
The planetarium’s immersive, hands-on elements make a visit to the Adler especially kid-friendly. The "Planet Explorers” exhibit allows children ages 3 to 8 to take a modern-day space exploration mission where they can climb, crawl, and play.
As a side note, the Shedd holds house parties for adults 21+ with drinks and a DJ. This is a pretty cool thing for adults to do in Chicago!
20. Museum of Ice Cream
Perhaps the most immersive museum in Chicago, the Museum of Ice Cream will delight any family member with a sweet tooth! You’ll tour 14 educational, dessert-inspired exhibits while indulging in unlimited ice cream along the way. Have that camera ready for an Instagrammable moment -- a romp in the sprinkle pool! For moms whose Girls' Day Out includes the kiddies, this museum is fun for grown-ups too!
21. Street Art Tour
Instead of heading indoors to a museum, see captivating large-scale art on Chicago’s city streets! The easiest way to do this is to do the free Loop Mural Walk located in Chicago’s downtown, you can use this free, self-guided mural walk on your smartphone. Another option is to take a street art tour, one of the best things to do in Chicago with teenagers who will love this unconventional art form.
Museums for Young Children and Toddlers
21. Chicago Children's Museum
For children under the age of 10, a visit to the Chicago Children's Museum is a fantastic experience. In the Tinkering Lab, your kids can express their creativity with a range of age-appropriate tools and materials. At the Dinosaur Expedition, kids can explore a real fossil pit. There are also exhibits for toddlers and even an infant crawler play area!
22. LEGOLAND® Discovery Center
If you have a Lego-loving family, they’ll love the two-story immersive LEGOLAND Discovery Center! Exhibits are entirely interactive and will keep your little ones interested and engaged. They can explore Miniland, a LEGO replica of Chicago, and make and race their own LEGO car on a huge speed ramp.
The 4-D Cinema brings the movie experience to life with wind, rain, and snow effects. While LEGOLAND is geared toward younger kids and toddlers, the whole family can delight in playing with this world-favorite toy.
23. Sloomoo Institute
At the Sloomoo Institute, the name of the game is slime. Anyone who loves the stuff can experiment with dozens of different slimes. Dig your hands into slimes of many textures, colors, and scents! Play with clear slime speckled with glitter or fluffy slime. Jiggle slime that smells like cotton candy, birthday cake, or berries. At the DIY slime bar, kids can make their own slime. Parents will appreciate not having to clean up the mess afterward.
Family-Friendly Chicago Tours
24. Chicago River Kayak Tours
For families with older children, teens, and tweens, a fun thing to do in the warmer months is to kayak on the Chicago River. Though you can rent kayaks and go it alone, you might want to take a guided tour instead. Most companies give history and architecture kayak tours, and sunset paddles. Look into Wateriders, Kayak Chicago, and Urban Kayaks.
25. Chicago Bus Tours
When the kids have had enough of walking, take a relaxing bus tour to see more of Chicago. Hop-on-hop-off bus tours are a good choice because it offers your family a comfortable ride between landmarks and sights you want to see. If you want a short overview, take a sightseeing bus tour with no stops.
For a fun thing to do at night in Chicago, take the family on a bus tour and see the city when it sparkles. The top companies are Big Bus Tours, Grayline, and CitySightseeing.
26. Chicago Food Tours
A great way to get to know Chicago (while staving off any hunger pangs!) is by experiencing its food. Most food tours are family-friendly, especially those that include iconic Chicago foods, like deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, Italian beef, and more. Some highly rated companies are Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago, Secret Food Tours, and Chicago Food Planet.
Find out about more things to do in Chicago here.
For suggestions on how to plan your time, check out our 2 day Chicago itinerary!