Things to Do in Chicago With Kids

Cupcakes, polar bears and ships—explore kid-friendly attractions in the Windy City.

Apr 17, 2013
  • Things to do in Chicago with Kids: Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois
  • Things to do in Chicago with kids: Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois
  • Things to do in Chicago with kids: Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois
  • Things to do in Chicago with kids: Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
  • Things to do in Chicago with kids: More Cupcakes in Chicago, Illinois
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Kids can get up close and personal with marine life at Shedd Aquarium.
Photography Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez
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For the best views of the city (and four states when the sky is clear), stand on the glass Skydeck of Willis Tower.
Photography Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower
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More than 1,200 animals reside at Lincoln Park Zoo, including polar bears, zebras and this curious group of meerkats.
Photography Lincoln Park Zoo
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You’ll find entertainment in large supply at Navy Pier, which is home to parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, an amusement park and the popular Chicago Children’s Museum.
Photography courtesy Navy Pier
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Described as a “cupcake boutique,” More serves up Chicago’s most unique baked treats, including a variety of kid-approved flavours.
Photography Tim Turner

Parks, culture, history, sports and a culinary scene that runs the gamut from old-fashioned hot dog stands to haute Michelin-starred cuisine—Chicago has no shortage of activities. If you’re looking for the kid-friendly variety, you’ll find your fill at five of our favourite Windy City attractions.

With the fish

Shedd Aquarium, the most highly trafficked aquarium in the U.S., is nothing short of aquatically awesome. At Waters of the World, kids get up close to sea creatures, including the Shedd’s oldest resident, an Australian lungfish that has called the aquarium home since 1933. Not to be missed? The dancing dolphins and belugas at the aquatic show. Round out your visit at the Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising and Polar Play Zone exhibits.

In the sky

Want to feel like you’re on top of the world? Ride the elevator to the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the U.S., Chicago’s Willis Tower. Standing 1,353 feet (412 metres) above the ground on the tower’s glassed-in Skydeck, you’ll take in sweeping views of the city. On a clear day, you can even see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

To the zoo

Big cats, polar bears, zebras, reptiles and a rare baby red kangaroo are just a few of the roughly 1,250 animals you’ll find at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Highlights include the Endangered Species Carousel, a petting zoo and the Regenstein African Journey, an interior exhibit that mirrors the sights and sounds of a safari experience complete with dwarf crocodiles and pygmy hippos. Take a stroll down the Nature Boardwalk, where wooden pathways criss-cross over a pond thriving with turtles, frogs and migratory birds.

On the pier

Navy Pier is the city’s playground, with 50 acres (20 hectares) of indoor and outdoor parks, gardens, shops and restaurants, culminating in an amusement park that projects into Lake Michigan. Stop at Chicago Children’s Museum, where kids are invited to climb on ships, hide in treehouses and create all types of inventions in the state-of-the-art Tinkering Lab. At the dinosaur exhibit, they can tap into their inner archaeologists. In warmer weather, head for the outdoor Ferris wheel, carousel and 18-hole miniature golf course.

At the sweet shops

When it comes time for an afternoon indulgence, skip the candy and head for one of these out-of-the-box sweet shops. Glazed & Infused creates doughnuts in unusual flavours such as maple-bacon, crème brûlée and red velvet. The exotic creations you’ll find at the gourmet cupcake bakery More may sound more like haute cuisine that kid-friendly treats (Parmesan-encrusted lemon-artichoke has been on the menu), but young palates will be won over by flavours like s’more and cookies and cream. Need a chocolate fix? Chicago chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat wows with a salty/sweet spin on truffles and bars.

Travel tip

With so much to see, a guided trolley ride is a smart option. Stopping at 14 of Chicago’s most famous attractions (Millennium Park, the Art Institute, The Field Museum and Navy Pier, to name a few), Chicago’s Hop On Hop Off trolley tours allow you to do just that at any point, and tickets are good for three days.

Discover more family-friendly attractions in Chicago on Have Family Will Travel.


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3 Comments about Things to Do in Chicago With Kids

  1. Randy says:

    Really helpful post and used it on my trip last week. the Lincoln Park zoo was so much fun and FREE! The Shedd aquarium was great as well although my 20-month old toddler didn’t have the attention span to sit thru the aquatic show (a little too educational). Another suggestion for parents with toddlers is the great walking path on the Lake (if the weather is good).

    • Kelly Neubeiser says:

      Hi Randy,

      Thanks so much for your comment and suggestion! We’re so glad these tips were helpful.

      Thanks for reading,
      Kelly

  2. Jenny says:

    What at great article. I love aquariums, they are so peaceful. It goes to show how many things you can do with your kids that they will love. You can probably find similar things in any city.

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