If you’re bringing your kids to Chicago, then you’ll be happy to know that there are some truly amazing things to do in Chicago with kids – and many of them are free. For example, you can visit the sprawling themed play structures in Maggie Daley Park, or explore the Lincoln Park Zoo, or even enjoy the sand and sun on North Avenue beach – All for free. There are destinations that cost money too, but are well worth it if you have kids, like the Shedd Aquarium, or rides and attractions on the Navy Pier. With so many great kid-friendly destinations, we know that your trip to Chicago can be a memorable one for the whole family. Use our guide to start planning out your next trip.
If you are visiting Chicago on a budget, then check out our guide to the top 27 Free Things to Do in Chicago. Or, if you are looking for a more exhaustive list of the absolute best things to do, then browse our complete guide to the 52 Best Things To do in Chicago.
1. Maggie Daley Park
If you are looking for a park that has it all, you might want to visit the extraordinary Maggie Daley Park. This 20-acre park in Chicago’s greater Grant Park is fun for the whole family and a great thing to do in Chicago with kids. Maggie Daley Park was first opened in 2014 and has tennis courts, picnic lawns, themed gardens, huge play areas for kids, Ice skating rink, and rock climbing walls, and so much more. If you are looking for a park that can keep your kids busy all, day, we think Maggie Daley Park is your best option.
2. Lincoln Park Zoo
Another fantastic thing to do in Chicago with kids, the Lincoln Park Zoo offers an amazing zoo experience that you and your kids will absolutely love. Being one of the oldest zoos in America, it is also free to visit, making it one of the few major zoos in the United States that doesn’t charge an admission fee. The Zoo houses over 1,100 different animals including zoo favorites like penguins, gorillas, monkeys, lions, and polar bears. The zoo also has some rare animals, like the endangered pygmy hippopotamus, and the West African Dwarf Crocodile. We think you’ll agree that the Lincoln Park Zoo as one of the absolute best free things to do in Chicago.
3. Chicago Bean (Cloud Gate)
The Chicago Bean is a nickname given to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture that can be seen in Millennium Park. It’s actually one of the most photographed pieces of public art in the world and you too can snap a selfie in front of this mesmerizing sculpture. Designed by Chicago artist, Sir Anish Kapoor, this sculpture was designed to resemble liquid mercury and from a distance, it does indeed look like molten metal.
It’s fun to walk around the Chicago Bean to see your reflection change and warp depending on what side of the sculpture you’re standing on. It’s truly an amazing and unique piece of art and well worth a visit, especially if you’re already exploring Millennium Park.
4. Navy Pier
If you want to experience Chicago’s most visited destination, then you’ll want to make your way down to the Navy Pier. This huge pier is bustling with activity and covers over 50 acres of space out over Lake Michigan. The Navy Pier is packed with fun for the whole family with amusement rides, gardens, parks, restaurants, shops, event spaces and so much more.
Originally built in 1916, the Navy Pier was originally called the Municipal Pier and used as a traditional loading spot that managed freight and passenger boat traffic, and through the years it has developed into more of a multi-dimensional entertainment and cultural center of Chicago. We think this is one of the top things to do in Chicago with kids and offers something for the whole family!
5. Skydeck Chicago
Ready to test your fear of heights? The Chicago Skydeck offers a thrilling way to test your tolerance for high places with a glass floor balcony that juts out from the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago. The Skydeck was originally opened in 1974 and gives visitors incredible views of the city and on clear days you can even see locations far away in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Another factor that can make the Skydeck an unforgettable experience is that you can feel the entire Willis Tower swaying on windy days, and giving a new dimension to the whole experience. We think Skydeck is a must-see destination and one of our favorite things to do in Chicago.
6. Shedd Aquarium
For an incredible thing to do in Chicago with kids, you can explore the sprawling Shedd Aquarium. This massive facility features over 32,000 animals in tanks holding over 5,000,000 gallons of water. When it first opened in 1930, the Shedd Aquarium was the largest indoor aquarium in the whole world and is impressively large. The aquarium is a favorite spot for locals as well as tourists, and sees over 2 million visitors per year.
Of the permanent exhibits, some of the most popular permanent exhibits are the Wild Reef exhibit which features a 400,000-gallon tank holding many species of sharks and rays, and the Oceanarium – a 2,000,000 gallon tank that features beluga whales, dolphins, otters, and penguins. There are many more permanent and rotating exhibits throughout the aquarium and we think you’ll have a great time exploring this beloved Chicago aquarium.
7. Lake Michigan Cruise
For a unique experience in Chicago, we’d recommend that you look into a Lake Michigan cruise during your visit. There are many different types of cruises you can book, like a short day cruise that gives you awesome views of the Chicago harbor and skyline, or for a romantic thing to do in Chicago, you can check out a Lake Michigan dinner cruise where you can see the Sunset over the city from the water. No matter what type of cruise you do, they all offer a relaxing way to experience Chicago and Lake Michigan, and we’d highly recommend booking some sort of cruise during your visit. It’s just such a great way to see Chicago from a unique perspective.
8. Adler Planetarium
For another fun thing to do in Chicago with kids, you can visit the Adler Planetarium. This unique facility opened to the public in 1930 and features many different themed areas, such as the Space Visualization Laboratory that showcases many interactive astronomy exhibits. Another area is the Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy, which features a massive collection of science-related artifacts, instruments, artwork, and more to promote the preservation of the science of Astronomy and is one of the largest astronomy artifact collections in the world. For a fun thing to do in Chicago at Night, you can check out “Adler After Dark” – a 21+ event that happens throughout the month, where you can have a more “adult” experience of the planetarium with drinks and food and nighttime exhibits and entertainment.
9. Buckingham Fountain
Located in the very heart of Grant Park, the Buckingham Fountain is one of the main attractions in the park and mesmerizing to watch. With the fountain water show starting every 20 minutes, you can see the fountain in action – with a timed water show that’s a truly relaxing experience. This huge fountain was dedicated way back in 1927 and holds a staggering 1,500,000 gallons of water. Since the park is open all day and into the night, you can see the fountain water show from April to October, and the fountain can be experienced from 8 am to 11 pm at night. If you watch the show at night, the water is lit up with colored lights to go along with the water display, and we think that watching the show at night is the best way to experience of Buckingham Fountain.
10. Field Museum
If you want to visit one of the premier natural history museums in North America, you can visit Chicago’s Field Museum. This massive museum is home to one of the most wide-ranging collections of complete dinosaur specimens, including the world’s largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton affectionately named “Sue”. With many great permanent exhibits, such as “Evolving Planet”, “Inside Ancient Egypt”, and “The Ancient Americas”, The Field museum offers an entertaining and educational experience that’s unmatched and that’s why the Field Museum sees over 2 million visitors each year. Learn more about the exhibits and schedule at the Field Museum website.
11. Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
No visit to Chicago would be complete without indulging in one of this great city’s best inventions – Deep Dish Pizza. The pizza that you can find here in Chicago is unlike any other pizza you’ve tried with layer upon layer of cheese, sauce and other toppings, this legendary style of pizza is a decadent and distant cousin from what you normally think of when you order Pizza. These pizza slices are so thick that you typically don’t need much more than a single slice to be completely full. With multiple Chicago deep dish pizza shops vying for the top spot on the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza hierarchy, we’ll try to give a solid list of places to visit during your stay. One of the most classic deep dish spots is Giordanos – well known for their incredibly deep pizza pies. Other popular spots include The Art of Pizza, and Nancy’s Pizza among many others.
12. Oak Street Beach
Oak Street Beach is considered one of Chicago’s best man-made beaches and is located right on the edge of downtown Chicago. This beach is a great place to relax, and enjoy the water and it can get very crowded on warm summer days. You’ll find people playing volleyball at the official volleyball courts, and you can order some food at the beachside restaurants. For a great thing to do in Chicago in the summer months, we think an afternoon at Oak Street Beach is a great option and should be near the top of your sunny day list.
13. Museum of Science and Industry
For another great thing to do in Chicago with kids, the Museum of Science and Industry is an awesome place to visit any time of the year. This huge facility is located in a historic and beautiful building that originally was home to the “Palace of Fine Arts” and is full of interesting exhibits that kids will love.
The museum features a wide variety of exhibits that will fascinate the imagination, like a full-size German submarine, a massive and detailed model train set that recreates the old city of Chicago, the first diesel-powered stainless steel passenger train, and even a full-scale replica of a coal mine. These are just a few of the fun and educational exhibits found in this incredible museum. Don’t miss the opportunity to take your kids to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry – We know they’ll love it!
14. Wrigley Field
To enjoy one of Chicago’s finest sporting event venues, you need to catch a Chicago Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field. This beloved baseball stadium is located just north of downtown Chicago and can hold a crowd of over 41,000 fans. Wrigley Field is one of the most iconic and well-known baseball stadiums in the United States and has become synonymous with the deep heritage of American Baseball. We think a visit to Chicago is incomplete without trying to see a Cubs game while you’re there.
15. Chicago Riverwalk
A really fun thing to do while you’re in Chicago is exploring the Chicago Riverfront – Also known as Chicago’s “Second Waterfront”. This winding path follows along the downtown portion of the Chicago River and has been built up over time to include shops, boat facilities, gardens, and parks. For a fun and unique way to experience Chicago, walking the Chicago Riverfront is among the top ways to see the city and explore downtown.
16. Crown Fountain
For another unusual thing to do in Chicago – you can visit the famous Crown Fountain. This public art piece is located in Millennium Park and features two 50-foot towers that project digital images onto their sides to create interesting visual expressions. Also, since this is a fountain, it’s a fun place for kids to splash around in the shallow water between the towers. While Chicago seems to be full of public art installations, we have to say that Crown fountain is one of our favorites given its unique and imaginative design. If you’re going to be visiting Millennium Park, don’t miss out on this special fountain.
17. Lakefront Trail
If you are wanting to get out for some exercise, then the Lakefront Trail should be high on your list of destinations. This nearly 20-mile-long pathway snakes along the western Lake Michigan shore, connecting many of the lakefront parks, beaches, and waterfront recreation areas. It’s a popular spot for bicycling, running, skateboarding, and walking, and it can get crowded on warm summer days. On some extra busy days, this trail is known to see over 70,000 visitors. For a great way to see the city and to get some exercise, we’d highly recommend you enjoy the scenery from the popular Lakefront Trail.
18. North Avenue Beach
For another popular beach destination in Chicago, you can enjoy the sun, sand and water from the North Avenue Beach. This broad beach is located right next to downtown and also right next door from Oak Street Beach. Many consider this the top beach in Chicago due to its abundance of sand and also because it has the largest lifeguard staff. North Avenue Beach hosts a large international volleyball tournaments each year and you will often find serious volleyball matches in progress on most sunny afternoons. This beach can also get quite crowded on warm summer days, so be prepared to get there early to lock in your spot on the sand.
19. Chicago River Tour
One great way to experience downtown Chicago is to enjoy a fun Chicago River cruise. Since the Chicago river runs through the heart of Downtown, experience the city by boat is actually a great way to get to know the city. There are many different themed cruises you can book, like a Chicago River Dinner cruise, a Chicago River Architecture Tour, or even a speedboat tour of the Chicago River. We’d recommend looking into some sort of river tour and we think that Wendella offers some of the best Chicago River tours available so check out their website for more details.
20. BP Pedestrian Bridge
The BP Pedestrian Bridge, or BP Bridge for short, is an interesting snakelike curving pedestrian bridge that crosses over Columbus Drive and connects visitors between Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park. The bridge is constructed out of stainless-steel plates for the outside shell, and the walkway itself is made from Brizillion hardwood boards, so its a bridge that feels more like a beach boardwalk. With its unique design, it is truly half public art-piece and part bridge and well worth a visit if you are exploring one of the surrounding parks. We think the BP Pedestrian Bridge is actually one of the highlights of the downtown parks and should definitely be on your Chicago itinerary.
21. Oz Park
OZ Park is a sprawling and fun park in the North Chicago Lincoln Park neighborhood that has many great features for kids. Among the many features, this park is “Wizard of OZ” themed and showcases many statues of characters from the movie, like the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and of course, Dorothy and Toto throughout the park grounds. Oz Park features large play areas for kids, a winding walking path, and athletic courts for basketball, volleyball, and tennis. If you are visiting or staying in or around the Lincoln Park neighborhood and you have kids, then OZ Park is a must-see and another fun thing to do in Chicago with Kids.
22. Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon
For a fantastic outdoor experience in the wintertime, we suggest you visit the Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon in Maggie Daley Park. This outdoor ice path winds through the park and is one quarter-mile long and gives you the impression that you are ice skating on a river. And if you are visiting Chicago in the summer, you can still enjoy this part of the Maggie Daley park as it is converted into a rollerblade and roller-skating path for warmer weather enjoyment. We think the Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon is one of the most unique and fun features of the greater Grant Park area and we think you’ll love it too.
23. Chicago Sports Museum
Even if you aren’t a sports fan, we think that the Chicago Sports Museum is at the top of the list of Chicago’s best museums. This destination is much more than a stuffy museum, it’s an interactive, high-tech experience where you can experience sports and test your skills like never before. You can test your hockey scoring skills alongside Chicago’s great hockey players, or shoot hoops with Chicago Bull’s team members, or even test your racecar-driving skills on the Chicago Speedway! In addition to all the interactive exhibits, there are thousands of artifacts and memorabilia from famous events and players. Don’t miss this special museum during your visit.
24. Humboldt Park
Humboldt Park is an interesting park on Chicago’s west side that is known for its interesting architectural, and natural features. Spread out over nearly 200 acres, Humboldt Park has many interesting and fun areas to explore. There are many great areas of this park, including recreation facilities for various sports, an inland beach at one of the manmade lakes, flower gardens, famous bronze sculptures, and multiple large playground areas for kids throughout the park. Also, there are multiple historic buildings on the property include the famous Boathouse Pavilion and the Humboldt Park Stables to new a couple. We think this is one of the great historic parks of Chicago and it’s a great place to explore during your visit.
25. Centennial Wheel
If you are visiting the Navy Pier in Chicago, then you need to take a ride on the gigantic Centennial Wheel. This massive Ferris wheel features inclosed glass gondolas that allow you to take in amazing views of the Chicago skyline and at the peak, you are sitting 200 feet in the air. We think riding the Centennial Wheel is a great thing to do in Chicago at night to see all the city lights and also one of the more romantic things to do in Chicago. So, if you are visiting the Navy Pier area, head on over to the giant Ferris Wheel to enjoy the views.
26. Brookfield Zoo
For another zoo option in Chicago, you can visit the Brookfield Zoo. This zoo is located to the west of Chicago in the suburbs and covers a massive 216 acres and features over 2,300 animals throughout the thoughtfully designed grounds. Some of the highlights of the Brookfield Zoo are its indoor dolphin show and exhibit and the fantastic indoor rain forest where you feel completely transported to a tropical jungle. With so many animals parklike atmosphere, we know that the Brookfield Zoo is a top thing to do in Chicago with kids. You can learn more about hours and tickets and the Brookfield Zoo website.