This post contains details about the most popular things to do with your family in Chicago, including free things to do, nighttime activities and popular attractions.
- Top 10 Things to Do
- Free Things to Do
- Things to Do at Night
- Museums and Attractions
- Restaurants and Food
- By Month
TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
The following section will cover the best ideas for things to do with your kids in the Windy City, covering whether an activity is free or available at night.
For more ideas on top popular attractions, check out our comparison post on tourist discount passes, which could help you save money on admission and also offer family-friendly itineraries.
1. Sightseeing Tours
All of our pay-what-you-wish walking tours are designed with families in mind and thus welcome kids of all ages.
Bike Tours are also a popular family option as a way to visit the many parks and riverfront trails.
There are a number of bike paths and lanes in the city which makes getting around on 2 wheels, even with younger guests a great option.
A great bike tour for kids is the Tike Hike, a 2.5-hour highlight tour meant for kids!
You may also want to check out the hop-on-hop-off bus options in Chicago.
The hop-on hop-off bus tours are probably the most suited to families, but there do offer nonstop options, and even gangster tours if you're trying to keep a teen interested!
2. Visit a Museum
For each extra person, you can pay $5.
If Thursdays don't fit your schedule, you can get free admission with a Chicago Discount Tourist Pass.
This event is every Thursday but on the first Thursday of the month, kids take center stage with programs including:
- Open mic nights with guest MCs to run the show
- Themed dance parties for the whole family
- Kid-friendly and kid-starring performances
There are many other great family-friendly museums in Chicago, check them out in our museum section below.
3. Cheer on a Sports Team!
Kids of all ages can enjoy cheering on the local professional teams, from baseball to football.
Here are a few of the more popular teams in this city:
- Baseball | White Sox or Cubs (April - October)
- Basketball | Bulls (October - April)
- Hockey | Blackhawks (October - June) or the minor league team, Wolves
- Football | Bears (September - December)
- Soccer | Fire (March - October)
4. Consider a Tourist Pass
Each Chicago Tourist Discount Pass includes a variety of fun family-friendly activities and attractions.
Here are just a few examples of locations you can visit either for free or at a discount with one of these tourist passes.
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- The Field Museum
- Museum of Science and Industry
- 360 Chicago Observation Deck
- Adler Planetarium
- Art Institute of Chicago
Even better, admission to these attractions with a tourist pass may include Fast Track / Skip the Line entry which is a great option when traveling with families so you don't spend time waiting in line just to get into an attraction.
5. Explore the Neighborhoods like a Local
It's always fun to see what life in a new city is like, especially if you aren't from a big city.
One of the unique experiences of city living is taking public transportation.
Ride the "L" to get between sites or use a city bus.
Children under the age of 7 ride free with a ticket holding adult and strollers are allowed.
You'll see a lot of information on Chicago talk about "The Loop" and this is the area within an actual loop created by the elevated tracks of the various train lines.
They come downtown and create a loop before heading out again!
This makes getting around downtown easy but also means you can hop on a train, and circle around to see the city from the elevated tracks above!
Find out more about using public transportation in Chicago on our post.
6. Play outside
After a day at the museums, sometimes you just need to run around.
Millennium Park is one of the highlights of a visit to the Loop.
Completed in 2004, this park was a gift to the city from Mayor Daley and has quickly become one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.
Constructed within the borders of Grant Park, this park provides a diverse event calendar with free entertainment year round.
We explore the park on our Millennium Park Tour!
There are a lot more free things to do in Chicago with Kids, read more below.
7. Family-Friendly Improv Comedy
Chicago is a popular destination for comedy lovers, and it is double the fun when the comedy is made up on the spot!
One of Chicago’s top improv comedy options is ComedySportz, in which two comedy teams “compete” for laughs, encouraging the audience’s participation and suggestions.
The comedy is safe for the whole family; in fact, the comedy teams are penalized in their competition if they accidentally say anything naughty!
Shows are at 8 pm Thursdays and Fridays, and 6 pm and 10 pm Saturdays.
Check out this review on Trip Advisor: “We took a 4, 7, and 9-year-old to the show and they all loved it!
The 7-year-old loved it the best because he got to participate on stage. We all laughed a lot and will remember this night!”
929 W. Belmont Ave
Closest L stop: Belmont Red/Brown line
All Ages Welcome
Tip: the comedians will ask for suggestions from the audience before most skits; be ready to shout out something that will make their next skit crazy!
8. Go to Navy Pier!
Chicago’s number one tourist destination is Navy Pier! It is a great place to bring the whole family. There are rides, games, food, and shopping!
The Ferris wheel on Navy Pier is an iconic Chicago attraction, offering stunning views of the city's skyline and Lake Michigan.
It is also the home of the Chicago Children’s Museum which has loads of interactive exhibits.
There is an IMAX movie theatre, often live music, and fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summertime.
9. Learn about Chicago's Architecture
Chicago is often associated with architecture and younger visitors don't need to miss out on the wonderful of how these tall buildings were made, but a lecture about it might not be of interest.
Luckily our Chicago Architecture Tour is great fun for all ages.
And the Chicago Architecture Center has a number of family programs, including hands-on Lego build!
10. Enjoy a Concert
There are a lot of great venues in Chicago that host concerts throughout the year.
You never know which musical artists will show up in this city, but chances are that at least a few of them will be kid-friendly.
Check out our things to do by month posts for concerts taking place when you are here.
In addition to some great live music, you could also take your children to a musical or a theatrical performance.
Alternatively, you may also want to consider going to a family-friendly magic show.
The Chicago Magic Lounge has a Family Show, a 45-minute magic and illusion show meant for ages 5 and up every Sunday.
Play the Escape Game
Escape rooms are one of the most popular forms of family entertainment because it requires that you work together to find clues and solve puzzles in a set amount of time.
The Escape Game rooms are open as early as 8 am and as late as 11:55 pm so you have lots of choices.
Better still, The Escape Game experience is included in some discount tourist passes like the Chicago GoCity Card.
FREE THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS
In this section, we will provide several different ideas for free things to do in Chicago. These are in addition to the several items listed above that cost nothing.
Of course, one of the best ways to save money in Chicago is to get a discount pass.
If you want to learn more about everything included with these services, make sure to check our section covering family-friendly things you can do with a tourist pass.
For more attractions and locations that are completely free, read our post about free things to do in Chicago.
Go to the Park!
Chicago has many public parks throughout the entire city that range in size and activities!
Grant Park is a great place to discover art, the Buckingham Fountain, and a fantastic skate park.
Maggie Daley Park has a carnival-like theme with huge play structures and a playful maze-like garden.
Lincoln Park boasts many historic statues and has plaques that will lead you through the park, as well as the zoo nearby.
We visit the park on our Lincoln Park Blues and Gangster tour.
Families can explore Millennium Park with this self-guided tour.
Go to the Zoo!
Chicago's downtown Lincoln Park Zoo is free and easily accessible by car, bus, or even bike!
You can explore the nearby marsh to discover the local wildlife with the kiddos and possibly grab a snack at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings during the summer.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is also near a bustling area of neat shops, local ice cream, and hot dog joints.
We also have the Brookfield Zoo which is definitely worth the commute!
Visit a Free Museum
A lot of the biggest museums in Chicago have admission costs, but there are some free museums that kids love.
230 S LaSalle St
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
This small museum is located in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
This bank is part of a network of 12 that make up the central bank for the United States.
Look for the “visitors center” sign to find the museum. There are 45-minute guided tours every day at 1:00 PM.
Learn about the history of money, pick out the counterfeit bills, and see the glassed-in display of one million 1 dollar bills.
Step into the picture kiosk to get your face placed on a bill!
One of our favorite free Museums in Chicago is the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Located in Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community, you will find the National Museum of Mexican Art.
This museum presents more than 3,000 years of Mexican culture through events and art exhibits.
As one of the United States’ largest Mexican art collections, this museum strives to present the beauty of Mexican culture, north, and south of the border, and use this to build a positive community.
1852 W. 19th St.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Read more about all the museums we recommend for kids, regardless of cost, in the museum section below.
Tips for Traveling to Chicago with Children
How many days do you need to visit Chicago with kids?
A trip of 3-4 days is recommended to visit Chicago with kids.
This allows time to explore popular Chicago landmarks and attractions like the Cloud Gate (Bean), Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry, while also providing some flexibility for family-friendly activities and relaxation.
Is it safe to walk around downtown Chicago with kids?
Yes, in general, it is safe to walk around downtown Chicago with kids.
Like any major city, Chicago has areas that are more prone to crime, but the downtown area is generally considered safe, especially during the day and in well-populated areas.
It's always a good idea to exercise caution, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid poorly-lit or deserted areas, especially at night.
What is the safest way to get around Chicago with kids?
The safest way to get around Chicago with kids is to use public transportation, particularly the city's well-developed and reliable bus and train system known as the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
The "L" train system and buses cover most areas of the city, making it convenient and efficient for families to travel.
Are there any areas I should avoid in Chicago when traveling with children?
Yes, there are some areas to avoid in Chicago when traveling with children.
Neighborhoods like Englewood, West Garfield Park, South Shore, and parts of Austin have had higher crime rates historically.
It's advisable to stay away from these areas and instead opt for well-populated, tourist-friendly neighborhoods.
THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT
In this section, we will provide several different ideas for things to do at night with kids in Chicago.
If you're not tuckered out by night, there are lots of ways to still explore the city after sunset.
Many of the free events listed above are great fun for kids.
For a comprehensive list of things to do at night, visit our main post.
Go to a show!
There are many touring shows in and out of Chicago through Broadway in Chicago.
Here are some tips to find discount tickets.
There are a few fantastic local shows that are consistently here in Chicago. Comedy Sportz is known for its hilarious short-form improv shows.
They aren’t allowed to swear or use adult content at all! (In fact, they are penalized in competition if they do!)
Barrel of Monkeys performs a family-friendly show called “That’s Weird Grandma” every Monday night that will get everyone to giggle.
Spend the Night at Museum
Many of the museums offer special events where the kids can spend the night amongst the exhibits - whether it is dinosaurs or butterflies depends on the museum.
They offer kid-friendly activities and tours of the museums and an unforgettable way to experience some of the iconic sites of Chicago.
- MSI Science Snoozem's Sleep Overs for Kids
- Field Museum of Natural History Sleep Over
- Doane at Dusk at the Adler
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Bunking with the Butterflies
Go to a Themed Restaurant or Park!
Not too far from the city, there are a few really neat theme parks.
Six Flags Great America is a favorite for older kids since it has amazing roller coasters.
With admission, there is an attached water park called Hurricane Harbor.
Key Lime Cove is an indoor water park nearby if you are looking for fun in the winter.
There is also a Medieval Times nearby if you want to enjoy a meal while watching knights joust.
BEST MUSEUMS & ATTRACTIONS FOR KIDS IN CHICAGO
Most of Chicago's biggest museums and attractions are geared towards families so it won't be hard to find a number of things to do with kids.
Many of the sections above cover some of our favorite museums for kids.
Click on the link to be directed to more information about each museum.
- The Smart Museum
- Chicago Architecture Foundation
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- Harold Washington Library
- Money Museum
- Children's Museum
- Chicago Botanical Gardens
- Art Institute of Chicago
- 360 Observatory
- National Museum of Mexican Art
FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS IN CHICAGO
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to taste test your way.
If you're still in the mood for sightseeing, why not take a dinner cruise?
You'll get a guided tour of the riverfront and a meal to boot. Look into the different dinner cruise options on our post here.
Food tours are another way to experience Chicago in a different way.
You can savor Chicago's specialties like Deep Dish Pizza, Lake Michigan Perch, Chicago-Style Hot Dog and much more.
We have a whole post about the best Chicago Food tours, including a number of our self-guided food tours.
This section will provide information about the different types of sightseeing tours you can take with your family in Chicago.
While some of these services are free, you can usually get tickets either for free or at a discount with Chicago tourist passes.
We offer several different pay-what-you-like walking tours in Chicago which are family-friendly.
These outings are perfect for visitors both young and old. We offer dozens of tours, but here are some kid-friendly ones.
- North Loop and Millennium Park Tour
- Chicago Riverwalk and Chicago History Tour
- The Magnificent Mile Tour
Bus tours are great when traveling with kids because the little ones will have a chance to rest up a bit during a day of sightseeing.
Since hop-on-hop-off bus tours usually stop at the most popular attractions, you can use the bus to get from one attraction to the next with some entertainment in between.
Our post The Best Hop-On-Hop-Off Chicago Bus Tours can help you decide which is best for you and your child.
If you are traveling with kids, boat tours can be a great option.
Even if they get bored with the commentary, the boat itself offers plenty of distractions.
Apart from the thrill and adventure of the boat ride, it also offers extensive view of Chicago's skyline.
If you were planning on getting tourist passes for the family, many of the discount passes include a Potomac River cruise.
To find out about additional family-friendly options, see our post Which Chicago Boat Tour or Cruise is Best?.
THINGS TO DO WITH TEENAGERS IN CHICAGO
Most of the options we detail on this page are geared toward older kids, but teens can be hard to please.
We work with a lot of school groups in Chicago and have narrowed down a list of what always ends up as a favorite activity.
- Walking Tours - any of our walking tours would be a great option and since we work with school groups often we know how to keep it fun! If you don't mind your teen hearing stories of true crime, our tours are open to all ages, and our Chicago Ghost tour and Lincoln Park Gangster tours might be of interest.
- Sporting Event - taking in one of the professional sports teams (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB are all represented in Chicago) will be fun for a fan of any age.
- Best Museums of Teens - Any of the museums listed in the section above would be good options -
- Eat your way through
There is something to do in Chicago for every interest and with the wide variety of museums and exhibits you'll find something that will suit your interest or be relevant to a topic being studied in school.
Each of our detailed monthly top things to do posts have a whole section on the best thing to do with kids at that time of year. Click on a month below.