The Windy City, as it is affectionately known, has enough to keep visitors entertained for weeks if not months, from its world class museums, to its magnificent skyscrapers, to its diverse food scene. But travelling with children in tow often presents a challenge, particularly if your kids have conflicting tastes and interests. And then there’s money to bear in mind, with some family attractions costing a small fortune.
If you’re travelling to Chicago with little ones and are keen to find things to see and do that will keep all the family happy, but without breaking the bank in the process, we’ve picked out some of the best free or affordable attractions the city has to offer. We hope you find our selection useful.
Join a magical street festival
Taking place during the first weekend of June, this vibrant, family-friendly street festival sees local vendors and restaurants line Chicago’s Division Street. Visitors can look forward to a stellar line-up of live musical acts (including several local bands) playing across two stages, lashings of mouth-watering street food and cold beer, and eye-catching designer runway shows. For kids and families can enjoy a dedicated area complete with arts & crafts, and their own dedicated stage featuring a lineup of family-friendly musical acts. A number of West Town’s boutiques, bakeries, coffee shops and cafes also open their doors for the magical occasion.
LOCATION Division Street between Damen & Leavitt DATES May 31 – June 2, 2019
Learn some valuable techie skills
Coding and engineering are among the professions that are expected to outlive the AI revolution, so what better way to prepare your kid for the future than to sign them up for a class at Digital Adventures? They’ve cracked the code by creating computer coding and engineering design classes that are geared towards harnessing a deep understanding of the material while having fun so that students can take what they’ve learned and independently build their own amazing inventions & innovations.
LOCATION 701 West Armitage Avenue
Test your problem solving talents
This isn’t the cheapest activity to enjoy in Chicago, but for a truly memorable experience we’re confident you’ll agree The Escape Game is great value. An ideal family activity, it’s a great way of instilling problem solving skills in your kids as well as sparking their imaginations. Rooms are designed to bring epic stories to life, inviting participants to explore new worlds, hidden chambers, and unsolved secrets as you race against the clock to escape the room in under 60 minutes.
LOCATION 54 East Ontario Street HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-9pm Sun 10am-7pm
Take pride in your identity
For one day only the free-to-enter, outdoor Pride Family Fest takes over Chicago’s Andersonville neighbourhood for an action-packed day of fun for LGBTQ families, children and friends. The city’s first and only event of its kind, the day features exciting, kid-centric activities and entertainment including live music, a mini petting zoo, face painting, balloon artistry, arts and crafts, and plenty more. The event fosters a positive, welcoming and celebratory environment for all.
LOCATION 5238 North Clark, Andersonville DATES 29 June 2019
Unleash your kids at a magical museum
Let your kids dig for bones on a dinosaur expedition, mess around with tools in a DIY maker space, or paint and sketch in a dedicated art studio. They’re just some of what your little ones can look forward to at the hugely popular Chicago Children’s Museum spread over three floors at Navy Pier, and one of the most popular family-friendly attractions that Chicago has to offer.
LOCATION 700 East Grand Avenue HOURS 10am-5pm Mon-Weds 19am-8pm Thurs 10am-7pm Fri-Sun
Take the scenic route round
There are plenty of other attractions located at Navy Pier on this list, but few are as popular with kids as the captivating Ferris wheel known as the Centennial Wheel. At 200 feet high, the imposing structure offers stunning 360-degree views from its enclosed pods, enrapturing all who ride on it and giving them memories guaranteed to last a lifetime.
LOCATION 600 East Grand Avenue HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-8pm Fri-Sat 10am-10pm Sun 10am-7pm
Get your rib on
What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to get elbow deep in mouth-watering ribs? That’s the option available to anyone lucky enough to be in Chicago this June when the 21st annual Ribfest Chicago comes to town. Taking place in the city’s North Center neighbourhood, the family-friendly event features world-class ribs from almost 30 vendors, plus People’s Choice contests to award prizes for the best ribs. But the entertainment extends far beyond the food – there’s also a superb line-up of live music, dancing, games, and arts & crafts. There are also VIP packages including fast-track queuing, a charging station and a private air-conditioned restroom trailer.
LOCATION Lincoln at Irving Park and Damen DATES 14-16 June
Get up close and personal with wildlife
There’s unlikely to be a kid in the world who doesn’t love a day out at the zoo, and the 216-acre Brookfield Zoo nature park is a guaranteed winner with little ones who have a penchant for fascinating creatures. The zoo is home to a wide array of animals, plants, and even an animal-themed carousel. For a truly memorable experience, you can also book to become a zoo keeper for the day.
LOCATION 8400 West 31st Street HOURS Mon-Fri 10am-5pm Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Delve into outer space
Provide a catalyst for your kids’ interest and fascination with the wonders of outer space at the top quality, immersive Adler Planetarium. Young visitors can take part in a hands-on exhibition called Planet Explorers, or catch a space show in one of the venue’s three theatres. There are also terraces offering stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
LOCATION 1300 South Lake Shore Drive HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-4pm
Get on your bike
Cheap and healthy – what’s not to like about cycling around a city? Bike and Roll is a local company that offers bike and Segway rentals in Chicago, one of America’s most bike-friendly cities thanks to its 26 miles of easy, lakefront trails. You can choose from a huge selection of all-new Trek bikes, including beach cruisers, mountain bikes, road bikes, tandems, kids’ bikes, skates, and more.
Sail the seas on a traditional schooner
For a sailing adventure to remember, a trip on the148-foot, four-masted schooner named Tall Ship Windy offers a unique way to see Chicago for all the family. During the journey you’ll be regaled with fascinating facts about the history of sailing by the vessel’s experienced and knowledgeable crew. You’ll also get the chance to practice hoisting the boat’s sails yourself.
Soak up the views from above
There’s nothing quite like seeing a child’s eyes light up as they are treated to a dramatic bird’s-eye view of a city. Situated on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Tower, the 360 CHICAGO observation deck offers jaw-dropping vistas of the city and wider region. More adventurous visitors may also want to get a ticket for Tilt!, an experience which sees the floor, wall, and ceiling move downwards to a 30-degree angle as you take in the views below.
LOCATION 875 North Michigan Avenue, 94th Floor HOURS Sun-Thurs 9am-11pm Fri-Sat 9am-12am
Hit the park
Free to enter, the beautiful green expanse of Chicago’s Millenium Park is a hive of activity at all times of year. Visitors can be as active or sedate as they wish, whether it’s taking a stroll around the impeccably landscaped park, splashing around in the Crown Fountain come summer time, or catching a concert at The Pritzker Pavilion. A popular attraction with kids is Lurie Garden, which offers the perfect spot for them to explore nature.
LOCATION 201 East Randolph Street HOURS Mon-Sun 6am-11pm
Traverse a linear cycling route
A few years ago planners in Chicago had an exciting idea – to convert an abandoned rail line into a new public park complete with pedestrian and cycling paths. Part of the end result is the 606 Trail, aka The Bloomingdale Trail (named after the elevated railroad that once stood here) which has rapidly become a magnet for cyclists both young and old who love traversing the linear park while enjoying the temporary and permanent art installations that line it.
LOCATION The Bloomingdale Trail HOURS Mon-Sat 6am-11pm Sun 5am-11pm
Take a scenic stroll
For families who enjoy a tranquil stroll, the Chicago Riverwalk offers a one-and-a-half mile of pedestrianised walkway for them to take in the views from the western end of the Loop to Lake Michigan. Along the route you can also stop to enjoy a range of kid-friendly activities including educational programmes and pop-up “PlayCubes”. There are also plenty of food and drink outlets to keep those energy levels up.
LOCATION Chicago Loop
Watch some kid-friendly theatre
The Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theatre company devoted to kids and families, putting on a diverse programme of affordable shows throughout the year, all written and produced by theatre staff. Whether your little ones are fans of life-sized puppets or other classic theatre favourites, you’re certain to find a show to satisfy their tastes.
LOCATION 100 South Racine Avenue HOURS 6am-11pm
Discover what lies beneath
Housed within an impressive Beaux-Arts building situated on the scenic Lake Michigan, Shedd Aquarium gives young kids the chance to explore a rich variety of marine life through floor-to-ceiling exhibit windows and a range of fun-packed aquatic-themed activities. Highlights include Amazon river tanks, colourful coral and fish, swimming beluga whales and playful sea otters.
LOCATION 1200 South Lake Shore Drive HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 9am-1pm Sun 9am-6pm
Marvel at authentic African theatre
Muntu Dance Theater is an acclaimed dance company that specialises in contemporary and traditional African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. A great way to introduce your kids to theatre, the authentic and progressive productions are centred around physical theatre, ensuring younger kids won’t get lost by heavy dialogue. There are regular shows on, so check the calendar for your days of travel.
Run riot at a fun-packed park
Situated in Chicago’s Loop district, the newly renovated Maggie Daley Park will keep your kids entertained for hours– without you having to spend a dime. The park features a hugely impressive choice of amenities and equipment, including the city’s only outdoor climbing park, a path-like “skating ribbon” in the winter, tennis courts, picnic spots, an enchanted forest, a wave lawn and a 3-acre play garden.
LOCATION 337 East Randolph Street HOURS 6am-11pm
Foster a scientific spirit
If you’re keen to develop your child’s creativity and critical thinking, then how about signing them up for a Kids Science Labs class? Based in several venues across the city, there are engaging 75-minute classes and camps throughout the year, all geared towards increasing childrens’ knowledge and enthusiasm for all things science through hands-on activities that emphasise the fun in learning.
LOCATION Venues across Chicago