11 Fun Ideas for Chicago Family Vacations

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The “Windy City” is always a favorite travel destination for foodies and festival-goers, but it’s also a wonderful place to take your family on a trip. This massive metropolis is home to so many excellent museums and cultural attractions, family-friendly hotels and there are some fun ways to get outside with the kids too when the weather is nice. Here are the best Chicago family vacation ideas to help you plan your next getaway.

Millennium Park
The famous "bean" at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago

Millennium Park

Located in the heart of downtown, Millennium Park is a lovely budget-friendly place in Chicago to spend time with your family. Check out the iconic “bean” sculpture, the fountain with interactive art installations, the Lurie Garden, and the many events that take place here throughout the year. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion has seats and lawn seating for local concerts that are often free. Theater and dance groups often perform between July and October. Concessions are available at the Park Grill and Park Café.

Shedd Aquarium
Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is a family-friendly aquatic destination that kids love. Here you and your little ones can see lots of different marine animals and learn about how they live. This is a very popular attraction, which means the lines can be quite long to get in. Over two million people visit this aquarium each year. Some of the many animals you can see here are beluga whales, penguins, alligators, turtles, and bluegills.

Chicago Children’s Museum
Sign at the Chicago Children's Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum

The Chicago’s Children’s Museum is a Navy Pier attraction and great for young children. This is a museum that encourages children to be creative, experience, and always keep learning. There are specific exhibits for babies and toddlers, kids ages four to eight, and kids ages nine and up. Come check out the Dinosaur Expedition, Kovler Family Climbing Schooner, Treehouse Trails, and other exhibits.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Female lion rests in lawn at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

Zoo admission fees are often a bit pricey for families, but not the Lincoln Park Zoo. This top-attraction in Chicago is totally free to visit and gives kids an up-close look at so many different species of animals. The zoo features mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. Start your exploration at the visitor’s center to learn about daily activities happening. The zoo is also a place for fun seasonal events, such as Family Nature Days, Spooky Zoo for Halloween, and breakfast with Santa.

River or Lake Boat Ride

River or Lake Boat Ride

It’s also fun to take your family out for a boat ride to see Chicago from the water. Wendella Boat Tours, for example, is a local tour operator that offers architectural tours on the river, sunset cruises, and fireworks cruises. Other top companies are Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and Shoreline Sightseeing. These are great ways to see the sights of the city and give your tired feet a break.

Adler Planetarium
Outside Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium

Another Chicago family vacation idea is to visit the Adler Planetarium to learn about stars, planets, and galaxies. Some exhibits are Our Solar System and Mission Moon, while events include Adler After Dark and yoga classes.

Navy Pier
Navy Pier, Chicago, Illinois

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is an essential stop on every family’s travel bucket list in Chicago. Here you can ride the Ferris wheel, watch live performances, shop, take boat rides, eat delicious foods, and be entertained for a whole day. Navy Pier is open year-round and is home to lots of fun events and rides. There is no cost to enter Navy Pier but certain activities have their own admission prices.

Exercise on the Lakefront Trail
Chicago Lakefront trail on a cloudy day

Exercise on the Lakefront Trail

To get your whole family outside and active on your visit to Chicago, plan to get some exercise on the beautiful Lakefront Trail that extends along Lake Michigan. You can go for a walk, run, or rollerblade here, and it’s also fun to rent bikes to pedal along the pathway. The path extends about 18 miles and goes along the city’s popular beaches, which are fun to lounge on and people-watch on a warm day.

Field Museum

Field Museum

The Field Museum is another popular spot among families and part of the Chicago Museum Campus. Your kids can learn about so many different things here, including dinosaurs, gemstones, DNA, and much more. This natural history museum gets busy so it’s recommended to visit early to beat the crowds.

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, Chicago

Wrigley Field

If your kids enjoy playing baseball or watching it on TV, then plan to take them to a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field if you’re visiting during baseball season. This is a historic and iconic baseball stadium that dates back to 1914. Check the team’s website to learn about upcoming games and to buy tickets. Whether it’s in-season or off-season, you can also take a 90-minute Wrigley Field tour to learn about the stadium.

Museum of Science and Industry
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry

Families also enjoy the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago because of all the hands-on exhibits and activities. This museum is in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. At this museum, families can learn about natural storms, transportation, submarines, robots, and much more.

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