Chicago is a big and diverse, bustling city with so many things to do! From the downtown Chicago attractions to sightseeing in Chicago, there is a lot to do! Because it’s a big city, you may think that it will cost you a lot to visit, but I also found several free things to do in Chicago too! While many of these attractions are fun for anyone, here is a family friendly list of the top things to do in Chicago with kids.
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Enter below to win 2 Chicago CityPass tickets (a value of $428!!)
Recently, our family took a trip to Chicago over Spring Break. While a lot of people head for a tropical destination over spring break, we opted for some fun in the city!
Family Friendly Fun in Chicago
There is so much to do, we definitely could have stayed much longer! But I’m going to hit the highlights of what we did, plus give you a few of my insider tips that we discovered along the way:
Blue Man Group
There are literally no words to describe this show. You will laugh, you will be entertained… and you will have no idea what you just watched! I had never seen the Blue Man Group, but I heard that it was a family-friendly show, so we decided to take the whole family on our trip to Chicago. And I have to say, even my 7-year-old enjoyed it!
I mean, what’s not to love about toilet paper streamers?!
And for even more fun, they sometimes come out into the audience and even have spectators become part of the show! My husband got to be the focal point for one of their paintings. But as with every other aspect of the show, being a “model” for a painting takes on a whole new meaning! As you can see, my husband had to wear a raincoat and pants… so as you can imagine, this painting session got a bit messy!
If you want views of the city from the highest observatory in the Western Hemisphere, then you will definitely want to visit the SkyDeck on the 103rd floor in Willis Tower. And while you are at the SkyDeck, you will definitely want to step out onto the Ledge, and see what it looks like to be 1353 feet up in the air through the glass balcony floor!
If you are brave enough to step out onto the glass-bottomed Ledge, you will get access to the proofs taken while you are there… you will also get a photo pass so you can decide later exactly which photos you want to buy.
You are also welcome to take your own photos on the Ledge too. I’m pretty sure a selfie is standard protocol nowdays… so each of my kids had fun doing that!
Even if you have gone to the SkyDeck, you will still want to experience the 360 degree views of the city from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building at 360 Chicago. The views are different because this observation deck is much closer to the lake and it feels like a different experience. And you will want to experience TILT. Just as the name implies, you will hold on to the handrails as the glass wall literally tilts out over the city at a 45 degree angle.
For one of the best ways to see the city and get a taste of Chicago, I highly recommend a food tour from Food Planet. We took the Best in Chow food tour, and it was awesome! Not only did we get to taste the classic and iconic foods of Chicago, but we learned a lot about the history of the city and a lot of fun facts. Our tour guide, Luke, was really entertaining and made it a fun experience. The tour was about 3 hours and covers about 1.5 miles, and it goes rain or shine!
There are several other tours in the city though, so depending upon which part of the city you want to explore, and what types of foods you want to taste, there is a tour to fit your interests:
- Best in Chow—River North/Streeterville
- Navy Pier Signature Food Tour—Navy Pier
- Gateway to the West Loop—West Loop
- Second City Classic Food—Gold Coast and Old Town
- Chinatown Adventure Food—Chinatown
Related article: Best Places to Eat in Chicago
Free things to do in Chicago
It may be hard to believe, but there are actually free things to do in Chicago! I know when I think of “big city” life, I think of just how expensive everything is. But, there are several ways to entertain yourself and your kids on your next trip to Chicago, and it won’t cost you a dime!
The beautiful blue of Lake Michigan will almost make you think that you are in a tropical location—almost, but not quite. Going to the beach is typically not what you think of regarding an in-land city, such as Chicago, but the beach area all along the east side of the city is beautiful. There’s lots of sandy coast to enjoy on a nice summer day. We were there in March, and while it was pretty and sunny, it was way too cold to go in the water, but my kids were begging to take off their shoes and walk in the sand! I can imagine, this would be a very crowded spot in the summer!
Stroll Along the Navy Pier
You’ve probably heard of the iconic Navy Pier in Chicago. And there’s a lot of fun stuff to do there—lots of shopping, restaurants, an IMAX theater, The Chicago Children’s Museum, Centennial Wheel. Of course, most of these attractions you must pay for, but there are lots of free events and things to do at the Navy Pier as well.
We enjoyed a couple of the free things to do at the Navy Pier—Crystal Gardens and The Loop.
Crystal Gardens is a beautiful indoor botanical garden. This 6-story enclosure had lots of beautiful foliage, trees, and dancing water fountains.
The Loop is an interactive art display. There are several cylindrical hand-pump mechanisms that you can sit inside to manually activate the music, lights, and pictures.
There’s something really serene about the gentle waters of the river cutting through the heart of the hustle and bustle of such a big city. And now, the River Walk allows you walk along 1.25 miles of the Chicago River.
Museums in Chicago
There truly is a rich cultural scene in Chicago. From the music to the theater to museums, there is something for everyone. While there are several museums to choose from, we went to ones that were a part of the City Pass ticket, which I’ll talk about a bit later…
As a mom, I always like to try to add in something educational when we go on vacation. That may sound boring, but I promise you, it’s not! Visiting historical sites, learning about the history of an area, helps to give my kids a background and appreciation for the places we visit. I truly think this is a great way to make learning fun!
Learn about our world, solar system, and beyond at Adler Planetarium! There are interactive exhibits and several movies, which are great for all ages—all included with general admission. My kids love science, so we had a fun time here!
Go back in time at Field Museum! This museum is huge! There is so much to see, you could literally just spend the day here! Some exhibits are not included with general admission though, so you may not be able to see everything you want to, unless you are willing to buy the extra tickets. Each general admission does include the choice of one of the 3D movies.
Explore an underwater world at Shedd Aquarium! Exhibits were broken down my region, so it was kind of neat to know what you would see from different parts of the world. Again a movie is offered as part of admission and so is a dolphin show!
Insider Chicago Travel Tip:
Plan to go to Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium on the same day. They are all within walking distance of each other, so that way you only have to pay parking once, and then you can just walk to each venue. I would also suggest getting there early in the day. Each venue offers shows and mini movies throughout the day, and those fill up early. For instance, the planetarium gives you a wristband and allows you to come and go for the day. So you may want to go there first to get your movie show time tickets (which are included with your pass), then you can even go and visit another museum and come back for your movie times.
The CityPASS program offers tickets to:
- Shedd Aquarium
- SkyDeck Chicago
- Field Museum
- Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Science & Industry OR 360Chicago Observation Deck
The CityPASS is $108 for adults and $89 for kids. While that may sound kind of pricy, when you consider that paying general admission to each of the five venues would cost you $214 per person, it’s a no-brainer to opt for the CityPass because you get a 50 percent savings!!
Chicago CityPASS Giveaway!
Ready for your trip to Chicago?! Enter to win 2 Chicago CityPASS tickets now through 12:00am April 26, 2019! This is a value of $216 for the CityPASS tickets, with a retail value of $428 if attractions were purchased separately!
Disclaimer: Must be 18 years old to enter. CityPASS tickets will be issued as mobile tickets and emailed to the winner directly from CityPASS. Winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter. Odds of winning are dependent upon the total number of entries.