Chicago is packed with options for travelers of all ages and interests — and thanks to a mix of outdoor activities and cultural immersions, it’s particularly well suited for children and families. Here, our favorite places to go with kids in the Windy City.
Lincoln Park Zoo
A rare free-to-visit zoo, this one in the Lincoln Park neighborhood is among the country’s largest zoos with 1,200-plus animals from 230 species. Before your trip, check the website for daily activities, which include sing-alongs, cow milkings, and seal feedings. Its expansive public green space is also ripe for an impromptu picnic.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Also in Lincoln Park, this science- and nature-focused museum is one of the city’s most affordable cultural mainstays (tickets are $9 for adults and $6-$7 for kids, depending on age). Exhibits include the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven — home to 1,000 butterflies in a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse — and RiverWorks, where kids can build their own dam and reverse the flow of the river. Live animal feedings, which feature a different animal each day, are held daily at 1 p.m.
This 25-acre park off of Michigan Avenue in the Loop contains lots of little wonders. “The Bean,” affectionately nicknamed for its shape, is the focal point. The famed art installation is actually called “Cloud Gate” and was designed by artist Anish Kapoor; over the years, it’s kept plenty of kids entertained as they make silly faces in the mirrored surface. During the summer months, cool off in Crown Fountain, or stake out a spot at the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion for free concerts and movies.
While locals might scoff at its high level of tourists, kids love Navy Pier. It’s free to hang out at the 3,000-foot-long pier, which celebrates 100 years in 2016. Along the structure are a Ferris wheel (from $12), ice-skating rink ($10-$15), the Chicago Children’s Museum ($14), and several dozen places to grab a bite.
Willis Tower Skydeck
For the daredevil child, this is the place to be. It’s one thing to work up the courage to go to the Skydeck, but the true test of bravery comes when deciding to venture out onto the Ledge. At 1,353 feet high, the glass-enclosed addition juts out 4.3 feet from the building, providing a unique view of the streets below and around. Admission is $22 for those ages twelve and up, and $14 ages three to eleven.
Museum of Science & Industry
Being that nearly all of the exhibits here are interactive, this outpost is a real crowd-pleaser. Children will love its massive model train, the world’s largest pinball machine, and the temporary Brick by Brick exhibit (closing February 12, 2017), which has a 60-foot Golden Gate Bridge Lego structure. Admission fees are $11 for children ages three to eleven, and $18 for adults.