Family Travel Survival Guide: Chicago

A family-travel writer based in the Chicago area shares her family fun favorites in the Windy City.
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Chicago is a top family-travel destination
Chicago is a top family-travel destination, especially if you know how to navigate it (Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau)

Rich in history and culture, with a stunning lakefront, several pro sports teams, and even a namesake pizza, there's something for every family visiting Chicago. Best of all, beneath the hustle and bustle of The City That Works is a welcoming Midwestern vibe that will have you singing "Sweet Home Chicago" by the end of your visit. Here's our guide to help you find the best attractions, eats, and places to stay in Chicago.

Getting There and Getting Around
Plan your trip in advance with Explore Chicago, the city's official tourism portal, which is packed with the inside scoop on events, attractions, and transportation options (its maps page has neighborhood, public transportation, bike path, and other handy maps of the city). Bargain hunters can purchase the Chicago City Pass or the Go Chicago! Card to gain access to select popular attractions and tours at a discounted rate. The Chicago Office of Tourism's site, ChicaGO, also has dining, shopping, and other deals. To get around the city conveniently, pre-order public transportation passes for the entire family (1- 3- and 7-day options are available) from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

Two major airports service Chicago: O'Hare International is northwest of the city, and Midway is to the south ( offers information on both). The CTA "L" (short for "elevated") trains run from both airports to Chicago's downtown area (take the Blue Line from O'Hare and the Orange Line from Midway), and most major car-rental agencies are available at both airports. Amtrak trains arrive at Union Station, and Metra commuter rail services the outlying communities of the vast "Chicagoland" area at Union Station, the Ogilvie Transportation Center, and three other stations downtown. Maps, prices, schedules, and information on where to purchase transit cards are available at TransitChicago.

Chicago's streets are conveniently laid out in a grid—making for easy navigation—with numbered streets beginning at State (north-south) and Madison (east-west) streets. Given the ample public transportation options and the high cost of hotel parking—which can range from $30 to $50/night—visitors are best off skipping the car rental. For families that drive to the city or decide on a short-term rental, note that using handheld cell phones and texting while driving are illegal—come with a headset. Millennium Garages, located throughout the city, offers overnight parking for $24. For two-wheel day trips, check out Bike Chicago, a company that provides bike rentals, trailers, helmets, child seats, and tagalong seats at several locations along the lakefront.

Published: 22 Dec 2010 | Last Updated: 3 Jan 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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