Family Vacations to Chicago, Illinois

Field Museum T-rex Chicago, Illinois
Field Museum T-rex (courtesy, Chicago CTB)

Chicago Family Travel Tips

  • See sharks, whales, dolphins, and sea otters at the John G. Shedd Aquarium and Oceanarium.
  • Discover mummies and learn about the mystery of King Tut at the Field Museum.
  • Walk and bike along the shore of Lake Michigan.
  • Enjoy an outdoor concert and let the kids splash in Crown Fountain at Millennium Park.
  • Take in the Children's Museum, ride the Ferris wheel, watch a Shakespearean play, and promenade at the Navy Pier.

From top to bottom, north to south, Chicago is a perfect family locale: think first-rate museums, a world-famous aquarium, miles of lakefront walkways and bicycle paths, plus great art and architecture. From the observation deck of the 110-story-high Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America, you'll get a thrilling eyeful of Chicago's forest of skyscrapers. And down on the Loop's streets, find sculptures by Picasso, Miro, Chagall, and other masters, as well as cafés serving some of the country's best deep-dish pizza.

Millennium Park, a 24.5-acre urban oasis located on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe streets, features "Cloud Gate," one of the world's largest outdoor sculptures, as well as a music pavilion for summer concerts and the Crown Fountain, where kids (if parents approve) can happily splash.

The John G. Shedd Aquarium and Oceanarium, one of the world's largest indoor aquariums, presents a diversity of underwater habitats and creatures. Wild Reef's floor-to-ceiling windows put you face-to-face with dozens of sharks, and the Amazon River exhibit has piranhas, sloths, and caiman. Beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, and harbor seals star at the Oceanarium.

The Field Museum's hands-on exhibits make learning about natural history fun. At Underground Adventure, kids get a bug's-eye perspective as they travel through an ecosystem of roots and dirt; at Inside Ancient Egypt, learn about tombs and decipher hieroglyphics. More Egyptian treasures are on show at "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," May 26, 2006, through January 1, 2007. See 23 mummies, and walk through a re-created tomb complex and a marketplace with interactive exhibits.

At the Museum of Science and Industry, young children stare in amazement as they witness chicks emerging from their shells at the Baby Chick Hatchery, and get excited as they walk through a 16-foot-tall, beating model of the human heart. Older kids won't want to miss the chance to destroy enemy missile launchers in F-14 Tomcat flight simulators, explore the "History, Culture and Future of Video Games" exhibit, or tour a real U-505 German submarine.

Explore the stars, galaxies, and solar systems at the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum's exhibits and planetarium shows. The museum's Far Out Fridays include fun nighttime telescope viewing of the starry skies and other special programs. At the Chicago Children's Museum, located at the Navy Pier, kids can invent their own flying machine and send it soaring two stories up into a tower, reconstruct parts of a 100-million-year-old dinosaur, and climb a rope ladder from the deck to the crow's nest of a schooner.

Also at the Navy Pier, a former naval facility turned recreational center, you can ride the Ferris wheel for views of Lake Michigan and the city, tackle a funhouse maze, or watch an IMAX movie. Introduce your kids to the Bard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Family Saturdays, when lively thespians perform Short Shakespeare, mini-versions of the plays adapted especially for squirmy youngsters.

Two other Windy City kid-friendly treats: the Brookfield Zoo, including special behind-the-scenes family programs to meet the animals and their handlers, and baseball, a must-experience Chicago summer institution. Root for the Cubs at Wrigley Field, or the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Tip: CityPass (www.citypass.com) offers discounts on admission to five attractions, including the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

Recommended Side Trips: Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, and Dubuque (Iowa)


Away.com's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from Amazon.com.

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Chicago

$555-$715
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#1
The Peninsula Chicago
$146-$221
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#2
The Talbott Hotel
$300
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#3
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
$376
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#4
Thompson Chicago

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