Family travel destinations: Attractions and things to do with kids in Chicago

Chicago’s a great city for families to visit; there are attractions and things to do for everyone.

What can you do with kids on a family trip to Chicago? There are lots of fun attractions for the whole family to enjoy, and it’s easy to get around on the trolleys that leave from Navy Pier and offer hop-on-hop-off tours. If you get accommodations close to Navy Pier, you will be able to walk or take the trolley to all the following attractions.

Attractions and things to do with kids in Chicago

Navy Pieris fun! It has a giant 15-story Ferris wheel that never stops; you just get on and go around for a revolution and get a great view of that end of Chicago. There’s a carousel beneath the Ferris wheel for the younger kids. There are lots of restaurants that are fun for kids, such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Watch the movie “Forrest Gump” on the video screens and signal to the waiter by holding up a sign that says “Run, Forrest, Run!” Get yourself a “Stupid is as stupid does” keychain or a box of chocolates.

Navy Pier has a number of attractions for children, including the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theater, an ice skating rink, indoor botanical gardens, rides such as the Wave Swinger and Time Escape (a 3D time travel ride), a cliff climb, miniature golf and a maze. For older kids, there’s a Shakespeare theater, and live music is performed each night in summer. Check out their website for performance dates.

Sightseeing tours are available on several different kinds of boats at Navy Pier. My favorite is the “Seadog,” a very fast 70-ft. boat that takes you on a 30-minute cruise. The “Seadog” host gives you an intro while the boat slowly crosses the no-wake zone in the harbor; once it gets into open water, the kids will scream with delight as the boat speeds up tremendously and sends water spraying across the seats. This is a great way to see Chicago’s skyline and learn some facts about the city.

Chicago has more than 40 museums, and you should take the family to at least a few. My favorites for kids are the Field Museum, where you can find a T.Rex named Sue and the man-eating lions of Tsavo, the Museum of Science and Industry, which houses a coal mine, submarine, trains and all kinds of unique traveling exhibits, and the Shedd Aquarium, the world’s largest indoor aquarium. These museums are on the trolley tour or you can walk from Navy Pier.

The Sears Tower is the tallest building in North America, so who wouldn’t want to go to the top of the 110 stories? (Actually, you can only go up to the Skydeck on the 103rd story, but that’s high enough to see a really long way.) It’s really not that scary, and there are lots of videos and photographs to look at while you’re waiting in line to go up, so you will know all about the tower by the time you arrive on the Skydeck. On a clear day, you might be able to see four states, about 40-50 miles, but on a cloudy day, you can often see absolutely nothing, so make sure you inquire about visibility before you wait if it’s cloudy or the weather is bad. Have the kids check the website for interesting facts about the Sears Tower before or after you visit.

Chicago’s Michigan Avenue is known as the “Magnificient Mile” and you can find some interesting attractions all along this street. There are more than 450 stores on the eight blocks of the Magnificient Mile, and you are sure to find some your family will enjoy, such as the American Girl Place, which has packages for girls and mothers to spend the day enjoying a meal, show, activities and special souvenirs, or the Lego store. Older kids will probably want to visit Virgin Megastore to check out the music, or the Water Tower Place, with its incredible food court, or other shopping centers for a great variety of stores.

The Chicago Tribune Building is located on the south end of the Mag Mile. Check out the Trib to see the rocks around the exterior; an early owner of the newspaper had reporters send back rocks from famous sites all around the world and had them embedded around the bottom of the building. Each rock has a plaque telling where it’s from, such as The Alamo, Tom Sawyer’s Cave, Taj Mahal, etc. It’s great fun for kids to find the rock from your home state. Note also the gargoyles and the Gothic design of the building.

Lincoln Park, Chicago’s largest park, is north of Navy Pier and follows Lake Michigan for miles; it has a zoo, several beaches, museums, a golf course and other typical park amenities. Besides the animals, the zoo has a train, an Endangered Species carousel, paddle boats, a virtual 4D ride, discovery activities, and photo booths that will make stickers with your picture surrounded by zoo animals. The zoo has cafes and gift shops, and kid-pleasing animal habitats such as the swan pool, sea lion pool, African journey and children’s zoo. The trolley will take you to the zoo, or you can catch a bus.

Chicago is a great city for families to visit; with a little advance planning, your trip can be fun and educational and everyone will find something of interest. If you’re only staying a few days, you’ll probably want to plan a return trip to see more of Chicago.

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