Things to Do in Chicago With Kids – The Ultimate Guide for Newcomers

Known as The Windy City, Chicago is one of the largest cities in the United States – it’s home to 2.7 million residents. Out of that number, around 20% are children under the age of 18. So many families living in the area clearly means that Chicagoland is a good choice for young people. Apart from plenty of attractions for adults, there is a diverse range of things to do in Chicago with kids.

If you’re moving to Chicago with children, you’re probably dealing with tons of questions about safety, schools, outdoor activities, and other relevant factors that will make your relocation more comfortable. As the home of eight major league sports teams, 250 live music venues, 600 parks, and 303 miles of bike lanes, there’s no room for questions like What is there to do in Chicago for families today?

Whether you’re relocating to Chi-Town with a plan to have children soon or you already have a family and want to change your surroundings, living in Chicago will surely meet all your needs. Even more, it will keep your little ones occupied and entertained every day of the week.

Is Chicago Family-Friendly?

Chicagoans like to say that if you need the right place to live with your loved ones, there’s no better choice than White City. And this goes both for toddlers and teenagers. Chi-Town can boast numerous parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, beaches, and swimming pools, which are excellent options to let off some steam. If you have kids who don’t stop and need more activities, Chi-Town has the second-highest percentage of commuters on their bikes. Becoming one of them shouldn’t be a problem, especially since you can enjoy riding your bicycle with your children along Lake Michigan’s 19 miles long lakefront.

Schooling Options

Every parent wants to provide the best possible education for their children, so schooling is another factor you should be familiar with. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the third-largest school district in the U.S, after the Los Angeles School District and New York City Public Schools. Before your relocation, it’s good to know that students’ chance of getting into the city’s top-rated high schools depends on where they live. This is the so-called CPS Tier System, where every area belongs to one of four socio-economic “tiers.” If you want to know more about tiers and types of public schools in Chi-Town, visit the CPS Tiers website. Also, you can enroll your kid in a private school, just keep in mind that the average private school in Illinois will cost you about $8,000 per year.

Safety for Families Is a Must

Last but not least, the crime rate and safety are among the most important factors that should be fulfilled when one thinks about moving to another place. Living in a neighborhood where you can let your children go out in the evening without worrying is the biggest wish of every parent. If you’re wondering what part of Chi-Town is the safest, you should know that many districts are perfectly safe, although there are some that might make you feel less secure. People with children should do some research about an area before putting down any deposits in order to find some of the best neighborhoods in Chicago to live. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of safest areas to help you choose the one that suits you the most:

  • The Loop
  • Gold Coast
  • Lincoln Park
  • West Loop
  • Streeterville
  • Wicker Park

Whether you’re in search of the most suitable neighborhood for a peaceful home, or maybe some of the best suburbs of Chicago, the Heart of America has excellent communities where you can enjoy all amenities with your children.

One of the Most Walkable Communities

If walking is important to you and your children, and you choose to walk rather than drive a car, The Windy City is the right place for you and your little ones. The city’s efforts to improve walkability achieved great success by ranking Chicagoland as the sixth-most walkable place in the US. The most important factors that made Chi-Town so highly ranked are:

  • Pedestrian friendliness
  • Nearby amenities
  • Population
  • Neighborhood layouts

If you’re moving here soon, think about your prospective neighborhood, because some are more pedestrian-friendly than others. For example, Near North ranked as the most walkable area, and it’s followed by Gold Coast, Printers Row, the River North, and Loop.

Living With Kids With or Without a Car

Here we come to another question: do you need a car when living in Chi-Town? The short answer is – you don’t. Parking is very expensive, and also a drag, especially during the winter months. So, if you’re wondering about the most convenient way to get around with your kiddos, you can’t go wrong with public transportation. The most reliable option is the L train (short for “elevated train”) because it’s cheap and easy to use, then the bus system, and finally the Metra Rail regional train system.

Still, if you can’t imagine your everyday life without a car, consider using the auto transport service. With your automobile, no location in Chi-Town will be unreachable, including your kids’ school, swimming pool, parks, museums, and some of the most exciting attractions in the Western Suburbs for families with children, such as:

  • Fox River Bluff West Forest Preserve (St. Charles)
  • Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art (Oak Brook)
  • Splash Island (Oak Brook)
  • Cosley Zoo (Wheaton)
  • Cantigny Park (Wheaton)
  • Elmhurst Art Museum (Elmhurst)
A man with a bicycle walking in Chicago
Known as one of the greatest metropolises in the U.S. for bicycling, Chi-Town is perfect for active families

Burn off Some Excess Energy in One of the Many Parks

Is there anything better for children than physical activities that will tire them and prepare them for a good night’s sleep? Running, jumping, climbing, skating, or playing tennis are among kids’ favorite outdoor recreations. At Maggie Daley Park, Chicago’s only outdoor climbing green area, they will enjoy having a chance to try some new skills. This area features several options, such as the climbing rock, skating ribbon, tennis courts, and a miniature golf course.

Another green space, but with indoor activities, is the Altitude Trampoline Park. If your kiddos can’t stop jumping on the bed, this might be an excellent alternative to release their surplus energy. With 33,000 square feet of space, this is a place where children and parents can enjoy together, jumping and flipping to their heart’s content.

A bird's eye view of a park in Chicago
Chi-Town is home to more than 8,880 acres of green space and 600 parks

Go to Chicago Children’s Museum and Let Them Exercise Their Creative Skills

Located inside Navy Pier, a 50-acre landmark on the shore of Lake Michigan, Children’s Museum is one of many attractions in this area. This cultural institution is unique in many ways. When a child steps inside, they unconsciously absorb all kinds of information and learn while playing.

Thanks to interactive, hands-on exhibits, they will learn how to create sounds or dig for dinosaur bones and analyze them. You can also bring babies and toddlers, as well as kids aged nine and older, since exhibits are organized by age. The youngest visitors can enjoy Treehouse Trails and Kids Town, or spend a day in a special environment designed for families with toddlers – Pritzker Playspace.

If your kiddos are preschoolers or school-aged, they will be fascinated with some of the most popular exhibits among children ages four to eight:

  • Cloud Buster
  • Dinosaur Expedition
  • Skyline
  • Art Studio
  • Tinkering Lab

For teenagers, the institution provides a variety of experiences where they can explore, be creative, climb, and safely take any other risk. For example, climbing in a three-story Kovler Family Climbing Schooner is an excellent challenge for your children’s motor skills.

Visit Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo

Located at the Lincoln Park Zoo, this kid-friendly venue is where your little ones can meet North American animals, play in Wild Sapling Play Forest, or climb to a tree canopy. Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo‘s main mission is to connect people with nature, provide children with tactile experiences, and teach visitors about nature and living things that surround us.

A rhinoceros in a zoo
The Zoo is home to over 200 different species of animals

Combine Play and Learning

Children of all ages love the most when they learn something without even knowing it. The most successful way to find out new things and remember them for good is through amusement and curiosity. So bring your kiddos to unique places and give them a chance to learn and be happy.

Garfield Park Conservatory

This is a perfect place to spend a day together, taking pleasure in exotic vegetation. Garfield Park Conservatory is an urban oasis where you can find greenery outside in amazing gardens and inside glasshouses. For children, this unique experience allows them to watch plants grow, smell them, or feel their texture. Wednesdays are perfect for letting your toddlers explore nature and get their hands dirty. This is the way they take in information, experiment, and practice their skills. They become scientists through play.

Shedd Aquarium

Does your child like dolphins? In Shedd Aquarium, the largest indoor aquarium in the world, your little ones between the ages of five and 12 will enjoy watching underwater creatures or taking part in a scavenger hunt. Besides dolphins, they will discover a whole new world of aquatic animals – sharks, turtles, penguins, seahorses, seadragons, saltwater fishes, corals, stingrays, sea lions, jellyfish, etc.

Harold Washington Children’s Library

Small bibliophiles will be fascinated with the Children’s Library for kids of all ages who can learn in the digital media space with the help of some virtual reality tools. If your toddler doesn’t read, don’t worry. You will find a puppet stage and story nook where your baby will learn by watching and listening. Within the Summer Learning Program, the Library organizes plenty of events and activities for families with children, including games, play, computers and technology, storytime, etc.

Best Experience for Adults and Kids – Escape Game

Would you like to become a child again and play with your own kid? With Escape Game, your dreams turn into reality. Being locked in a room with 60 minutes to escape is an excellent test of your kid’s resourcefulness and motor skills. There are plenty of themes – solve puzzles, escape from prison, follow clues – that will satisfy your desire for adventure.

Shedd Aquarium holds about 32,000 animals and 1,500 species

What to Do With Your Teenager in Chicagoland

When your children are small, you always try to find an activity adjusted to their ages. It’s hard to occupy their attention for prolonged periods of time, so it’s more challenging to have the right entertainment. But, with older kids, it’s much easier. In middle and high school, they change, and their interests become more diverse. Whether they prefer outdoor or indoor entertainment, the Heart of America offers exciting activities for your teens. Let’s take a look at some of the most challenging ventures for you and your teens.

Fermilab’s Ask-a-Scientist Tours

Fermilab is a physics and accelerator laboratory having one primary goal – to answer questions about the world surrounding us. Public tours are offered every Monday and on the first Sunday of each month as part of the Ask-a-Scientist event. This is an excellent event for young people and families to ask physicists everything they want to know – from the Bing Bang to the Ice Age-related issues. The minimum age for the three-hour tour is ten. Take this opportunity to involve your teenager in a discussion to gain some new answers.

Above the Heart of America – Helicopter Experience

Teens love risky ventures, especially those that raise their adrenaline levels. Heading to the skies on a Helicopter Tour might be one of the best new experiences they’ve ever tried. Another great thing is the possibility to choose between a daytime or nighttime ride. A bird’s eye view of Chi-Town will provide you with a unique perspective of notable buildings, and you’ll find more interesting facts about the city’s landmarks and history.

Chicago Riverwalk

An excellent suggestion to spend a Saturday in the Windy City is to bring your loved ones to Chicago Riverwalk and try something new. For example, river kayaking and sightseeing will fill your day and occupy all your senses. But don’t worry if you feel tired and hungry after this active day. Some of the best restaurants in Chicago are located here, offering mouth-watering meals and refreshments. For instance, on the Sweet Home Gelato menu, you can find freshly made gelatos and sorbets, while in Tiny Tapp & Cafe, you can satisfy your appetite with BBQ pulled chicken or a Chicago style hot dog.

Chicago riverwalk
If you've never tried kayaking before, take up a challenge and ride with children in tandem

What Can a 5-Year-Old Do in Chicago?

Living in a metropolis with a small kid is a challenging experience. At first glance, you might think there is not a lot of excitement for toddlers in The White City. Believe it or not, your little ones can still take pleasure in tons of activities adapted to their age.

Museum of Science and Industry

Situated in the only remaining edifice from the World’s Fair (1893), the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is where your kid gets involved in interactive exhibits and fun – and learns by watching, touching, making, and listening. There are numerous things to experience here, such as climbing aboard a WWII German submarine, running in a human-sized hamster wheel, descending into an Illinois coal mine, transmitting your pulse to a 3-D beating heart, and much more.

Adler Planetarium

Almost every five-year-old wishes to become a “space explorer.” In Adler Planetarium, the little ones have a chance to transform themselves into astronauts and take a two-story rocket to space thanks to Community PlayLab spaces. These spaces are flexible and offer visitors the possibility to play, test ideas, or just be creative. Each of them has a specific theme – art, history, play, and social science. Specially designed for ages six and under, the spaces help them learn through play. They can experiment with water, create a launchpad, explore robots, or become astronauts for a day.

Legoland Discovery Center

Bring your kiddo to Legoland Discovery Center and discover Chi-Town’s top attractions made from Lego in Miniland. Also, you can get plenty of building tips at Builder Workshops. But, probably the biggest excitement in Legoland World are activities you can take part in with your children:

  • Lego 4D Cinema
  • Kingdom Quest
  • Meet Your Favorite Lego Characters
  • Private Adventure Island
  • Pirate Adventure Island

Swimming With Goldfish

If your kiddo is attracted to water, then heated pools and small classes in Goldfish might be the best choice when planning your activities for a longer time. Your child will learn to swim through guided play and in a safe environment. Facing new experiences with fun, children accept them much easier while developing their skills. The colorful and inviting environment is an additional plus factor – it helps your toddler overcome their fears.

In addition to swimming lessons, there are options for families, an excellent way to spend an afternoon together in a tropical environment. Being in a pool with your kiddo can benefit your whole family, and here’s why:

  • You, as a parent, can teach your child about water and safety
  • You can enjoy and relax while your little swimmer shows off his/her skills
  • By watching your child, you can decide whether he/she should stay and continue with lessons
  • Your little one will be more relaxed with you in the water
  • Spending time in the pool affects your relationship and makes it deeper

Free Things to Do in Chicago With Kids

The cost of living in Chicago is 23% higher than the national average, according to payscale.com. That’s why even the idea of raising a child in The Windy City might sound terrifying. If you’re wondering how to live in this metropolis and enjoy activities that don’t cost an arm and a leg, there are numerous possibilities for things to do with your children for free.

From Watching Through a Telescope to Visiting the Navy Pier

Located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the National Museum of Mexican Art boasts a 10,000-piece collection. It is the only Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums presenting unique Mexican art, history, and culture. If your child wants to participate in arts-education programs, it’s achievable here. Children of all ages have the opportunity to work together in the institution after school classes and join summer camps and teen mentorships.

Does your child enjoy listening and reading about past times? For all history-lovers, visiting Kline Creek Farm and immersing in the 19th century might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Located at Timber Ridge Forest Preserve, this place is perfect for toddlers to learn about life on a working farm through education programs, such as planting, canning, baking, harvesting, ice cutting, or sheep shearing. They can also step inside the Timber Ridge Visitor Center for seasonal exhibits about the agricultural heritage of DuPage County.

Every Friday night from 8 to 10 pm, you can discover the magic of stars with your little ones. Watching constellations through the 18.5-inch telescope at Dearborn Observatory (part of Northwestern University) and asking students about stars and planets might be the perfect way to spend a night with your kid. Don’t miss the last Friday of the month when special programs (CIERA Astronomer Evenings) are held. You and your children can meet astronomers from Northwestern’s Center for Astrophysics and discuss astronomy and other related topics.

Go green at the five-acre natural oasis at Wildwood Nature Center in Park Ridge. Spend an exciting afternoon walking through the woods, watching a butterfly garden, and enjoying beside two ponds. Likewise, there are more exciting attractions you and your kiddos can become involved in: live animal displays, interactive exhibits, nature and environmental programs for all ages, scout & school programs, etc.

If your teen has artistic aspirations, you both can enjoy free exhibits and programs in the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. First opened in 1974, the Smart boasts great and inspiring exhibitions, collections, public programming, and academic initiatives. With radical and complex ideas, this is a place for your child to develop creativity and artistic skills. Drop-in Family Day is held once a month, and you shouldn’t miss this event where you and your offspring have a chance to see collections based on different themes. if you want to be creative, hands-on art-making will make your child’s day.

Enjoy an eco-friendly adventure riding your bike through an 18-mile paved path around the city. Lakefront Trail is great fun for everybody, allowing you to see the city from another perspective discovering new green nooks, parks, beaches, and playgrounds. Lakefront Trail follows the Lake Michigan shoreline, offering an unforgettable adventure of blue waters to one side and lush parks and stunning lakefront neighborhoods to the other. Your children will get well-tired after walking, biking, running or rollerblading, and those who want to take a break can visit Soldier Field or Navy Pier.

A place where your little ones can spend a whole day outside surrounded by beautiful bushes, flowers, and plants, Chicago Botanic Garden is a unique city’s venue favorite among families. It offers Youth and Family Programs for children ages two to 18 with gardening and investigative options to develop their exploring skills and curiosity. The most popular programs for adults and children are Nature Preschool, Little Diggers, Family’s Weekend Classes, Break Camp and Summer Camp, Nature Nights, Campouts for Families.

Rocks and plants in a botanic garden
Botanic Garden - there's no better place on a hot, summer day for parents and children

What Can Kids Do in Chicago Suburbs?

Experts say there’s no better place to raise a child than the suburbs. Whether you’re moving to the suburbs or to the city center, you will still get to enjoy all the activities that the outskirts offer. Here are our favorite picks:

  • The Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings located in Oak Park is a great opportunity for your teens to learn about architecture and history;
  • Baha’i House of Worship, the only one of its kind in our country, is the oldest such temple in the world. It welcomes visitors from all kinds of backgrounds and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience;
  • The Park Race Course located in Arlington Heights will satisfy even the most adrenalin-driven kids;
  • The Tempel Lipizzans is the perfect place to take your little ones if they like horses. They’ll get to enjoy an acrobatic show and learn more about the Lipizzan breed.

Aside from these attractions, suburban areas are packed with beautiful parks, excellent schooling options, and above all, they are incredibly safe. For example, the crime rate index for Buffalo Grove is 94, according to NeighborhoodLoans. Also, children can enjoy various recreational activities and seasonal events, as well as top-notch dining options.

A paved path in a park surrounded with trees
Choose suburbs if you prefer a tranquil lifestyle far away from the downtown

Chi-Town Is an Ideal Place for All Ages

Many people will tell you that there’s nothing worse than winter in Chicagoland. Yes, it’s true if you don’t like tons of snow and freezing temperatures. Still, the snow has plenty of advantages for families with children. And if winter becomes bad, schools close the doors, and students have a break until the weather becomes more favorable. However, if you can’t stand the cold, the summer must be your favorite season. Chi-Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world during the summer months. It’s when adults and children spend more time outside, taking advantage of sunny days.

Whether you have a toddler or a grumpy teen, one thing is for sure – they need their space, and you need your peace of mind from time to time. Luckily, Chi-Town has it all. From places to spend a romantic weekend with your significant other, to sites with great vibes and energy that boosts your mood at once. It’s also packed with numerous events, attractions, museums, pedestrian-friendly outdoor spaces, parks, beaches, and playgrounds. So, if you’re relocating to this incredible metropolis, you will certainly not be bored.

Before you hire professional Chicago movers to provide you with reliable long distance moving services, do some in-depth research about places where you can spend some quality time with the rest of your family. And if you feel like hiring a babysitter for the night and painting the town red, Chicago nightlife offers some great options. The city is a magical place by night packed with plenty of activities and programs. Also, strolling along Michigan Lake or sipping a drink on North Avenue Beach is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Chicago you shouldn’t miss.

Written By: Mila Tacon