If you’re looking to take your kids to visit North America, where do you go? It’s a big continent. I’ll be honest, Chicago wouldn’t have been the first place to jump into my head as a family holiday destination so when I was invited by the lovely people at Choose Chicago to visit their city to see just how family friendly it is, I jumped at the chance.
I have to say that after spending just a few days in ‘The Windy City’, I have fallen head over heels in love with Chicago and it is now firmly in one of the top spots for my favourite US city.
So where exactly is Chicago? It’s inland from the East coast and is home to the famous Lake Michigan. This Illinois city is the third largest city in USA however when you’re there it’s doesn’t feel as anonymous as New York or LA.
My first impression was the traffic. As we drove towards the city from the airport, after an amazing flight from Ireland with United Airlines, I assumed that there must be something on but no the taxi driver reassured me that it’s like this most days. Note to self, next time I visit with the kids, take the ‘L’ train into the city centre. As we arrived in downtown Chicago, the traffic issue was forgotten about and I quickly realised that this city isn’t as big as it seems. Once you’re in the city, you don’t have to battle with trains and buses as you can walk pretty much everywhere. The furtherest I had to walk was about 25 minutes and that was from the Lake right back to the Dana Hotel and Spa where I was staying.
So what is there for families to do in Chicago? Here are my top nine things I would definitely recommend checking out :
1. Be brave on the Skydeck
One the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower or Sears Tower as most people refer to it, is the famous ‘Skydeck’. The Tower is tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere so when you step out onto the ledge it’s a long long way down, 1353ft to be precise. This is something you have to pay to visit but it’s worth it just to see the look on your children faces when they step out onto one of the glass floor balconies which extends 4.3 feet away from the building.
For those of you old enough to remember, you could recreate that famous scene from ‘Ferris Bulluer’s Day Off’ where Ferris, Sloane and Cameron look out from the 103rd floor of the tower.
It’s open every day (even Christmas Day) and costs $25 for people aged 12 and over. Check out this video of my Skydeck experience.
2. Check out the Art Institute of Chicago
You might not think that an art gallery might be something that the kids would be interested in however this is not like any old stuffy art gallery, the pictures here are really cool with a fantastic collection of modern art as well as the largest collection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris.
The first place to head is the ‘Family Room’ where you can create a customised museum guide (or do it online prior to arriving). This will help bring the paintings to life as you stroll around the galleries. Check out their website as there are workshops and events happening nearly everyday for different age groups.
It’s very accessible for pushchairs and I even spotted a gorgeous private room on one of the floors with a comfortable armchair for breastfeeding mothers to relax in.
Tickets cost ¢25 but there’s free admission for kids under 14.
3. Marvel at ‘The Bean’
Ask people to name an iconic sight in Chicago and many will mention ‘The Bean’. Its official title is ‘Cloud Gate’ and it’s a well known sculpture located in the 25-acre Millennium Park in Chicago. It was given its affectionate nickname due to its shape and it has to be seen to be believed. It’s much bigger in real life than I was expecting but it’s truly captivating, you’ll find yourself standing there just staring at it.
I loved the fact that you could walk under it and see your reflection in the three-story steel sculpture. When I bring the kids back I would try and get there very early in the morning to see ‘The Bean’ at sunrise without the hoards of people walking around.
4. Ride the ferris wheel on Navy Pier
The most popular tourist attraction in Chicago is without a doubt Navy Pier by Lake Michigan. It’s has more than 50 acres of parks, shops, restaurants, gardens and family attractions and has attracted 180 million visitors since it opened in 1995. Think of it as a Magic Kingdom in Chicago.
You can’t miss the 200ft high giant centennial wheel which is worth a ride on just for the remarkable 360 degree views of the Chicago skyline and the lake itself. You enjoy those views from enclosed gondolas which means that this attraction is suitable whatever the weather. Tickets for aged 12 and upwards are $16 when bought online in advance.
There is a fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday nights at Navy Pier during the summer time and Saturday nights only during Autumn.
There is a huge selection of fast food restaurants however I would recommend, saving money, and bringing a picnic and relaxing in the picturesque picnic area. If it starts raining, don’t worry you can duck into the giant glasshouse and take shelter in the huge indoor garden and fountain.
While you’re at Navy Pier, why not take the kids on a Shoreline Sightseeing tour of the Lake which takes about 40 minutes and costs from $62 for two adults and two kids.
5. Play time at the Children’s Museum
If your kids are aged 10 and under then you should definitely check out the Children’s Museum on Navy Pier. It costs $14.95 for kids and adults and you’ll need to allow yourself lots of time because there are so many interactive exhibits, you’ll be there at least a couple of hours.
Note that it’s free to get in on the first Sunday of every month.
6. Take in an Architecture Tour of Chicago
This one might not be for those families with toddlers however an architecture tour along the Chicago river is sure to keep any child aged 8 and up interested. The tour guide was so engaging, everyone was enthralled with her stories behind the world-famous architecture of the city. I would definitely buy tickets online in advance as you’ll find constant queues at the ticket desk all day as this tour with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is ranked as the number one tour in the city on Tripadvisor and that’s some claim to fame but when you do it, you’ll see why.
The relaxing 90-minute daily Chicago river tour features both indoor and outdoor seating so you’re good to go whatever the weather.
7. Gospel Brunch
If you’re looking to do something a little different with the kids, consider checking out the Sunday brunch at the House of Blues. Located a short stroll from the Dana Hotel and Spa where we were staying, there are two sessions, one at 10am and another at 12:30pm. If it’s a religious holiday then there’s an afternoon show too. Basically, you get the opportunity to watch an amazing gospel choir performing while you enjoy an all you can eat buffet. I would recommend booking the later showing as 10am seems a little early to enjoy their signature chicken and waffles dish.
Tickets for adults cost $42 and children aged 6-12 cost ¢25 which isn’t cheap but considering you can go back for food as often as you want, it’s not bad value. There were loads of families at the session I was at and it was great watching the kids in the audience dancing and enjoying the gospel music with their families.
8. Watch a baseball game
One of the highlights of my time in Chicago was a visit to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs playing a baseball game. I’d never been to one before and although I had no clue what was going on I was blown away by the atmosphere. People are pretty passionate in Chicago about their baseball and you could see three generations of families watching the game.
Decent seats at Wrigley Field can cost from $100 so be prepared to spend a considerable amount of money to make this dream a reality.
We had a spare hour one afternoon so fellow blogger Tara and I headed to the local Wicker Park farmer’s market. I love visiting markets when I’m in a new city as you get a real sense of what life is like for people living in that area.
There were lots of hipster couples and families buying the local vegetables and fruit that was available. The market itself is set in a beautiful park and it was lovely watching the kids running around the fountain trying to keep cool on the warm autumnal day.
Talking of food, I have a separate blog post coming in the next few days about all the fantastic places I enjoyed true Chicago food. Stay tuned…
Top Chicago Sightseeing Tip
If you’re planning on spending a few days in Chicago with the kids then it’s worthwhile investing in the Chicago CityPASS as you’ll get VIP admission to the most iconic attractions in the city. It’s valid for nine days and only starts with the first day of use.
You’ll be able to skip ticket lines which will give you more time to enjoy the attraction itself. It includes :
- Skydeck Chicago
- The Field Museum
- Shedd Aquarium
- 360 Chicago OR Museum of Science and Industry
- Art Institute of Chicago OR Alder Planetarium
It costs $97 for an adult and $81 for a child (under 12) which isn’t cheap but if you’re planning on visiting these attractions then you will definitely save money.
In conclusion, Chicago is a fantastic family-friendly city with lots of things to do for kids of all ages. I felt very safe there even walking around in the evening. I would highly recommend adding Chicago to your family travel bucket list.
Have you been?
Disclaimer – I was a guest of Choose Chicago for the duration of my stay. As always, all opinions and images are my own.