Chicago is one of the best family vacation destinations in America. The “Windy City” or “Chi-Town” as Chicago is sometimes referred to has everything a family could want from beaches, museums, both cultural and historical, educational things to see and do, excellent zoos, amusement parks, great food, shopping, nightlife, and not to mention something for every type of sports fans. From the beauty of Lake Michigan and Grant Park to riverboat rides on the Chicago River, Chicago is a fantastic place for a family to visit.
You might think that seeing the sights in one of the world’s most exciting, sophisticated cities would be expensive…but you’d be wrong. Chicago has such an astounding number of free things to do throughout the year – including many of the city’s best attractions – that you could easily fill several weeks with fascinating fun which won’t cost you a penny.
Along the lakefront Chicago has 33 beaches and miles of jogging and bike paths that are always free. Discover the fun for kids of every age and here are a few of Chicago’s favorites that are always open and free.
Lincoln Park Zoo is a world of wildlife in the shadow of skyscrapers. Located within a lush park just minutes north of Chicago, the zoo has been a natural, free oasis for generations of animal lovers, who come to hear a lion’s roar echo off nearby apartment buildings, see gorillas climb trees as the Willis Tower looms in the distance, or forget where they are as they engross themselves in tropical rainforests, dry-thorn forests or spacious savannas.
The Chicago Botanic Garden has over 300 acres of incredible landscape. Discover eight different lagoons and a variety of different botanical environments. Two of the highlights for plant and flower enthusiasts to enjoy are a Japanese garden and an English garden. The garden is often home to special outdoor events. The best part for this attraction is that admission is free.
Millennium Park is an award-winning center for art, music, architecture and landscape design. The result of a unique partnership between the City of Chicago and the philanthropic community, the 24.5-acre Park features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers. During warm weather there are often free concerts and end your tour at the Crown fountain, where the kids can’t resist splashing through the water. The kids can also run across the 925-foot BP Bridge, which connects the park to the lakefront. Millennium Park is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. Visitors are encouraged to make the Millennium Park Welcome Center their first stop at the Park where specialists are available to help plan their Park visit.
Grant Park is Chicago’s principal downtown park. It is located between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan. It consists of a series of bridges which cross the Railway tracks that are still on the park’s compound. After the bridges, the park is divided in sections with lawns, trees and monuments, one of them being a statue of Abraham Lincoln. The main attraction in Grant Park is Buckingham Fountain. The Buckingham Fountain, which features a central jet shooting water up to 150 feet in the air, is best seen at night when it is animated with a now computerized choreography of color spotlights.
There are many different attractions that Chicago has to offer. Here some additional attractions you should consider visiting during your family vacation that have nominal admittance fees. Although, on certain days some of these attractions have free admission you will have to check each attraction if/when they have free days.
Navy Pier is Chicago’s most visited tourist attraction. Located on Lake Michigan you can experience beautiful views of the city from atop the Ferris wheel and more fun rides below. Navy Pier has an IMAX Theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and a launching spot for boat rides, restaurants and more.
The Field Museum is Chicago’s natural history museum that houses the world’s most complete T-Rex, exhibits on African animals, underground bugs and Native Americans. An interesting attraction for every age group.
The Museum of Science and Industry features immersive exhibits such as a ride down a coalmine shaft or a walk through a U-505 German World War II submarine. This museum has many interactive exhibits. If you have time for only one museum, the Museum of Science and Industry is one you should not miss.
The Shedd Aquarium connects people to the living world. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan the Shedd Aquarium is the world’s largest indoor aquarium with more than 8,000 aquatic animals representing more than 700 species from all parts of the world.
Explore outer space at the Adler Planetarium. This amazing tourist attraction lets you experience space up close. Check out the Sky Pavilion, where you can enjoy an interactive tour of the Milky Way. There are several great interactive exhibits as well.
The Art Institute of Chicago is home to all kinds of exhibits for art lovers to enjoy. The museum is known for its collection of French Impressionists, ancient Greek and Roman pottery and Japanese art. No matter what sort of art you enjoy you’ll likely find it here.
A visit to Chicago would not be complete without a visit to Wrigleyville, home of Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs. Try to score some tickets if the Cubs are in town. Even if you are not a Cubs fan, just catching a game in this historic park is exciting.
Brookfield Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the country featuring over 2,700 animals on 216 acres. In habitats designed to replicate nature, The Tropic World recreates environments of rainforests on three continents while the Fragile Kingdom imagines the desert, jungle and mountainous regions. With so much to see here you will not be able to see everything in a day.
Want to see a great view of Chicago? Whether you’re exploring the city’s astonishing architecture during a guided tour (on foot or aboard a Chicago River boat, lakeshore cruise or sightseeing bus) or you’re enjoying the birds-eye view from the 103rd floor of Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the 94th floor Hancock Observatory.
Chicago is such a food lovers’ paradise that diners face just one dilemma: How to choose from so many delicious options? One way to narrow your dining choices is by type of food. Chicago has many outstanding restaurants serving every cuisine. Two classics that Chicagoans take very seriously: pizza and hot dogs. Sample these two favorites during your visit so you can officially join in the debate.
The nightlife in Chicago is extraordinary. No matter what type you favor – pop, rap, hip hop, bluegrass, R&B, gospel, soul, or salsa – you’ll find it in this city that loves music. And if you feel like dancing, step out at one of the city’s sizzling dance clubs. If comedy is in your plans Chicago has outstanding comedy clubs. Two of the best are The Second City and ComedySportz, which deliver the fastest, funniest, and smartest acts you’ll ever witness.
Chicago has an unparalleled variety of choices in downtown hotels and bed & breakfasts. If you prefer accommodations outside the city, broaden your reach into the greater metropolitan area for hotels near O’Hare or Midway airports and suburban hotels. You’ll find service, comfort, and value at every price point – and many of these properties are offering hot deals right now. Whatever your accommodations you will be sure to find something that suites your budget.
Chicago is a very friendly city and is a destination you could visit over and over and always see something different. With so many things to see and do involve the entire family in planning this trip. It will be exciting and an educational experience. Chicago makes for an outstanding family vacation that you will always remember!