Every family needs to visit the Windy City at least once as a vacation destination. From Navy Pier to Wrigley Field, Chicago has so many amazing hotels, shops and fun activities that will keep your family entertained for days. Bonus: we found a few awesome hotels to make your travel easy and fun, whether you’re looking to stay close to Uptown or want a hotel with kid-friendly amenities. With Marriott Bonvoy™, families can enjoy special rates, free in-room Wifi, mobile check in and more! Save up to 20% on your trip to Chicago with advance purchase rates. Scroll through to find three family-friendly hotels and 13 activities worth checking out.
See Chicago by Air and Water
No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting Navy Pier. This city landmark offers musicals and plays, public celebrations, and public art and exhibitions. Take a ride on the the iconic Centennial Wheel and marvel at 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Or if your little ones aren't quite ready for the ferris wheel, they can enjoy a few rounds on the hand-painted carrousel. Check out Chicago by water on a cruise around Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. This famous spot also has tons of restaurants and shopping. And if you visit during the summer, make sure to check out the biweekly fireworks shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Stand Above the City
You'll feel like you're walking across the city at this iconic Chicago feature. The Skydeck Ledge is a glass balcony extending four feet outside the 103rd floor of Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere standing at 1,353 feet in the air. The Skydeck offers phenomenal views of Chicago and its four surrounding states. Make sure to order your viewing tickets before you visit so you don't miss this spectacular site.
Stay in Downtown Chicago in Style
Stay in the heart of downtown at the Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago. This beautiful and family-friendly hotel is close to the beach, The Art Institute, Wrigley Field, steps away from Michigan Ave shopping and around the corner from American Girl Doll store.
Experience the Art of Chicago
Be prepared to spend hours in The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s major museums. You can explore thousands of art pieces, from world-renowned paintings to obscure gems. Chances are, you'll recognize famous works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picaso, just to name a few. Kids love creating their own masterpieces in the Artist's Studio in The Family Room, which is open daily from 10:30 a.m -5 p.m. The Chicago Art Institute offers free admission for kids under 14 and Chicago teens under 18.
Shop 'Til You Drop
If shopping is your family's go-to travel activity, you will love The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue. With more than 460 shops, there is something for every member of your household, and it's all within walking distance of downtown Chicago. Kids will love the Disney Store and American Girl Place, and you won't be able to get teens out of Nike Chicago and TJMaxx. When you're ready to refuel after a day of shopping, you can enjoy delicious meals from more than 275 restaurants, featuring international cuisine or locally-sourced ingredients and flavors.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Located in a Chicago suburb park and surrounded by the city skyscrapers, the Lincoln Park Zoo is like no other animal and nature sanctuary. This spot is a family-friendly space and is one of the only zoos and nature centers that is free to visit. That's right—free for kids and adults! Check out the Arctic penguins, and watch monkey, lemurs and gorillas climb trees. Don't forget to stop by the Children's Zoo to see black bears, otters, wolves and turtles. And your kiddos will love the cows, goats, pigs, ponies, chickens and rabbits in the Farm-in-the-Zoo.
Revel in Wrigley Field Excitement
If your family are sports enthusiasts and Wrigley Field is on your "must see" list, you'll love the Hotel Zachary Chicago. This hotel was inspired by and named for Wrigley Field architect and Chicago native Zachary Taylor Davis. Located across from Wrigley Field, staying here makes it easy to catch a Cubs game, eat at several local restaurants, shop nearby stores, and walk to various parks. This hotel also has tons of family-focused activities for both locals and tourists.
Get Lost in Space
Get ready for an out-of-this-world adventure at the Adler Planetarium. The new Chicago Night Sky exhibition connects visitors to the city and you'll be amazed at what you discover when you look up. Check out the "Our Solar System" exhibit where kids can place their hands on a Moon rock and touch a piece of Mars. Kids will love the Community PlayLab where they transform into an astronaut and participate in science experiments in four areas of exploration—the imagination station, table-top STEAM activities, a sensory table, and a tot-spot. If you're visiting Chicago during the week, stop by the Adler Planetarium for Young Explorer Mondays where kiddos ages two through six get special programming created just for them.
Be Part of the Future Through the Past
Check out nearly 40 million artifacts from the past at the historic Field Museum. This city treasure aims to connect science with natural history. Kids can learn about dinosaurs, check out ancient artifacts and explore groundbreaking science. Make sure you save time for the Discovery Squad where you'll find hidden gems and specimens that are not on display in the museum itself. From rocks and minerals to ancient creatures, the Discovery Squad will keep kids (and adults) entertained for hours.
Baseball fans will be in awe when they visit the historic ballpark. Watch a Chicago Cubs baseball game or attend spring training at Wrigley Field. Don't worry if you visit outside baseball season. The stadium offers tours for visitors so you can still experience the magic of Chicago baseball.
River Views Await You
Step into "Chicago's Front Yard"
Make sure to have plenty of time to spend at Grant Park and its more than 300 acres of public park. Located in Chicago’s central business district, Grant Park is home to some of the most famous Chicago sites, including Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park and the famous Buckingham Fountain. The Park also includes baseball fields, tennis courts, gardens to stroll through, and so much more. The main attraction, Buckingham Foundation, is one of the world's largest fountains. It's open seasonally, from May to October, and showcases amazing water and light displays every 20 minutes.
Lush greens, gorgeous views, outdoor gardens ... you'll see it all at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Key exhibits to visit include the Palm House. This room is 65-feet high, includes 70 stunning palms, and looks like you're in the tropics instead of the big city. Check out the Desert House that's full of cacti and succulents, and Aroid House that features a gorgeous indoor yellow lily pad pond. Kids will love the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden where they can check out a giant, climbing vine with larger-than-life sized roots. They also have the chance to learn about flowers, seeds and leaves and play in a pond featuring hydroponic plants.
Play Like a Kid Again
The Chicago Children's Museum, located in Navy Pier, has so many activities and exhibits for kids that will keep them excited for hours. Little ones can be scientists and explore the hands-on dinosaur exhibition, get creative in the art studio, or practice engineering skills in the Tinkering Lab. If kiddos want to move, the Museum has a giant treehouse to scale and three stories of ship-shape rigging to climb.
Indulge in Deep Dish Pizza
A trip to Chicago isn't complete without experiencing its signature deep dish pizza. And while you'll find numerous pizza joints to choose from, Giordano's is often considered the city's best spot. With a recipe that started 200 years ago in Italy, Mama Giordano would serve this double-crusted, cheese stuffed masterpiece on special occasions. Now it's become a Chicago mainstay. With locations throughout Chicago, your family can experience this indulgence from almost any part of the city.
—Leah R. Singer