You want your vacations (or staycations) to be full of fun activities and family memories. But, how about throwing in a bit of culture and history, too? For a well rounded vacay that’s equal parts historical, cultural and fun, head to downtown Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton Hotel. Not only is the hotel itself historical, but within walking distance of the opulent palatial-like building you’ll also find museums, boat rides and orchestra halls just waiting to be discovered. Read on for four must-do activities in and around Palmer House Hilton.

A visit to Palmer House Hilton Hotel is almost like stepping back in time (except with modern amenities like a personal tablet in every room for guest use). The historic building features the most jaw-dropping lobby. In fact, we suggest starting your stay by settling in on one of the lobby’s couches and marveling at the opulent details throughout–just don’t forget to look up! But, don’t let the hotel’s appointed finishes fool you. The downtown destination is great for kids and is as luxurious as it is approachable.

Kid Perks at Palmer House
When booking a room be sure to reserve The Peacock Club Children’s Package. Upon check-in your kids will get a special bag of goodies that include a coloring book explaining the importance Palmer House plays in Chicago, colored pencils, a travel journal, kid-sized terry cloth robe and slippers, and nightly in-room amenities like milk and cookies.


photo: Palmer House Hilton

After they’ve rifled through the bag of treats, don’t forget to visit the heated swimming pool. If you’re visiting between May and August, head there on Friday evenings for a special Splash Screenings of kid-friendly flicks. Good to know: in the heated indoor swimming pool area there’s also a jacuzzi, perfect for parents to sip on a cocktail while kids splash and play.

History is Hott
With such ornate decor you know there has to be a story about the history of Palmer House. We don’t want to give too much away, but the story is good. Trust us. Get the full lowdown with the hotel’s History is Hott tour.


Sign-up and you’ll be treated to an engaging tale about how the hotel got its start around the time of the Great Chicago Fire, Bertha Palmer’s involvement with the woman’s suffrage movement, what popular dessert was invented at the hotel and more. The hotel has a special history room packed with books and artifacts where history will come to life before your kids’ eyes. This is much more than a history lecture–the tour can be tailored to kids so they’ll see the hotel in a new light (and get an idea of what life was like pre-iPad era).

Palmer House Hilton
17 East Monroe Street


Adventure #1: Take an Architecture Boat Tour
Take in the city by boat. This tour hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation is the boat to hop on if you’re looking for an engaging, insightful and picturesque river and building tour. Hosted by CAF-certified volunteer docent and guides, the boat tour lasts 90 minutes and you’ll get the scoop on the design, history and architecture of over 50 buildings. The commentary is informative and entertaining and you’ll come away seeing the city from a whole new perspective. Literally.


Good to know: toddlers and babies may not appreciate the boat tour as much as your older kiddos. The boat does have bathrooms and beverages for sale. If it’s a chilly afternoon be sure to pack jackets and a blanket!

Cruising season lasts April 4-November 22, 2015
Buy tickets via Ticketmaster or at the doc in-person

Chicago’s First Lady
112 East Wacker Drive

Adventure #2: Walk Around Millennium Park
Just a two block walk away is the picturesque Millennium Park, opened in July 2004. Once you start exploring the 24.5-acre park, you’ll soon realize why it’s Chicago’s second-largest tourist attraction. Highlights of the area include Cloud Gate (you may know it as “the Bean”), a 110-ton elliptical sculpture that your kids will love! Take photos, make funny faces at Cloud Gate and touch its mirror-like surface.


Next up is Crown Fountain, one of the coolest public art displays we’ve seen. With two 50-foot glass block towers on each end of a shallow reflecting pool, this display is as fascinating and it is interactive. See how many faces your kids can spot reflected on each tower. No matter where you choose to explore, there’s memories to be had in every nook and cranny of the Park.


Fun fact: While Millennium Park is now very manicured and designed, you’ll be surprised to discover that it was once an industrial wasteland. From the 1850s until 1997, the land was controlled by the Illinois Central Railway.

Millennium Park
201 E. Randolph Street
Hours: 6 a.m.-11 p.m.

Adventure #3: Get Lost at The Art Institute of Chicago
A downtown art and history walking tour wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the world famous Art Institute of Chicago. While at first glance this museum may seem best fit for just grown-ups, a deeper look reveals a museum brimming with kids’ activities.


photo: anjanettew via flickr

First off, admission is always free for kids 14 and under so if toddler has a melt-down 10 minutes into your visit you’re not put out their admission fee. The museum features hands-on learning experiences like their artists drop-in studio, mini-masters workshop (for kiddos 3-5 with an adult) and family workshop (for kids ages 6-12). Also throughout the year check out the Museum’s special events like their Family Festival on Nov. 21, 2015, 24th Annual Wreathing of the Lions on Nov. 27, 2015, and Holly Days, Dec. 27-30, 2015. If you’d rather just explore the museum on your own, you might want to bring a sketchbook so your kids can

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Avenue

Adventure #4: Listen to Classics at Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Expand your kids’ musical horizons beyond the radio and Frozen soundtrack with a trip to Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You heard that right–we’re suggesting you bring your kids to the Symphony! The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s family programming is an ideal way (read: short shows and you won’t get death stares if your kiddo happens to have a meltdown mid-show) to introduce your kids to new music and instruments.

photo: © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2014 courtesy of CSO

For youngsters ages 3-5 check out their Once Upon a Symphony series that features a small ensemble of musicians with age-appropriate storytelling, music, activities and costumes. On special Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. CSO holds family matinees ideal for kids ages 5 and up. Each show is meant to introduce kids to orchestra music in a dynamic and fun way. Check out their website for specific times and dates.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
220 S. Michigan Avenue

Have you visited any of these places? Tell us about it in the comments below!

— Erin Lem