Chicago is near & dear to my heart. I grew up about an hour south of the city (I called it a suburb of the suburbs) and taking the train in to explore makes up several fond memories from my high school days. I’ve had the opportunity to go back twice now with my own family and it never gets old! I love museums and always want to encourage other families to explore them, so I’m sharing 10 of the best Chicago museums for kids.
If you’re not sure where to start in planning a trip to Chicago with kids, check out this post with my recommended 7 steps to plan a family vacation!
Pin this list of the 10 best Chicago museums for kids for later using this link or collage image:
If you’re a member of a science museum or zoo at home, check to see if they participate in the AZA or ASTC reciprocal program and you might get free admission to some of these! If not, consider getting a Chicago City Pass to save some money.
10 of the best Chicago museums for kids
These are in no particular order, just randomly sharing them with the ones we’ve visited personally up first! I also included a few that are on my list to do next time, after reading lots of reviews, even if we haven’t personally been there before.
We love getting books about the places we go beforehand; here are 4 Chicago books for kids!
1. Garfield Park Conservatory- A hidden gem on the list, this conservatory is free to get in and has several activities for children. An amazing natural playground kept our kids busy for hours and the scavenger hunts were fun to work on together. Don’t miss the lush fern room or the meditative grass & stone labyrinth. Visit their website here.
2. Field Museum- My kids never stop talking about Sue, the famous T-Rex! This is one of my favorite museums, ever, and it is so much fun to explore with kids of any age. Their family room in the basement is full of hands-on activities and toys if the exhibits get exhausting; don’t miss the ancient Egypt mummies. Also, their cafe food is surprisingly really tasty and affordable. Visit their website here.
3. Chicago Art Institute- Home to some of the most famous painting in the world, the art institute has something for everyone. Plan to spend a full day in this massive museum; they have a special room full of immersive crafts & dance along with a really neat personalized scavenger hunt program. Don’t miss the room of medieval armor! Visit their website here. Before you go, check out my list of 20+ tips for taking kids to art museums!
4. Museum of Science and Industry- A little far off from the main museum campus, this museum is worth the trip. They have exhibits appropriate for all ages, with lots of hand on opportunities to explore weather, trains, the human body, and more. My kid’s favorite was the Idea Factory exhibit that had all sorts of interactive play elements. Don’t miss the mirror maze! Visit their website here.
5. Shedd Aquarium- Unarguably the best aquarium that’s not on a coast, this place is massive. Check out a dolphin show, learn more about the scientists and animal specialists who work there, and explore all the underwater exhibits. Visit their website here.
6. Adler Planetarium- Smaller but packed with interesting space exhibits, the planetarium has both traditional exhibits and shows to watch. Hands on experiences include a space themed play area and hands on makerspace. Visit their website here.
7. Chicago Children’s Museum- You can touch everything in this kid centric spot nestled in touristy Navy Pier. They try to have something for big kids as well as little ones, with lots of exhibits and programming throughout the day. Take a water taxi over from the museum campus for an extra thrill! Visit their website here. You can buy a “skip the line” ticket and spend more time playing, too!
8. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum- An indoor and outdoor museum, I visited this one with my niece while pregnant with my eldest child! It’s less busy than the zoo or other museums on this list, with plenty to do. Highlights include the indoor playground and butterfly garden! Visit their website here.
9. Chicago History Museum- Free for kids, this museum focuses on the windy city itself! Younger kids will gravitate towards the Sensing Chicago exhibit with lots of hands on activities, along with all the transportation pictures and models. Visit their website here.
10. Wonder Works Children’s Museum- This isn’t right downtown, but it’s another kid’s museum option if Navy Pier is too overwhelming or expensive. Wonder Works has five experience zones full of imaginative play opportunities, along with an outdoor garden to explore. Visit their website here.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments if you disagree with the ones I chose!
The Chicago Art Institute is one of our favourite museums in the whole world! Thanks for the tips on some others to explore with my daughter.
Thanks for reading Karen!