This summer, my daughter and I spent a long weekend in Chicago. While we didn’t plan it this way, we ended up spending the good part of a day bouncing between Chicago kids activities without having to pay any admission fees or cash.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place Chicago/River North. From there we walked to Millenium Park and checked out some of the art work. Obviously, the large metallic bean aka The Bean highlighted this portion. We then made our way over to the nearby Maggie Daley Park. After taking our fill of the various playgrounds there, we walked up the Lakefront Trail to the Navy Pier.
Since it was Thursday night, the Chicago Children’s Museum offered free admission, which we took advantage of! We finished the night with a stroll down the Navy Pier and then back to our hotel. No admissions fees and about three and a half miles of walking!
Here are my recommendations if you’re going to check out some of these free activities, and a couple extra that we didn’t make it to.
Millenium Park sits at the top of my Chicago free kids activities list. As I mentioned, one of the most iconic Chicago landmarks, “The Bean”, resides here. (Officially, it’s called Cloud Gate.) But besides the bean, Millenium Park offers a lot more art to look at. There are rotating contemporary art exhibits to go along with various free standing architectural works such as the Millenium Monument.
Better yet, kids can play in Crown Fountain, two fifty foot tall glass towers that act as a very stylish and architectural water park. Be sure to have your kids stand in the correct spot when the faces on the fountains open their mouths – and bring a change of clothing for them!
Maggie Daley Park
Right next to Millenium Park lies Maggie Daley Park. In my mind, I actually just think of the two as one giant park. Maggie Daley Park houses a fun labyrinth of outdoor playgrounds that should keep toddlers and school age kids entertained for hours.
One great feature of this set of playgrounds is how well they are delineated. Trees and shrubbery separate all of the playgrounds. A winding but simple set of paths leads from one playground to the next. This demarkation helps to really give each playground a sense of seclusion, it’s not like one gigantic play area where kids are all on top of each other. Instead, each playground feels like its own separate entity which helps to contain the insanity. Plus each section feels “new” to the kids.
As far as playgrounds go, the playgrounds on offer at Maggie Daley Park are pretty great. There’s a sunken pirate ship, small sides, super large slides, climbing structures -plenty of fun stuff for your kids to play with!
Chicago Children’s Museum (Thurs nights)
Chicago boasts a great Children’s Museum, and though it usually charges an admission, the museum offers free admission on Thursday nights. We took advantage of this and had a great time.
As you might imagine, a huge crush of people entered the museum at 5 PM when admission switched over to free. Pretty much like every free admission to a museum you’ve ever seen! However, we found that by 6:30 most of the crowds had cleared out, so it’s not like you’re contending with huge crowds the entire time.
As for the museum itself, it’s your typical large metropolitan children’s museum, which is to say it was pretty great. We would gladly have paid admission to go during regular hours, but it just happened that our only chance to go was Thursday night, so that worked out!
The Chicago Children’s Museum resides at the Navy Pier, a very popular Chicago tourist destination. The Navy Pier is one of those places where there’s a lot to see and do, but while it’s technically free, you’re likely to spend some money here. Whether it’s grabbing a bite to eat, watching a show (the Madagascar musical was on when we visited), or riding the Centennial Wheel, chances are you might find yourself forking over some dough. Still, it’s a great place to visit with a great vibe for kids and parents alike.
Lincoln Park Zoo
While we didn’t make it on this trip, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a great place to take your kids. It stands as one of the few free zoos in the United States. The 35 acre zoo holds a variety of animals, including lions, tigers, bears, penguins – all the hits. If your little kids are like mine, they’ll probably love this zoo.
One of the toughest things on vacation is saving money on sights. Sometimes, with kids, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth the investment. Luckily, Chicago has some great free activities that are great for kids. I’m sure I missed some, do you have other fun things for kids to do in Chicago? Let me know in the comments!