When you're heading to Illinois on your next vacation, planning ahead will keep your family happy and entertained. Fortunately, there's no shortage of fun things to do in Illinois no matter what your family is interested in. You'll just have to consider the top attractions around and make an itinerary that highlights the most important stops that your unique family is sure to enjoy the most. To help you get started, check out this list of fun activities to enjoy for Illinois family vacations, and plan an unforgettable family vacation.
1. Millennium Park
If you're looking for a break from the city, Millennium Park is your answer without having to go far out of town. Most visitors to Illinois find themselves in Chicago, and Millennium Park is a welcome respite from the steel and concrete. You'll find 25 acres of vibrant green space with walking paths and impressive fountains. Visit during the winter, and you can skate around the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Of course, you'll find fun all year long in addition to special events like concerts and art exhibitions that kids and adults alike can enjoy.
2. Leaning Tower of Niles
The Leaning Tower of Niles is likely to remind you of a similar tower in the Italian city of Pisa. That's no accident! This tower is meant to be a replica after Niles, Illinois, and Pisa, Italy, established a sister city pact back in the early 1990s. As a visitor, you're welcome to explore the tower and surrounding park area completely free of charge. Your kids are sure to enjoy the open-air music often played here, so be sure to check the local calendar if your family is looking to catch a show.
3. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
Presidential libraries are a great destination if you’d like your family trip to be both fun and educational, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is one of the best in the country. You'll find life-size dioramas of many of the most important events in Lincoln's life, as well as theater shows. Several temporary exhibits make their way through this museum covering topics relevant to Lincoln such as the Civil War and the political history of Illinois. Your kids can enjoy the theater and special exhibits while you take a peek at the research library if you want to dive deep into the man's fascinating history.
4. Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden is 385 acres of lush flora that charms the senses with greenery and varied bright colors alongside floral aromas and the mist of scenic fountain displays. 27 display gardens are featured within, showcasing impressive local flora alongside specimens from all over the world. You can explore it all at your own pace, or you can book one of the narrated tram tours available within the garden. There is a parking fee, but admission into the garden is completely free.
5. Discovery Center Museum
When you visit the Discovery Center Museum, you'll find something specially suited for Illinois family vacations. It has over 300 exhibits featuring hands-on activities relevant to science and the arts. The range of activities is fun for the whole family no matter how old your kids are. You'll find a play area designed for toddlers and a 2-story maze fit for older kids. Kids under the age of 2 can enjoy the museum for free.
6. Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest art museums in the country, full of historically significant exhibits, and offers fun for the whole family. This Illinois destination contains almost 300,000 works of art in its permanent collection and about 30 temporary exhibitions cycling through each year. With restaurants on the premises, you won’t have to leave once the family gets hungry.
7. Museum of Science and Industry
Finding fun for adults and kids alike is essential for memorable Illinois family vacations. Fortunately, the Museum of Science and Industry has something for everyone. Inside, you'll find a full-size replica of a coal mine, the Apollo 8 spacecraft, and a special idea factory exhibit catered towards children to foster creativity and curiosity. Some of the museum's exhibits will have additional fees apart from the standard entrance fee, so be sure to factor this stop into your budget before putting it on your itinerary.
8. Writers Theater
Fans of the arts are probably planning on visiting Writers Theater at least once during their trip to Illinois. Fortunately, this theater is also a premier destination for entire families to enjoy with content kids and adults alike can connect with. Within this theater, you'll find both classic and contemporary works in production including works from playwriting legends and new up-and-comers. You’ll want to check the content of the show before you buy your tickets to make sure it’s suitable for the entire family.
9. The Field Museum
The Field Museum is a fascinating museum of natural history and one of the largest of its kind worldwide. You'll find a wide variety of exhibits here, including one of the most comprehensive Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils ever recovered and an entire section dedicated to ancient Egypt. Kids will especially enjoy 3D movies that offer even more information about the world's incredible natural history. There are so many education programs here that everyone can leave having learned something new.
10. The Driehaus Museum
The Driehaus Museum is a historical museum showcasing the opulent home of Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Nickerson was a banker, and in the Gilded Age, had one of the gaudiest residential buildings in Chicago. When you and your family visit, you can see the extravagance yourself as you effectively take a step back in time to see the period-appropriate art pieces and furniture. You can explore it at your own pace or take a guided tour that offers valuable context about the pieces in this 19th century home.
11. Chicago Cultural Center
Whether you're interested in the various local cultures in Chicago or intricate architectural accomplishments, you'll find fun at the Chicago Cultural Center. Your kids will too, as it contains plenty of artworks and exhibitions that the whole family will love. Be sure to look up when visiting since it features one of the largest stained glass Tiffany domes in the world. The splendor of its design cannot be overstated and it's the spot where the Chicago mayor welcomes world leaders to the city.
12. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most iconic and legendary architects who ever lived. At the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, you can learn all about this famous architect and his former house. This was the very house that so many of his ideas were brought to fruition, and kids and adults alike will enjoy its intricate and fascinating design. The man's signature style is present throughout the house and it contains many exhibits showcasing his best work.
13. Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site was the former home of the titular president. He lived here for nearly 20 years in the mid 19th century, before he became president. Inside, you'll find it remarkably well-maintained allowing you to explore the only home Lincoln ever owned. It's free to access, so it's particularly appealing to families on a budget. You'll find 12 rooms inside, and the museum is only accessible via a ranger-guided tour. Those tours are first-come-first-served and tickets are available at the Visitor Center Information Desk.
14. The Magnificent Mile
If your family is interested in shopping, there's nothing in Illinois quite like Chicago's Magnificent Mile. This 8-block stretch downtown is home to more than 460 shops ranging from mid-level stores to high-end boutiques. While most of them offer clothes, you'll still find a variety of items, many of which are catered especially towards children. Additionally, you'll find services like spas and hair salons, so you can let part of your family shop around while you enjoy some relaxation and pampering. You'll find numerous restaurants here, so your family can plan on staying the entire day.
15. Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
When you visit Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon among vibrant nature with plenty to do. It encompasses 85 acres of land including prairies, wetlands, and woodlands. 10 acres of that land is a singular lake. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that you'll find kayaks and canoes to rent in the area, though you can stick to the numerous walking and cycling trails instead if you prefer. Additionally, you and the kids can spot some impressive wildlife in the area with several species of birds calling this park home.
16. 360 Chicago
If your Illinois family vacation takes you to Chicago, you won't want to miss out on this iconic experience. 360 Chicago is a legendary observation deck on the John Hancock Center's 94th floor. From this viewpoint, you can enjoy a complete panoramic view of the city with sightlines that let you gaze out about 80 miles on a clear day. Plus, there's an interactive tour available that will show off the top highlights of the surrounding area that are visible from the viewpoint. If you're feeling brave, you can also try out the TILT platform, a massive window that tilts riders down 30 degrees to appreciate just how high they are.
17. Lincoln Park Zoo
Animal lovers of all ages can enjoy unforgettable experiences at Lincoln Park Zoo. It's one of the oldest zoos in the country, and it's dedicated to animal protection and preservation. You'll find about 200 different species that make their home here including polar bears, zebras, and lions. In addition to the animals, you'll also find rides at the zoo specifically set up and designed for kids, so they'll find a bit more thrill here than they would at the typical zoo experience. It's also perfect for Illinois family vacations on a budget since admission is completely free, though donations are always accepted.