I’m a Chicago girl and there is nothing I love more than sharing my hometown with my daughters. I love taking my children to visit my family and introducing them to the city I love. It’s nice because while I’m figuring out all the best things to do in Chicago with teens and kids, I get to play tourist.
Chicago is one of my favorite cities but when you live somewhere you never play tourist because you.live.there. When you’re young, you’re like no way, I’m not wasting my time because you think you’ll always be there. Everything tourists come to Chicago to see, we saw on field trips a zillion times with school. You couldn’t pay us enough to go willingly.
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But then you grow up and you realize OMG, all of these amazing museums, art galleries, Planetariums, Zoos, Aquariums and theaters were right here and I took it all for granted. You realize that there are amazing things to do, food to eat and different cultures all around and you took it all for granted. But no more.
Of course, it is winter, and your first instinct is to be indoors feeling comfy in your best wool slippers or under a warm blanket. However, sometimes this can take you away from all the fun you can have in Chicago. As long as you are protected from the frigid weather, there are many things to see and experience. Chicago has so much in store for you and the family.
Here is a list of things to do in Chicago during the Winter months
The Museum of Science and Industry
During the winter months, November through January, Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is displayed. Explore rich holiday traditions from around the globe while creating your own traditions with loved ones in Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.
It began in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the Museum’s beloved annual celebration features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. On the weekends, you can also enjoy live holiday performances. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that brings a whole world of holiday joy under one roof.
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This has been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. This year, I took my parents and my daughters and it was truly magical. My only piece of advice, it is very busy over the holiday break between Christmas and New Year.
Also, if you are going during a busy season or when a popular exhibit is at the museum, be sure to get tickets for the exhibits that you want to see. There are some free exhibits that are very popular and so tickets are given on first come first serve basis, plot your plan and get your tickets as soon as you get there so you don’t miss anything.
Free admission days: The Museum of Science and Industry is free for Illinois residents with valid ID on the following dates in 2019: January 7–10, 14–17, 21–24, 28–31, February 4–7, 11–14, 19–21, 25–28
If you are looking for a leisurely day to spend with children of all ages, the Shedd Aquarium is perfect. You are inside from the elements, whether it be the sweltering heat of the summer or the brutal cold of Chicago winters, and children (and adults alike) love the serene beauty that surrounds you.
Discover Aquatic Animals from around the World. You can purchase tickets online and save time. Encounter Penguins. Meet Beluga Whales. Award Winning Exhibits. Hands-On Activities. Watch Shark Feedings. Shows: Shark Feeding Tour, Behind-the-Scenes Tour, Beluga Encounter, Penguin Encounter. Our favorite was the Dolphin show and the Beluga Whales. It’s a great day of exciting aquatic fun.
Don’t forget about the free admission days. Check the shed aquarium page free admissions page at a later day. Check back frequently because it’s a great deal.
Who can forget the iconic shots of Kevin Bacon in She’s Having a Baby at the Field Museum? If your child or teen is into history at all, Field Museum is the place to visit. Even if they aren’t, I think the Field Museum could convince them to be. The Field Museum fuels a journey of discovery across time to enable solutions for a brighter future rich in nature and culture. It’s where real science, dinosaurs, and world-class exhibits inspire fun for all. My girls and nephew loved the mummies exhibit, Sue the T-Rex and Maximo the Titanosaur.
There are Free Admission Days, which are free basic admission for Illinois residents with proof of residency. Discounted passes are available in person and cannot be purchased online in advance.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago, located in Millennium Park, is a hub for summertime festivals like Lollapalooza, the Blues Festival, and Taste of Chicago but it’s really a great place to visit during the winter months as well. There are many pieces to be adored and to give your family something to think about Wood’s American Gothic, Matisse’s Bathers By a River, Monet’s Water Lilies, Rivera’s Weaver and even Renoir’s Two Sisters. There are O’Keefe, Toulouse-Lautrec and Warhols. All these I remember seeing as a child. But even among the Dali and Van Goghs, the piece I love the most is Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. Those artworks are probably only allowed to be shipped and prepped by top-notch art handlers to safeguard their authenticity. Having a place to go and share these pieces with my daughters, feels a little bit like going to church at the Sistine Chapel. We are overcome with awe and wonder. The art Institute is a must-visit when you’re in Chicago.
Just like all the other amazing museums in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago has free admission days.
Chicago’s Adler Planetarium is America’s first planetarium and a premier resource for inspiring the next generation of space explorers and bonus, it is right next door to the Shedd Aquarium so you can make a day of it with the kids. If your child is interested in astronomy or space in general, how it works, what’s out there, or just connecting the constellations in the night sky, they will love the Adler Planetarium.
Countless galaxies, unfathomable distances, exploding stars, diamond planets, black holes, there’s no way around it, space is freaking awesome! Come learn more at the Adler Planetarium during our Illinois Resident Discount Days—where Illinois residents receive FREE General Admission to the museum. General Admission provides access to all exhibitions and experiences (excluding the historic Atwood Sphere Experience and sky shows.*)
If you’ve never been to Navy Pier, make sure to visit on your next trip to Chicago. Originally completed in 1916 as part of Daniel Burnham’s plan for Chicago, Navy Pier is an iconic city landmark inspiring discovery and wonder. Since its reopening in 1995, more than 180 million visitors have come to enjoy the Pier’s 50 acres of unparalleled attractions and experiences. As Navy Pier enters its second century, the venue is evolving into an accessible, year-round centerpiece for Chicago’s diverse arts and cultural treasures.
There is so much to do at Navy Pier. There are restaurants, art, shopping, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and even rides. Navy Pier is home to one of Chicago’s most iconic attractions: the magnificent Centennial Wheel, offering soaring views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. And let’s not forget about the Pepsi Wave Swinger, carousel and more. Honestly, there is so much to do…just add teens and an instant good time.
Navy Pier’s mission is to be a world-class public place that celebrates and showcases the vitality of Chicago and provides for the enjoyment of Chicago-area residents and visitors year-round. My girls love it and I’m sure that your kids will too. Did I mention that there is Garrett’s popcorn in the Pier and a Harry Careys?
Medieval Times Schaumburg
If you’ve never been to a Medieval Times, you are missing out. I always wanted to go but never made the drive as I said, when you live in Chicago, you don’t do touristy things). A couple of years ago, I found myself at a work event with my family and guess where we ended up? Medieval Times. We loved it so much, this past holiday season when I was home visiting my parents, we took them to Medieval times in Schaumburg (just north of the city) and they loved it and so did my kids.
For the first time in Medieval Times 35-year history, a woman is in charge. All hail Queen Dona Maria Isabella. Enjoy an electrifying show featuring heroic knights on spirited horses displaying the astounding athletic feats and thrilling swordplay that have become hallmarks of this unique entertainment experience. Enjoy a “hands-on” feast as the dynamic performance unfolds before you. A sweeping musical score and brilliant lights provide a fabulous backdrop for this spellbinding experience that blurs the boundary between fairy tale and spectacle!
Yes, there is a blue knight and a red knight and you eat with your hands but so is everybody else and it was magical and splendid and I can’t wait to go again. There is a 2-hour medieval jousting tournament, 6 competing knights with real weapons, beautiful horses and a live flight of the royal falcon. Medieval Times is like nothing else you’ve ever experienced.
Broadway in Chicago
If you love the theater, Broadway in Chicago is the place to be. Hamilton, anyone? The theater district is vibrant and located within walking distance of so many great restaurants and entertainment opportunities, including the Joffrey ballet. There is no shortage of things to see and places to be while experiencing Broadway on Chicago. There is a constant assortment of plays and musicals to see on the stage, something for everyone, even the most discerning critics.
There are so many more things, these are just a few and the list gets longer during the warmer months. What is your favorite thing to do, see and eat in Chicago? The best part is that all of these places are great for just adults too.
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The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker
As you all know, the ballet has a special place in my heart because my girls are ballerinas. The Nutcracker has always and will forever be a huge part of our holiday tradition. The girls have never seen it live from the audience because, for as long as they can remember, they have danced in it. Our local production is known to be one of the best in the country but we’ve always wanted to see the Joffrey’s, one of the premier dance companies in the world today, production. This year it’s on the list. The Joffrey Ballet’s critically-acclaimed reimagined classic, The Nutcracker by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, returns to celebrate the magic of the holiday season. Wheeldon’s American tale relocates Marie and her immigrant family to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where Marie embarks on a whirlwind adventure with the Nutcracker Prince.