Our Chicago kids museum guide collects all of the best family museums around the city and suburbs, along with parent reviews.
Discover the children's museums Chicago families love, plus all-ages picks with interactive exhibits and hands-on experiences that make them especially kid-friendly.
Visit our list of Chicago museum free days to see when you can visit some of these favorites for nothing!
Bronzeville Children's Museum
Kristy Pepping: The Bronzeville Children's Museum opened in 1993 as the first and only African-American children's museum in the country. One hour tours are provided to introduce children to four different subject matters allowing them to play as they learn. Tours occur ever hour on the hour. Learn about African American inventors, STEM leaders, athletes, innovations in medicine and more. Each exhibit is play based, with age appropriate toys and activities to match.
Museum of Science and Industry
Kristy Pepping: Chicago families love MSI! The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the largest science museums in the world. Exhibits focus on both history and on the future of science and science education, but kids love the interactive exhibits and jaw-dropping experiences geared just for them. They have an amazing model train exhibit, too, that train-enthusiast kids (and adults!) go wild for.
This museum is located a little south of downtown, but a very quick drive. Its campus has tons of open park area for kids to burn off some energy and right next to the lake, too.
Gina I.: Chicago's most popular stargazing spot offers education and entertainment for visitors of all ages. Explore a variety of out-of-this-world exhibits and breathtaking shows, and check out the Planet Explorers area, where kids can climb, crawl, play, and join the crew on a mission to space!
Chicago Children's Museum
Shila: Chicago Children's Museum is located at Navy Pier along with restaurants and cruise boats. Hands-on exhibits include digging for bones at Dinosaur Expedition, and getting your fingertips wet at Waterways. There are also a couple indoor playgrounds, one at the Kovler Family Climbing Schooner and another at the enchanting forest exhibit, Treehouse Trails.
Sarah Calamita: If you have dinosaur lovers this is THE place to go. The great thing is you can go in and spend a few hours inside, but then it is right on the lake so you can spend time outside and walk the path along the lake! It is an amazing museum. Don't miss the SUE exhibit!
Kristy Pepping: See whales, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish and more! Many exhibits are play-based, like the Polar Play Zone, where your kiddo can slip into a penguin suit and waddle around! Experience touch tanks, animal chats, dolphin and whale shows, shark feedings and behind-the-scene tours, sleepover events, youth camps, and more.
Art Institute of Chicago
Kristy Pepping: Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is a great way to introduce your child to art appreciation, plus see the iconic lions out front! This popular downtown Chicago museum offers family programs and daily workshops with hands-on experiences, story times and more. Families with younger kids may particularly enjoy walking through The Thorne Miniature Rooms, The Touch Gallery, or viewing the vibrant glass treasures found in the Paperweight Gallery.
Chicago Museum of Illusions
Alexandra F.: The first Museum of Illusions opened in Croatia in 2015 and quickly spread to cities around the world offering interactive and immersive exhibits featuring holograms, optical illusions, and other attractions designed to tease the senses and trick the mind. A relatively new addition to the many kid-friendly museums around Chicagoland, it's a fun destination for kids who love riddles and puzzles. Be sure to check out the Smart Playroom for fun, hands-on games and brain-teasers!
Chicago Sports Museum
Shila: The Chicago Sports Museum contains unique sports memorabilia from Kris Bryant’s World Series cleats to the hoop from Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beating shot in the '98 NBA Finals. Cool experiences include comparing your jumping ability to Mike's, impersonating Harry Caray, virtual home run contests and more! You can also learn a lot about the curses, superstitions and infamous sports mysteries that have captivated Chicago sports fans for decades.
Chicago History Museum
Kristy Pepping: Chicago History Museum is located at the South end of Lincoln Park. The building itself is beautiful and the museum hosts a great selection of rotating, interactive exhibits; it's the perfect place to bring your budding historian! Kids can step inside an old L train car, or pretend to be a steam train conductor. There's also a sensory exhibit geared for youth where they can dress up as a Chicago hot dog! Illinois residents 18 and under, and non-residents 12 and under, always enjoy free admission.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Kristy Pepping: This is a great museum to explore any time of year, with plenty of indoor conservation-based exhibits to complement the beautiful outdoor sanctuary. Kids especially love the bright and warm Butterfly Haven, interactive RiverWorks water play area and indoor playground.
Fire Museum of Greater Chicago
Open the 4th Saturday of the month
Alexandra F.: The Fire Museum of Greater Chicago is located in a 1916 firehouse, and while small in size, it is filled with the history of firefighting in Chicago. Items on display range from old photographs and artifacts to lovingly restored antique fire engines. They offer an open house to the public, with free admission, every fourth Saturday of the month (except December).
National Museum of Mexican Art
Always free admission
Kristy Pepping: The National Museum of Mexican Art offers free admission every day it is open, so your family can immerse yourselves in the richness of Mexican art and culture right here in Chicago. They showcase 3,000 years of creativity from both sides of the border, with regular opportunities for children and family programming. Their Día de los Muertos celebration is especially worth checking out!
Children's Museum in Oak Lawn
Erin P.: If you are in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, this little children's museum is a great place to spend a few hours with your kids. There are some great hands-on activities for toddlers and kids, a tree house, a water adventure, an air maze, STEM discovery, and lots of opportunities to dress up.
The Build It! workshop even introduces children to tools and raw building materials. During select hours of the day, kids get supervised time - with a hard hat and goggles - to create something special.
KidsWork Children's Museum
Shila: The KidsWork Children's Museum houses a handful of interactive play-based exhibits to nurture life-long learning and discovery. Experiences include a giant pinscreen, pet vet, puppet theater, art-making, sensory play, education-based games and innovative technology like electronic painting.
The museum has early childhood programming that's included with admission, as well as a variety of special events. Recurring drop-ins include story time, art hour, yoga for kids and more.
Mitchell Museum of the American Indian
Shila: Learn about the history, culture, and arts of the American Indian and First Nation peoples of the USA and Canada. The museum is a nice place for families. There are interactive activities and crafts for kids in most exhibits. And visitors can hold and touch a wide range of objects and raw materials that are set up throughout the main floor galleries. Discover a wigwam, native clothing, woven arts, old photographs, and more. Families may especially enjoy the Mitchell Museum's variety of tours, special events, and weekend drop-in arts and crafts activities to theme.
Wonder Works Children's Museum
Shila: This 6,400-square foot children's museum houses six wondrous experience zones that foster creative and imaginary play in young kids.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Yoli B: The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center offers the largest collection of holocaust artifacts in the Midwest. The museum has several exhibits including a holographic theatre where the audience can ask a hologram of an actual survivor questions! The museum has a strong anti-bullying message and the interactive, "Make A Difference" exhibit is dedicated to helping children make the right decision in tough situations! While the museum does have tough content they offer a warning before it becomes graphic.
Trailside Museum of Natural History
Always free admission
Vanessa M.: Admission is always free at the Trailside Museum of Natural History, part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Housed inside an 1870's mansion and set in a tranquil forest preserve alongside the Des Plaines River, the museum is a local family favorite. Children will love visiting the live animal exhibits (turtles, owls, etc), nature displays and play areas, and exploring the hiking trails surrounding the museum. The museum also regularly hosts story times and other free family friendly programming.
Kohl Children’s Museum
Kristy Pepping: Kohl Children’s Museum offers more than a dozen interactive, hands-on exhibits including a play cafe to transact food orders and dine in, a pretend grocery store, a hands-on water play area, pretend veterinarian's office and more! The Adventures in Art room provides more than enough art supplies to create your own masterpieces. There is an outdoor playground area, as well as an in-house restaurant.
Joliet Area Historical Museum
Shila: The Joliet Area Historical Museum's exhibits includes classic Route 66 memorabilia and a step-in Lunar Lander Simulator. This state-of-the-art Apollo Exhibit, a favorite for kids, celebrates the historic 1969 moon landing and honors former Joliet resident, Dr. John C. Houbolt. There are on occasion Family Days with fun scavenger hunts or other holiday celebrations.
Museums at Lisle Station Park
Always free admission
Suggested donation $5/adult, $2/child
Shila: Love local history? The Museums at Lisle Station Park provide visitors the opportunity to learn about the heritage and culture of 19th century Northern Illinois. You'll be able to check out an old railroad caboose, the depot station, the old tavern, blacksmith shop and farmhouse. In fact, adults can also learn the trade of blacksmithing by attending a workshop event. They also offer free family friendly programming throughout the year.
DuPage Children's Museum
Kristy Pepping: DuPage Children's Museum has three floors of interactive exhibits, drop-in story times and kid-friendly programming, and fun Learning Labs. Favorite exhibits include: Creativity Connections for sensory play, Make A Move to learn about energy and motion, and Build It with real materials and tools. Of course there are plenty more exhibits for playing and discovering math connections, art, music, and theatre.
Shila: Naper Settlement is a 19th century outdoor living history museum featuring 12 acres of learning and interactive family-friendly opportunities. Above that, Naper Settlement has a wooden fort-inspired playscape out back that features a trading post, sensory prairie garden, a playground, picnic tables and a seasonal splash pad with water cannons and ground water jets. Naper Settlement is steps away from dining, shopping and the Naperville Riverwalk.
Aurora Regional Fire Museum
Kristy Pepping: The Aurora Regional Fire Museum features a few interactive exhibits designed to educate and entertain children, families and firefighters. The museum includes artifacts like badges, helmets, nozzles, axes, ladders, fire alarm equipment and toy fire engines. Exhibits like, "Getting There, Getting Water, Getting Rescued," trace the evolution of the tools and technology used by firefighters.
Volo Auto Museum
Sarah D.: Volo Auto Museum is an all out adventure for any kid. In addition to an array of automotive exhibits, sure to thrill gear heads of all ages, the museum also has specifically designed, child-friendly activities and specific "Cars for Kids" exhibits. This is a must-see museum for any enthusiast of things that go!
Yoli B: Blackberry Farm is a part of Fox Valley Park District's living-history museum. The Adventure Playground looks like an old farming community with climbing deck, rope tunnels, bridges and tons of slides. The coolest part will be watching your kid zip line from the silo back to Earth! In addition to the incredible playground, admission to Blackberry Farm includes access to its historical sites, rides and attractions, including the Discovery Barn, train, hay wagon, paddle boats, carousel and ponies.
Air Classics Museum
Kristy Pepping: Air Classics is an aviation museum located at Aurora Municipal Airport where the aircraft actually fly. You can sit in an A-7 that flew in the Gulf War and climb into the pilot's seat of a UH-1 Huey helicopter. The museum's collection includes aircraft, vehicles, uniforms and other aviation memorabilia from the 1930s to the present time.
Illinois Railway Museum
Yoli B: Do you have little ones that can't get enough of their train table, or watching the trains pass by? If so the Illinois Railway Museum is a perfect place to spend the day. They have collections of vintage rail cars and modern subway cars. Exhibits are outdoors and in hangar style facilities and the best part is you can touch and climb aboard most of the cars and engines. Pack a lunch or eat at the onsite diner, but make sure you enjoy the 25 minute train ride before you leave! This is the venue for the annual Days Out With Thomas.
Discovery Center Museum
Shila: Discovery Center Museum is a hands-on children's science museum with more than 300 interactive exhibits and a full calendar of special events. Discover the human body, forms of electricity, the science of sports, space travel and planetarium shows, tornadoes in Wild Weather, encase yourself in a giant bubble, and more!
Out back, Rock River Discovery Park is a destination-worthy playground and science park featuring a dinosaur dig pit, a maze, an 8-foot water wheel, and a Secret Garden.
Primary photo: Chicago History Museum
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