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Top 10 Fun Things to do at Navy Pier Chicago With Kids

November 12, 2019

As one of the most family-friendly cities in the U.S., Chicago has plenty of things to do when visiting with kids. One of the most popular attractions to visit is Chicago’s iconic Navy Pier! This article will take a look at the top 10 fun things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids!

Over the past few years, Navy Pier has been transformed into a mecca for family fun and entertainment.

Read here to discover just what to expect, as well as how to plan your visit when considering things to do at Navy Pier Chicago. Look no farther for your ultimate guide on the best things to see and do when visiting Navy Pier with kids!

Top U.S. Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, lists the Top Things to Do at Navy Pier Chicago with Kids!
Navy Pier: Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Navy Pier Chicago – Overview

Chicago’s Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot pier that stretches out from Chicago’s shoreline into Lake Michigan. The pier is located at 600 E. Grand Avenue and is easily accessible via car or public transportation.

Previously known as Municipal Pier, it was renamed Navy Pier in 1927. This was done to honor the Navy veterans who worked here during the First World War.

What was once a military station and Navy pilot training facility, Navy Pier has since been transformed into an entertainment district that is home to rides, restaurants, shops, and attractions. Since its transformation, Navy Pier is now the most popular place to visit in Chicago!

Let’s take a look at the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids! This by far, was one of the most exciting places that we visited during our Chicago 3 day itinerary!

Top U.S. Travel Blog, Travel With A Plan, shares the list of the Top Things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with Kids!
Pier Park: Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

1. Enjoy the Carnival Rides at Pier Park

Navy Pier is home to Pier Park, a kid-friendly collection of carnival rides. The Pier Park rides resemble the classic feeling of what a ‘pier’ should look and feel like. Likewise, the brightly colored rides and carnival music amplify both nostalgia and fun!

Rides include the Pepsi Wave Swinger, Navy Pier Carousel, and Light Tower. Additional attractions in Pier Park include a climbing wall, Virtual Rush: Chicago, and remote control boats.

Additional planning tips. Purchase tickets for Pier Park rides at the Pier Park box office or online. Purchase them individually or bundled in a Play the Park Pass for added convenience and value.

Please note that Pier Park rides are seasonal and are open from late spring to early fall. During this time, they occasionally close due to weather-related conditions such as lightning, high winds, and extreme cold.

Guests may call 312-594-PIER to inquire about the operational status of Pier Park rides and attractions on the day of your visit.

2. Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum: Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Chicago’s Children’s Museum is one of the most recommended things to do at Navy Pier with kids! It is an interactive 4-story museum and appeals to a wide variety of ages including toddlers and school-age children.

Plan to spend 1-2 hours here, though many families with small children find that their kids are entertained here for much longer.

Favorite activities include Kids’ Town (a grocery store, construction zone, car wash, gas station, city bus, etc.), a dinosaur exhibit, and a water play area. The water play area consists of a large table of running water with a system of pipes that children can manipulate.

The Chicago Children’s Museum is open every day from 10 AM – 5 PM, and on Thursdays until 8 PM. Tickets for children and adults are $19 apiece, and children under 1-year-old are free.

3. Take a Chicago Food Planet Tour

Our personal favorite thing to do at Navy Pier Chicago is the Chicago Food Planet Navy Pier Signature Food Tour. Not only did the food tour include a private host, educational commentary, and amazing food, but it allowed us immediate seating and service at the most popular (and busy) Navy Pier restaurants. Of all of the Chicago Food Tours available, this one is the best for families and kids!

Our Chicago Food Planet host did a phenomenal job maneuvering us through the crowds of Navy Pier to enjoy authentic Chicago delicacies. A Chicago-style hot dog at AD&B, a Brown Sugar Bakery cupcake, Tiny Tavern cheese curds, Giordano’s deep-dish pizza, and Chicago-famous Garrett’s Popcorn.

Though this activity may not sound appealing for toddlers, it is a great activity for families with school-aged kids as well as tweens and teens. The tour is fun, fast-paced, and the ambiance is entirely kid-friendly.

The Navy Pier Signature Food Tour is 2 hours in length and costs $50 per adult and $35 for youth 12-years-old and younger.

Centennial Wheel at night: Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

4. Ride the Centennial Wheel

Navy Pier’s most ‘visible’ attraction is the gigantic Centennial Wheel Ferris wheel that stretches over 200 feet up into the Chicago skyline. As one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids, the Centennial Wheel provides riders with a 360 degrees view of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Kids love the safe feeling of the completely enclosed gondolas as well as the fact that the 8-passenger gondolas can likely fit all or most of their family.

The Centennial Wheel is open year-round, weather permitting. Purchase tickets at the Pier Park box office. General admission, Fastpass, and VIP buy-out options are available.

Additional planning tip: For added amazement, consider riding the Centennial Wheel at night! The Navy Pier Centennial Wheel is open until 10 PM and 12 AM on certain evenings.

5. Visit the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze

A less talked about thing to do at Navy Pier Chicago is to visit the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze.

Plan to get lost, feel dizzy, play games, and be surprised throughout this 4,000 sq ft. interactive play area. The endless mirrors and flashing lights may be scary for little ones, however. (Children under age 5 should not go in the maze.) Likewise, the experience can be too intense for those with sensory sensitivities as it does contain strobe lighting and lasers.

Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze is located halfway down the pier past Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The maze is self-paced and takes approximately 15-25 minutes to complete.

Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

6. Go on a Boat Tour

Several sightseeing cruises depart directly from Navy Pier to get up-close views of Chicago’s unique architecture and famous landmarks. Because kids, boats, and water all go hand-in-hand, embarking on a narrated boat tour is one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago!

From speed boats to pub sails, and from tall ships to pirate tales, there is a Navy Pier boat tour designed for everyone. Visit the Navy Pier Architecture and Sightseeing Cruises homepage to discover options and purchase tickets for these great family-friendly attractions!

Navy Pier Fireworks: Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

7. Watch the Free Fireworks

Another one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago is to watch their free fireworks. Perfectly synchronized to music over Lake Michigan, the Navy Pier fireworks show takes place every Wednesday at 9:30 PM and every Saturday at 10:15 PM. The fireworks are seasonal from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

View the Navy Pier fireworks directly from the pier or aboard an evening cruise. Either way, catching a view of the fireworks is the perfect way to end your day at Navy Pier! 

Top 5 Most Kid Friendly Restaurants in Downtown Chicago featured by top US family travel blog, Travel With a Plan: image of Giordano's
Giordano’s Pizza

8. Enjoy Mouth-Watering Food

Chicago is well-known for its amazing food and dining options! It just so happens that many of these local delicacies are located within the shared indoor space of Navy Pier. The feast of restaurants at Navy Pier include the iconic Harry Caray’s Tavern and Giordano’s Pizza, as well as Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, just to name a few.

Stop by for a classic Chicago hot dog at America’s Dog and Burger, award-winning fried chicken at Big City Chicken, or a custom cupcake at Brown Sugar Bakery. You are not short on options when it comes to enjoying mouth-watering food at Chicago’s Navy Pier!

Additional planning tip: Check out our list of the Top 5 most kid-friendly restaurants in downtown Chicago!

9. Attend a Performance at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) is a non-profit, professional theater company located in the heart of Navy Pier. With rave reviews regarding both production value and its exceptional staff service, Chicago Shakespeare Theater is also praised for its physical grandeur.

CST has an entire series of productions specifically designed with family enrichment and entertainment in mind. The CST Family Series presents a mixture of kid-friendly Shakespeare productions, timeless fables and fairy tales, interactive music concerts and musical theater.

For these reasons and more, Chicago Shakespeare Theater is consistently rated as one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids.

Click here to discover plays, events, and ticketing information.

Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago.

10. Visit Navy Pier During the Holidays

From December 6 through January 12, Navy Pier is transformed into Winter Wonderfest. Winter Wonderfest is one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids! It includes over 170,000 square feet of indoor rides, slides, and attractions, as well as indoor ice skating.

All attendees 36″ and up must purchase a ticket online prior to arrival or at the festival box office. Crowds are exceptionally large on the weekends all throughout December, so do plan accordingly.

If you like our article on the Top 10 Things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with Kids, check out our Related posts: 

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts. In addition, book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours here.*

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Click here to discover the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids! Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel with A Plan shares the details on everything there is to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids, as well as which are the best! #bestthingstodoinChicago #thingstodoinChicagowithkids #thingstodowithchildreninchicago #topthingstodoinchicagowithkids #thingstodoatnavypier #bestthingstodoatnavypier #chicagotravelblog
Click here to discover the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids! Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel with A Plan shares the details on everything there is to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids, as well as which are the best! #bestthingstodoinChicago #thingstodoinChicagowithkids #thingstodowithchildreninchicago #topthingstodoinchicagowithkids #thingstodoatnavypier #bestthingstodoatnavypier #chicagotravelblog
Click here to discover the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids! Top U.S. family travel blog, Travel with A Plan shares the details on everything there is to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids, as well as which are the best! #bestthingstodoinChicago #thingstodoinChicagowithkids #thingstodowithchildreninchicago #topthingstodoinchicagowithkids #thingstodoatnavypier #bestthingstodoatnavypier #chicagotravelblog
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  1. Reply

    Sarah Wilson

    November 25, 2019

    Love Chi town with kiddos – great recs.

    • Reply


      November 26, 2019

      Thank you! We can’t wait to go back!

  2. Reply


    November 25, 2019

    Looks like a fun place to take the kids, so much to do.

    • Reply


      November 26, 2019

      Yes! You should definitely check it out sometime 🙂

  3. Reply


    November 21, 2019

    We loved Navy Pier when we visited years ago, I’d love to go back and see it at Christmas, it looks even more magical!

    • Reply


      November 21, 2019

      Yes, Navy Pier at Christmas is amazing. The whole downtown Chicago is actually transformed during the holidays and is absolutely spectacular. I’d highly recommend checking it out!

  4. Reply


    November 19, 2019

    Those fireworks are spectacular! Looks like a wonderful place to visit!

    • Reply


      November 20, 2019

      Yes, the fireworks are amazing! It is definitely one of the family-friendly highlights of a trip to Chicago!

  5. Reply


    November 19, 2019

    Last time we visited Navy Pier, we didn’t get to do that much, just stroll around. Saving this post for when we return to Chicago with kids.

    • Reply


      November 19, 2019

      Awesome! Despite that we did do a lot the first time we were there, I think it is definitely a place that we will return (and do the same…and more!) Have a great day!

  6. Reply


    November 18, 2019

    Navy Pier sounds amazing! I would love to try the boat tour!

    • Reply


      November 19, 2019

      As one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is literally so beautiful! And the kids were thrilled with the boat tour too!

  7. Reply


    November 18, 2019

    We missed the Navy Pier due to rain during our visit and I’m so bummed! So we’re gonna hit all these fun things to do on our next visit to Chicago!!

    • Reply


      November 19, 2019

      Yes, you’ll definitely need to plan a visit here! As you can see, there is literally so much to do! Lots of memories made at Navy Pier!!

  8. Reply


    November 18, 2019

    Navy Pier is the perfect place for families. This post covers it all and honestly I never realized how many things there are to do right there! As many times as what I’ve been to Chicago, I’ve only been to Navy Pier once!! Great post!

    • Reply


      November 18, 2019

      Lori, thanks for the great feedback! Yes, Navy Pier is perfect for families as is a visit to Chicago overall!

  9. Reply


    November 18, 2019

    These look like such fun things to do on Navy Pier!

    • Reply


      November 18, 2019

      Yes! Navy Pier is awesome! Chicago was one of our kids’ favorite family vacations!!!


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    Hi, I’m Jen!  Welcome to Travel With A Plan!

    I’m an avid adventurer who is always planning the next family vacation for my husband and I, and our three boys!

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