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!
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!
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!
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’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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
- Top 5 Kid-Friendly Downtown Chicago Restaurants that Your Family Will Love
- A Complete Chicago 3-Day Itinerary for Families
- Chicago Food Tours: Which Ones is Best for Families and Kids
- United States Bucket List: Places to See Before the Kids Leave the Nest
*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.*