Off the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago has all the ingredients for a perfect family vacation – from sweeping parks to interactive museums.

Photography LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Parks, culture, history, sports and a culinary scene that runs the gamut from old-fashioned hot dog stands to haute Michelin-starred cuisine—Chicago has no shortage of activities. If you’re looking for the kid-friendly variety, you’ll find your fill at these top Windy City attractions.

Visit Shedd Aquarium

Discover more than 32,000 aquatic animals, including the Japanese sea nettle jellyfish, at the Shedd Aquarium, one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums.

Photography Cindy Hopkins / Alamy Stock Photo

Shedd Aquarium, the most highly trafficked aquarium in the U.S., is a must for all ages. At Waters of the World, kids get up close to sea creatures, including the Shedd’s oldest resident: an Australian lungfish that has called the aquarium home since 1933. Don’t miss the dancing dolphins and belugas at the aquatic show. Round out your visit at the Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising and Polar Play Zone exhibits.

See sky-high Chicago views

Want to feel like you’re on top of the world? Ride the elevator to the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the U.S., Chicago’s Willis Tower. Standing 1,353 feet (412 metres) above the ground on the tower’s glassed-in Skydeck, you’ll take in sweeping views of the city. On a clear day, you can even see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Discover Lincoln Park Zoo

The dome of the Peoples Gas Pavilion – which was inspired by the pattern of a turtle shell – is the artful centerpiece of the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Zoo, an urban conservation project home to native plants and animals.

Photography Jose Vilchez / Alamy Stock Photo

Big cats, polar bears, zebras, reptiles and a rare baby red kangaroo are just a few of the roughly 1,100 animals you’ll find at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Highlights include the Endangered Species Carousel and the Regenstein African Journey. This interior exhibit—complete with dwarf crocodiles and pygmy hippos—mirrors the sights and sounds of a safari experience. Take a stroll down the Nature Boardwalk, where wooden pathways criss-cross over a pond thriving with turtles, frogs and migratory birds.

Experience Navy Pier

Navy Pier is the city’s playground. With 50 acres (20 hectares) of indoor and outdoor parks, gardens, shops and restaurants, the area is also home to an amusement park that projects into Lake Michigan. Stop at Chicago Children’s Museum, where kids are invited to climb on ships, hide in treehouses and create all types of inventions in the state-of-the-art Tinkering Lab. At the dinosaur exhibit, they can tap into their inner paleontologists. In warmer weather, head for the Pier’s carousel and 18-hole miniature golf course.

Eat sweet treats

When it comes time for an afternoon indulgence, skip the candy and head for one of these out-of-the-box sweet shops. Glazed & Infused offers doughnuts in unusual flavours such as maple-bacon and crème brûlée. The creations you’ll find at the gourmet cupcake bakery More may sound like haute cuisine (Parmesan-encrusted lemon-artichoke has been on the menu), but young palates will be won over by flavours like s’more and cookies and cream. Need a chocolate fix? Chicago chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat wows with a sweet and salty spin on truffles and bars.

Travel tip

With so much to see, a guided trolley ride is a smart option. Stopping at 13 of Chicago’s most famous attractions (Millennium Park, the Art Institute, The Field Museum and Navy Pier, to name a few), Chicago’s Hop On Hop Off trolley tours allow you to do just that at any point. Tickets are good for three days so you can enjoy the city’s top sights whenever you’d like.

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