16 Children’s Museums to Visit in Illinois

Discover opportunities for all-day play, where interactive exhibits encourage kids to engage in a creative environment and learn along the way.

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We’ve highlighted some of Illinois’ top destinations, from the Chicago area to Springfield and Edwardsville. Almost a dozen of the statewide children’s museums participate in Museums for All, a program that offers free or reduced admission costs to families receiving SNAP benefits. These museums are denoted with an asterisk.

Most children’s museums cater to kids under the age of 12, with activities for all, including babies and toddlers.

Chicago Area

Below you’ll find destinations within the city of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.

Chicago Children’s Museum* | Navy Pier

Chicago’s Outdoor Playground (aka Navy Pier) allows kids to tinker in the lab, build a tree fort and climb Cloud Buster, a highly entertaining multilevel structure. The three-floor Chicago Children’s Museum welcomes families on weekends, Friday through Sunday.

Bronzeville Children’s Museum | Chicago

The nation’s first and only African American Children’s Museum calls the South Side of Chicago home. Choose from four tours that cover themes like food and exercise, African American inventors, STEM and local landmarks.

Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn* | Oak Lawn

For an out-of-this-world experience, visit the Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn to build a spacecraft, rescue and care for a shelter animal (don’t worry, it’s stuffed), or drive a miniature train through Black Oaks Grove, a re-created town within this exciting museum.

Wonder Works, A Children’s Museum* | Oak Park

Chicago’s western suburb brings the outside in and the inside out at Wonder Works. Discover bugs and other creatures who call the forest home, then head outside to see real bugs and butterflies in the Children’s Garden. Curious young minds can follow the production journey of a vegetable, which culminates at the Farm Market, where “store owners” sell harvested fruit and veggies.

Kohl Children's Museum* | Glenview

Spot a turtle (one of the museum’s newest members) or help care for a pet in the vet’s office at the Kohl Children's Museum. More than 15 hands-on activities engage children with creative play, like constructing a house and working with others in the cooperative station.

DuPage Children’s Museum* | Naperville

Test your imagination at the DuPage Children’s Museum, which features exhibits that encourage problem solving through the use of energy, engineering skills and physics. Plus, explore plenty of opportunities for creativity in the art studio.

Nearby Dining and Lodging

  • Eat and Drink: If you’re in the city, grab lunch at one of the many authentic Chicago restaurants that call Navy Pier home. Out in the suburbs, check out 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Naperville, which appeals to kids of all ages with toy trains and culinary favorites like burgers, fries, hot dogs and ice cream.
  • Where to Stay: Regardless of the season, it’s always 84 degrees at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee, where kids can enjoy exhilarating water slides and numerous play areas within its enormous indoor waterpark.  
  • Bonus Stop: Spend some quality time at Brookfield Zoo, which is home to more than 2,400 animals representing nearly 500 species.

Beyond Chicago

Below you’ll find destinations in Northeast Illinois, but outside of the Chicago suburban area.

Exploration Station...A Children’s Museum | Bourbonnais

At the Exploration Station, children can try their hand at real-world adult jobs like a car mechanic, grocery clerk, restaurant chef, paleontologist and veterinarian, plus a prince or princess, in the Exploralot castle.

Children's Hands-On Museum of NW Illinois* | Freeport

Inside the Lincoln Mall, the Children's Hands-On Museum of NW Illinois welcomes kids to make music by banging the drums and shaking maracas. Other exhibits explore science, agriculture and engineering. 

Discovery Center Museum | Rockford

A blend of fun and education awaits at the Discovery Center Museum, where children can explore the universe via more than 300 interactive exhibits or head outside to the Rock River Discovery Park to search for dinosaur fossils. There’s also a two-story maze and splash area.

Nearby Dining and Lodging

  • Eat and Drink: Savor some of the area’s best pizza (and get the kiddos dancing to some live music) at Lino’s in Rockford.
  • Where to Stay: At the Residence Inn by Marriott in Rockford, children will have a blast in the pool room or outside on the sport courts. Nearby, you’ll find Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Anderson Japanese Gardens, and Rock Cut State Park.  

Land of Lincoln

Below you’ll find destinations in Central Illinois, including Springfield, Decatur, and Bloomington-Normal.

Children’s Discovery Museum* | Normal

The Children’s Discovery Museum in the Uptown neighborhood of Normal encourages hands-on activities and boasts the state’s largest agriculture exhibit within a children’s museum. Here, kids can drive a combine, harvest corn and feed cows.

Children’s Museum of Illinois | Decatur

Three floors await exploration at the Children’s Museum of Illinois in Decatur. Get a sense of your senses by learning how an eye works and seeing a giant mouth demonstrate how teeth stay white. Suit up for action in the Heroes Hall, which is dedicated to the men and women in blue.

Kidzeum of Health and Science* | Springfield

Whether it’s your body, the community or life on earth, healthy choices lead to a better world. Discover how at the Kidzeum of Health and Science in Springfield.

Nearby Dining and Lodging

  • Eat and Drink: In Springfield, Charlie Parker’s Diner has a retro feel that will delight the little ones, and Custom Cup Coffee offers small-batch brews to give the adults a tasty jolt of much-needed caffeine.
  • Where to Stay: Overnight in the Holiday Inn and Suites Decatur-Forsyth, where kids eat and stay for free. Burger Theory, the onsite restaurant, caters to one-of-a-kind tastes with a create-your-own menu that offers more than 4,300 possible combinations.
  • Bonus Stop: Drive through Aikman Wildlife Park in Arcola, where you can get up close and personal with animals you've only seen on television.

Great Rivers Country

Below you’ll find destinations in Western Illinois along the Mississippi River, and as far east as Peoria.

Edwardsville Children’s Museum* | Edwardsville

Future first responders, doctors, nurses and veterinarians get hands-on experience at the Edwardsville Children’s Museum. There’s also pizza, custard shops and a post office. 

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum* | Peoria

Step back in time at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, where the youngsters can unearth fossils from millions of years ago before visiting a town of yesteryear.  They can also simulate sailing along the Illinois River as they play with gently flowing water and drive boats downstream.

Discovery Depot | Galesburg

Stop into Ferris Village at the Discovery Depot — the recreated town, with a handful of stores, allows children to choose to be a customer, businessperson, or creator in the art studio.

Nearby Dining and Lodging

  • Eat and Drink: While Knox County Brewing Company in Galesburg dishes out delicious beer and artisan tacos, it also caters to all ages by serving soda and offering a kid-friendly nook with comfy couches and board games. Indulge your sweet tooth with savory treats at Triple Dipple’s in Chillicothe.
  • Where to Stay: Less than two miles from downtown and the Discovery Depot, you’ll find the Best Western Prairie Inn and Conference Center, which boasts a spacious indoor heated pool, complimentary breakfast and a putting green. Or, if you have a more adventurous spirit, opt for a unique stay in an old-school caboose at Wildlife Prairie Park.

Trails to Adventure

Below you’ll find the top destination in Southern Illinois.

The Science Center of Southern Illinois | Carbondale

Designed specifically for children aged 3-13, the Science Center features several interactive hands-on exhibits dealing with a variety of basic concepts of science, as well as special events and programs.

Nearby Dining and Lodging

  • Eat and Drink: Rated as "Best Ribs in the U.S." by Bon Appétit Magazine, 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro offers family-style, award-winning barbecue.
  • Where to Stay: Kids ages 18 and under stay for free when sharing their parents’ room at the Holiday Inn Carbondale. Kids 11 and under eat for free, too.
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