ChicagoforKids.org offers eight free downloadable audio tours of the Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Bridge/Tribune Tower, Millennium Park, the "L," the Picasso sculpture, North Avenue Beach, Chicago food and the Garfield Park Conservatory.
The tours all focus on things kids care about-such as the fact that sliding on the Picasso at Daley Plaza is not only OK, but it's also encouraged. Each tour comes with a map to help parents get kids to the right places. The tours are available in five languages: English, Mandarin, German, Japanese and Spanish.
The Chicago Greeters program is another freebie. This one, however, is not open to city residents, although suburbanites are welcome. Chicago Greeters are volunteers who squire up to six visitors at a time on tours in 31 different neighborhoods. Reservations must be made a week or more in advance at ChicagoGreeter.com.
If you don't have a reservation, try the Chicago InstaGreeters program, which offers free one-hour walking tours of the Loop, Millennium Park, Hyde Park and Old Town on a first-come, first-served basis on weekends. Information on where to find an InstaGreeter is at ChicagoGreeter.com/instagreeter.
Finally, there are the 24 formal Chicago Neighborhood Tours offered at various times throughout the year by the Chicago Office of Tourism. These tours are aimed at history-loving adults, but spokeswoman Patricia Sullivan says some work well for slightly older children, particularly those studying Chicago history.
For kids, she recommends tours of the colorful Chinatown, Pilsen and Devon Avenue areas. New this year are tours of Columbus Park and Garfield Park; Andersonville and Edgewater; Avondale, Old Irving and the Villa; Back of the Yards and Bridgeport; Bronzeville, South Loop and IIT Campus; Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Wrigleyville; and Uptown and Argyle Street.
Tours are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and children 8-12. A schedule of tours is available at ChicagoNeighborhoodTours.com.
If the day (too hot?) or the kids (too tired?) mean a walking tour isn't in your future, try the trolley. We checked out Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co., whose hop-on, hop-off trolley tours offer the freedom to check out the city's best spots at your own pace, but with a conveniently charming ride to the next.