Kid-Friendly Layover Guide: Chicago O’Hare

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Layovers can be a real drag, especially when traveling with inpatient kids or energetic toddlers. Our round-trip flights from Asia to the US once or twice a year have certainly given us our share of good and bad layovers. If you find yourself in Chicago O’Hare on a layover, here are some of our top tips to making it as painless as possible.

Play Areas for your Little Flyers

Kids on the Fly Play Area

Kids On The Fly is an educational, interactive play area that features a helicopter, airplane and control tower as well as other fun features. It is in Terminal 2 on the airside (inside security). The area is open for kids of all ages and is open 24 hours. Miss C really enjoyed pretending to drive the airplane with her Dada while Mom caught a few Zs nearby. The area is sponsored by the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Gardens and Dinosaur Bones

Dinosaur at Chicago O'Hare

If you have kids who are interested in science or nature, Chicago O’Hare offers a few interesting activities. There is a hydroponics garden called O’Hare Urban Oasis inside security. It’s located in Terminal 3 on the Mezzanine level near the G concourse entrance (follow the signs for the USO which is well-marked). The plants are mostly used within the airport at the various restaurants. For kids who love dinosaurs, you can’t miss checking out one of the world’s largest mounted dinosaurs. The 72-foot long, nearly four-story tall Brachiosaurus is loaned out from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and is seriously impressive. The Field Museum Store also features unique science- and nature- related gifts for kids and adults alike.

Picnic With a View

For me, Miss C, and certainly for my licensed-pilot-and-former-airline-employee husband, airports are fascinating places. I love people-watching, wondering what sorts of adventures, joyful occasions, tragedies and businesses people are traveling for. Planes are fascinating to me as well. At the end of each of O’Hare’s concourses, there are large windows with views of the runway. Miss C loves to watch the planes take off and land. Grab a picnic lunch and sit with your kids and watch the airport in action. Several of the airport’s restaurants even allow you to dine with a view of the planes in action as well. If you are lucky enough to have an aviation-geek for a husband like me, then it’s the perfect time for him to teach your kids all sorts of interesting factoids about aircraft and air-travel.

Chicago O’Hare’s Healthiest Bite

Cibo Express Chicago O'Hare

Cibo Express Gourmet Markets is my favorite place to grab a quick bite in Chicago’s airport and even picky Miss C enjoys . Bucking the trend of typical greasy airport food, they have lots of healthy options. They have great options for anyone with food sensitivities too. So, if you are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free or just want a healthy snack or meal on your layover, Cibo Express is a great place to stop. Cibo offers more than 100 locations in 10 major U.S. airports. At Chicago O’Hare you can find them in Terminals 2 and 3.

Have fun with Airport Transit

The airport transit itself is enough to entertain many kids, especially if they don’t see subways/trains/light-rails often. Taking the train between the terminals can be a lot of fun for kids, but make sure you have plenty of time. The train is outside security so you will have to go through the security checkpoint again to get to your departure gate. O’Hare also has an interesting underground tunnel with a light show. The tunnel is in Terminal 1 (mostly United flights) and connects concourses B and C. Miss C loves riding the travelator through the outerspace-esque tunnel and admiring all of the lights.

Spend the Night

If you have a long enough layover or get stuck at O’Hare, you may want to book a hotel. Check out this list of hotels near the O’Hare Airport to book something with convenient airport access. The Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport is connected to the terminal and has a gym and pool!

These tips should give you plenty to do the next time you have time to kill at O’Hare airport. What’s your favorite airport to fly through? What’s your best layover story? Let us know in the comments!

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