Chicago is a city famous for its gorgeous lakefront. Every year hundreds of thousands of people come down to the city to marvel at its beauty and explore Chicago’s architectural wonders tucked in all corners of the city.
One of the most popular ways to see and appreciate the city’s skyline and unique architecture is by going on a Chicago boat tour. There are two kinds of tours offered in the city, a lakefront tour and a river cruise.
The lakefront tours usually depart from Navy Pier. These tours go up and down the lakefront and offer one of the best views of the city’s skyline. The boats that do these tours often double as a restaurant and bar, and make for a memorable experience. However these boats usually stay some distance from the shore, and while you can see the amazing skyline and the building that comprises it, you can’t really appreciate the details of the buildings. You get the bigger picture, but not the little things that make Chicago buildings special.
River cruises on the other hand, provides a more detailed and insightful history of the buildings. Majority of the cruises also do start at Navy Pier, but instead of going out into the lake, these boats make their way inward up the river. The guides on these tours do an amazing job of identifying the buildings of note that the cruise passes by and will provide a detailed commentary not only about the building’s history but also the details and stories that make the building unique.
Chicago’s river is famous for flowing backwards. It’s main artery flows west from the controlling works at Lake Michigan, and will go on to pass underneath Outer Drive of Lake Shore Drive, then past some of the major iconic Chicago streets like Columbus Drive, Michigan Avenue, and Wabash Avenue then through State, Dearborn, Clark, La Salle, Wells, and Franklin Street.
Off interest on this portion of the tour, is the Nicholas Melas Centennial Fountain right off McClurg Court. Every year between May and October, for 10 minutes of every hour, the fountain shoots an arc of water over the river. Further up the river, the boats will pass by the bridge spanning the world famous Michigan Avenue, on the northeast corner of which lies the site of Fort Dearborn. Today though, that is the site of Pioneer Court, NBC Plaza, Tribune Tower, and the Wrigley Building. The river then turns slightly to the south west between Michigan Avenue and State Street, passing by the Trump International Hotel and Tower, the Marina City, the Reid, Murdoch & Co. Building, and the Merchandise Mart
For boats that follow the south branch of the river, one will get to see the Boeing Company World Headquarters, the Civic Opera House, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Union Station and Willis Tower. A lot of the boats on this side of the river cruise end the tour at the base of Willis Tower, but some boats continue on southwards towards Chinatown and end at Ping Tom Memorial Park where it passes under the Chicago Landmark Canal Street railroad bridge.
Some boats will then turn towards the north branch of the river right by Halsted Street, although this portion of the river is frequented more by kayakers than boat cruises. This portion of the river is lined with a mixture of residential neighborhoods, shopping areas, and the industrial area known as the Clybourn Corridor. Cortland Street Drawbridge, which was the first Chicago-style fixed trunnion bascule bridge, is also in the area, as well as Goose Island, a name synonymous to the favorite local beer.
Regardless of which type of architecture you’re interested in, or which side of Chicago you want to see, the river cruises provides you with the choice and opportunity to indulge on what you want. Most of the river cruises are less than $30.00 person, and for those on a tight budget, one can even opt for the quicker and cheaper $9.00 water taxi rides, though these do not have tour guides, the views are same stunning ones you’ll see on a guided tour. And if you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Wednesday or Saturday in the summers, you get the added bonus of a spectacular fireworks show.
Even better, get your own private boat tour. For $50 per person, Welcome Manor Inn has a private boat tour on a 54 foot yacht for up to 16 people. Bring your own snacks and BYOB, and enjoy the Chicago lake front on your very own boat.
If you have never been to the Windy City, then you need to experience the Chicago boat tours for yourself to get acclimated to the beautiful downtown area.