Best Boat Rides For Chicago Area Families
Ready to hit the water? Families can celebrate the season by boarding a variety of boats on Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. Some may even want to venture further west for an old-fashioned river boat ride on the Fox River in St. Charles or a kid-powered paddle boat ride along the Naperville Riverwalk. A wide variety of boat rides are available for enjoying the water even while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
Check out some of our favorite boat rides near downtown Chicago and beyond. Families who are interested in relaxing dinner cruises, adventurous sailing, or architecture are sure to find something here that floats their boat.
Shoreline Architecture Firework Tour
Get all of the information on a daytime architecture tour, with an added grand finale: seeing fireworks on the lake!
Whether you depart from Navy Pier or Michigan Avenue, youll tour the main and south branch of the Chicago River before traveling out onto the Great Lake for the best view of the weekly fireworks display.
Pro tip: Dont forget your camera! Even though it is nighttime, the lights of the city offer perfect photo opportunities. Youll have your postcard-worthy photo in no time!
Depart from one of two locations:
- Navy Pier Entrance, Polk Bros Park. GPS: 600 E Grand Ave
- Michigan Avenue Bridge . GPS: 401 Michigan Ave
WENDELLA SUNSET CRUISE
In addition to their architectural cruises, this company also offers an outing at sunset which allows you to enjoy excellent views of the city skyline.
This is intended to be a romantic cruise, so there won’t be a lot of historic details about the city provided, but you will have the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine, a cocktail, or a cold beer.
Since this is a sunset tour, you might not get to see Chicago after dark, but depending on the time of year, it’s definitely a possibility.
Duration: 90 minutes
TIP: It’s worth noting that this company offers specialty fireworks and holiday cruises to celebrate important events.
If you’re visiting during the 4th of July or Christmas, check to see what holiday cruises they are currently offering.
Best Land And Water: Chicago City Tour With Optional River Cruise
If you prefer a smaller group size, the Chicago City Tour combines sightseeing in an air-conditioned bus that holds 12 people or less with a peaceful boat ride . The tour begins with a narrated, two-hour ride around the city with a chance to get out and explore a few stops, including the 1888 skyscraper called The Rookery, which is known for its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed lobby. Next up is a 75-minute cruise on an open-top boat to delve even deeper into the citys famous architecture and to learn about the role the river has played in the citys development. Transportation from most area hotels is provided but is not round-trip.
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Tall Ship Windy Downtown
Navy PierFor a different type of boat ride, hop aboard one of these sailboats for a tour of Chicago’s skyline along Lake Michigan. Families can learn about the centuries-old sport of sailing while viewing some of Chicago’s best architecture. Special jazz-themed sails are also available for music-loving families.
Live It Up On An Island Party Boat
Looking for a party? These tiki-themed boats are always a good time, offering drink packages, stellar views, and fun vibes. You can hop on an Island Party Boat at Monroe Harbor or the Chicago Riverwalk, which is also where youll find their beach-inspired bar Island Party Hut. Choose from a river cruise, lake cruise, tacky tour guide cruise, or even a dueling pianos cruise.
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The 7 Best Chicago Architecture Boat Tours Of 2021
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- Best Year-Round: Chicago River Architecture Cruise Buy Tickets at Viator“Learn about world-famous architects, including Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn and the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm.”
- Best Night Tour: Chicago Fireworks Architecture Cruise Buy Tickets at Viator“Take in the magical fireworks show while learning about the architecture from the perfect vantage point..”
- Best Boat Combo: Architecture Cruise and Speedboat Tour Buy Tickets at Viator“The tour departs from the Navy Pier, so allow some time to explore the shops and sights.”
- Best Land and Water: Chicago City Tour with Optional River Cruise Buy Tickets at Viator“Learn about the role the river has played in the citys development and how it structures the skyline..”
- Best Extended Tour: Chicago River Architectural Tour Buy Tickets at Viator“Arrive early to grab a seat on the upper deck because the trip is very popular and the boat can fill up.”
- Best Short Tour: Lake Michigan Sightseeing Cruise Buy Tickets at Viator“The 40-minute cruise gives you some fantastic photo opportunities of the city skyline.”
Give The Gift Of Chicago Line Tours
To give a special someone, friend or client the best tour in Chicago, simply ask at our ticket office or contact us.
This is my 8th time on a Chicago architectural river cruise and this was by far the most informative and biggest bang for your buck.Operagolf / LaHabra
The best guide on our whole USA trip. We took the Architecture tour where the boat meandered in between all of the incredible buildings of the city with the guide knowing EVERYTHING about each building its style, age, height, architect, cost, purpose, owner .. Quite brilliant!DrCumbrian / TripAdvisor
I’ve done several of the architecture cruises since my family moved to Chicago, and this is the best one yet! Allie K / TripAdvisor
If you only have time for one sight-seeing event while in Chicago, do this. We really have no great interest in architecture, but this tour came highly recommended and we did not regret it. Allice I / Oklahoma
My wife and I very much enjoyed the Chicago Line Cruise jazz cruise… My spouse said this was one of the favorite things she has done in Chicago since moving here in the past year, and I agree. I am a jazz snob, and … I was very pleased with the music offered by the Geordie Kelly group. He’s a fine jazz guitarist, and his band was great. / Yelp
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Chicago Urban Adventure River And Lake Boat Tour
Youll see both of the very different aquatic sides of the Windy City in a single day when riding this Urban Adventure cruise. First up: The Chicago River. That weaves through a pack of cloud-splintering skyscrapers. One moment the Willis Tower looms above you. The next, its the bustling Chicago French Market. All the while, you get to enjoy commentary filled with factoids about the history of construction in the USA. For the grand finale, you burst out onto the waters of Lake Michigan. Looking westwards from there, its possible to see the whole metropolis, sometimes even silhouetted in the water like a mirage.
Chicago: Willis Tower Skydeck And The Ledge Ticket
Enjoy an unrivaled view over the city of Chicago on a trip up the city’s Willis Tower. This famous building, once known as the Sears Tower, is not only home to a Skydeck on the 103rd floor, but it also features The Ledge, a series of 4 glass-paneled boxes that extend out from the building’s facade to give visitors a view straight down.As you wind through the ground levels of the Willis Tower, you will be surrounded by museum-quality exhibits highlighting the iconic tower. Learn about Chicago’s rich history and culture through these informative visuals.Watch a video presentation, “Reaching for the Sky,” where you will be briefed on the history of the building and of architecture in Chicago. Then step into your elevator and you will be amazed at how quickly it ascends. As you travel, your multimedia-equipped elevator will inform you about your vertical progress.Upon reaching the 1…
It was amazing. If youre visiting Chicago you definitely have to go here. Beautiful pictures from up here
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Our Commitment To Your Touring Experience
We believe that tours should be entertaining, enlightening, informational, and perfectly organized, every single time. A tour shouldnt feel laborious in any way you should feel an effortless inclination to learn more about what we present at your fingertips. With our Chicago architectural tours, thats exactly what we strive to provide, basing each tour from the perspective of an expert with the real-life example in the background.
If youre thinking about booking a tour with us, know that our commitment to flexibility and accessible makes our Chicago Architecture Tours easy and convenient:
- Tours run daily:
- Chicago River Boat Architecture Tour:
- 10 am
- 3 pm *Not Available Friday thru Sunday Summer Months*
- 4 pm
Best Extended Tour: Chicago River Architectural Tour
For an extended version of an architecture cruise at a reasonable price, the Chicago River Architectural Tour runs a full 90 minutes and has a bar on board to boot. Entertaining and educational guides narrate the journey as the boat passes more than 50 landmarks and architectural gems, keeping an eye out for gargoyles and icons from the Neoclassical period to the Art Deco era. The tour runs four times daily from April through November and departs from the Lofts at River East . Non-alcoholic refreshments and cookies are served, but beer and wine are additional. Viator members recommend arriving early to grab a seat on the upper deck because the trip is very popular and the boat can fill up.
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About Our Boat Partner
Were proud to partner with Chicagos First Lady Cruises, operator of Chicagos finest fleet of cruising vessels. Its boats hold up to 250 passengers and feature open-air upper decks, full-service bars, climate-controlled lower cabins and upscale marble and granite restrooms. Being onboard is sure to be an experience you’ll never forget.
Best Bar Crawl: Chicago Prohibition Tour
For a twist on the typical bar crawl, the Chicago Prohibition Tour incorporates the rebellious era of the 1920s when alcohol was banned and hidden speakeasies cropped up all over the city. Board an air-conditioned bus as it transports you to watering holes in Old Town, Wicker Park and the Chicago Loop to learn about gangsters, underground speakeasies and how Prohibition came to be, as well as what life was like during the 10-year period. The 3.5-hour tour includes stops to historic bars, including the Green Door Tavern and Exchequer Pub for a total of four stops. Although a printed drink recommendation card is provided, the drinks are an additional charge.
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River & Lake Architectural Cruise
Put yourself in the hands of a bona fide Chicagoan who knows the ins and outs of this awesome metropolis, all by opting for a whirlwind tour of Windy City construction. There is oodles to get through in just 75 minutes. Tales of post-war building booms, Art Deco influences, the erstwhile military locks, and the iconic metalwork of the DuSable Bridge from 1920 all begin to flow. Meanwhile, camera lenses will point to the skies, as symbolic structures like the Willis Tower drift on by. Theres also instant ticket delivery, and you can show your admission on a smartphone.
Best Dinner Cruise: Chicago Sunset Dinner Cruise
If youre looking for a fun and relaxing way to see Chicago from a different point of view, the Chicago Sunset Dinner Cruise is the tour to book. The three-hour-long tour blends a fabulous buffet dinner, sightseeing and dancing as you coast through the waters of Lake Michigan. The luxury boat sails past Soldier Field and Buckingham Fountain and offers stunning views of the city skyline. The buffet dinner includes starters such as mixed greens, kale, beets, shrimp, or couscous salad, followed by main choices like north Atlantic sole filet, sesame chicken, pork loin or short ribs. It’s all finished off with desserts such as apple cobbler, chocolate cake or cheesecake. After dinner, a live DJs performs as everyone heads to the dance floor.
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Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise Downtown
Michigan Avenue and Wacker DriveAmong the many boat rides near Chicago, this miniature history and architecture lesson is a staple of school field trips. Adults can learn a lot, too! A volunteer tour guide explains the history of more than 50 structures along the Chicago River in the 90-minute tour. Families can select from a daytime or evening departure with full bar and snacks on board. A $5 ticket upgrade gets you entry in the Chicago Architecture Center before or after the boat tour.
Take a cruise on the same waterways where The Fred A. Busse boat once fought fires.
Best Night Tour: Chicago Segway Night Tour
For a way to get outdoors and see the city of Chicago at night without having to walk or ride a bike, consider the Chicago Segway Night Tour. The city becomes illuminated in the evening with beautiful lights, and the two-hour tour lets travelers experience some of the most stunning sites and landmarks after dark. The small group tour is limited to just eight people and is a great way to mingle with other travelers. Some stops include the Navy Pier, Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, the sprawling Museum Campus and Lincoln Park, with informative narration from the guide. Viator members felt that the Segways were very easy to use after the initial lesson.
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Most Popular Chicago Boat Tours
- The #1 Booked Experience listed above? Yeah, thats where Shoreline Sightseeings boat tour comes in. They offer a guided boat tour of the Chicago River. Youll hear some of the story, of Chicagos most influential architects as you cruise past their works of art. If you get the Chicago Go Card, a Chicago tourist attraction discount pass, this tour is included.
- Sea Dog is a pretty well known company when it comes to high speed boat rides, but they do also offer an Chicago architecture tour. If youre looking for something that really gets the adrenaline going, this could be the best boat tour for you.
- Tall Ship Windy is a sight for sore eyes on the lake with its billowing sails and beautiful aesthetic. You get the old time allure of a pirate ship with modern conveniences to make your experience memorable . Its a great thing to do in Chicago on family vacation. Your kids will love the pirate ship, and you will love the full bar. Hopefully you dont have to say but, why is the rum gone? Get outta here if you dont get the Pirates of the Caribbean reference.
Chicago Fireboat Tours Downtown
111 N. Lakeshore DriveClimb aboard a piece of Chicago history, the Fred A. Busse Fireboat, which assisted the city of Chicago in fire emergencies from 1937 to 1980. The boat offers lake and river historical cruises, along with fun sunset boat rides. The boat is operating at 25% capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions for the 2020 season.
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About Tours And Boats
Chicago’s decorated past lives on through captivating stories told by the knowledgeable guides at Tours and Boats. These Windy City experts usher groups of travelers to myriad landmarks while sharing anecdotes that paint a vibrant picture of the city’s history. During the company’s sightseeing river cruises, their boats float by well-known structures such as the Merchandise Mart, Navy Pier and Willis Tower while passengers learn about the city’s famed architecture.
Best Boat Combo: Architecture Cruise And Speedboat Tour
If you want to combine action and adventure with historical education, consider booking the Architecture Cruise and Speedboat Tour. The 75-minute river and lake cruise begins with a laid-back journey up the river to view landmarks, including the Willis Tower and the Tribune Tower, as an informative guide shares fascinating stories about the history of these icons. After that, board a speedboat for a thrilling ride zipping along the shoreline of Lake Michigan past Grant Park , the Chicago Harbor and the Museum Campus. The tour departs from the Navy Pier, which is an attraction in itself and home to Chicagos famous Centennial Wheelso allow some time to explore the shops and sights.
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Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip
A forest of skyscrapers looms high overhead as you hop on a modern cruiser and take the waters of the Chicago River. As you gaze skywards, youll be able to make out some of the most iconic landmarks of the Windy City. Theres the soaring clock tower of the Wrigley Building, oozing elegant Colonial Revival styles. Theres the gleaming glass outline of the Trump International Hotel. And theres the striking duo that makes up Marina City. Your jaunt is rendered extra relaxing on account of a barcoded ticket. Thats delivered online and lets you skip the box office queues.
The Best Chicago Architecture Boat Tours
Chicago has one of Americas most celebrated skylines. Particularly the landmark-packed neighbourhood called The Loop, where youll find skyscrapers like the 19th century Monadnock Building or the 110-story Willis Tower sharing the view with cultural landmarks such as The Art Institute of Chicago. Like many major cities in the United States, open water is not far away The Loop borders the waters of mighty Lake Michigan, making a boat trip one of the best ways to simultaneously enjoy the lake and experience the citys peaks and troughs from an appreciative distance. Meanwhile trips along the Chicago River get you up close and personal with the citys architectural gems of the last century and a half.
Special architecture boat tours in Chicago are designed to offer both access and information to guests. Many of the best options cover both the river and Lake Michigan in one itinerary so that you can enjoy both sides of Chicago. Many of the best boat tours also include a guide who can provide insight and information about the buildings helping you differentiate your Daniel Burnham from your Louis Sullivan buildings. These five Chicago architecture boat tours we have selected below were chosen based on many factors, including price, duration and the reviews of previous guests.
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