Chicago Architecture River Cruise

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  • Atmosphere 5.0

A visit to 360 CHICAGO or Skydeck Chicago will give you a good overview of the city's layout. But if you want to learn more about Chicago's sky-high buildings, tag along on an architecture river cruise. During a river cruise, you'll gain great views and historical insight about well-known structures like the Wrigley Building, the Leo Burnett Building and the Fulton House.

Though several companies, including Wendella Sightseeing Co. and Chicago Line Cruises, offer architecture river cruises, most travelers recommend climbing aboard a Chicago's First Lady Cruises boat with a Chicago Architecture Center docent. You'll learn tons of information about the area's architecture, plus catch superb skyline photo-ops.

The Wendella Sightseeing Co. offers tours throughout the year (weather permitting). Chicago Line Cruises and Chicago's First Lady Cruises do not schedule any tours from December through February. Architecture cruises from Wendella Sightseeing – which last roughly 45 or 90 minutes and are provided multiple times a day – start at $27 per adult and $12 per child ages 4 to 12. Go City Chicago Cards and CityPASS include an architecture river cruise provided by Shoreline Sightseeing. Tickets can be purchased online or at boat docks by DuSable Bridge or Polk Bros Park. Docks at DuSable Bridge are within walking distance of The Magnificent Mile , several bus stops and the Grand L station, while Ogden Slip sits alongside Navy Pier and a few bus stops. A limited number of parking garages are also available in the area. Seats and restrooms are provided on all river cruises, and some boats feature food and beverage concessions stands. If you're interested in seeing more, check out the U.S. News list of the Best Boat Tours in Chicago .

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U.S. News Insider Tip: Construction around the Cloud Gate sculpture will limit the public's access to this top tourist attraction until spring 2024. While you might not be able to snag a selfie with "The Bean," many other attractions are available within the park. – Cortney Fries

A first-time visit to Chicago isn't complete without a stop at Millennium Park. Situated in the Loop just north of the Art Institute of Chicago , this 25-acre space is used to showcase cutting-edge art, architecture and landscaping; it also acts as a backdrop for concerts and festivals. Most visitors come to Millennium Park to see the Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate, better known as "The Bean." Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain features two 50-foot towers that face each other at opposite ends of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers' LED screens project the faces of 1,000 different Chicago residents, which are perfectly aligned with spouts so that it appears they are spitting water on passersby. The water flows mid-spring through mid-fall, while the faces are projected year-round. Cloud Gate – created by British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor – is a 110-ton bean-shaped sculpture forged from stainless steel. The Bean's elliptical shape reflects the Chicago skyline. A quintessential Chicago souvenir is a photo of your reflection in The Bean.

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8 Best River Cruises & Boat Tours in Chicago

Chicago is home to two stunning waterfronts.

You can explore the city cruising along the Chicago River or Lake Michigan.

But with so many tours available, which one is best for you?

You can get on board a cruise tour and admire the spectacular Chicago skyline.

Or dress up elegantly for a dinner cruise, relax, and enjoy Chicago’s gorgeous shores with a fireworks show at night. 

There’s even a tall ship cruise for those looking for a different experience.

In this article, we’ll show you the best river cruises and boat tours around Chicago to get the most out of your trip.

Compare Cruise Tour Deals in Chicago

Table of Contents

1. City Cruises (by Hornblower)

chicago river cruise reviews

If you would like to experience both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, you should go for a 75-minute architectural tour by Hornblower.

Get to know Chicago a bit more while admiring the beautiful skyline view and several landmarks along the route.

Prefer a short and fun ride?

Try a 30-minute Lakefront Speedboat Tour.

Or go on a high-speed jet boat when you book a Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride.

The boat departs between 11 am – 8 pm at Navy Pier.

Alternatively, get on board and enjoy a three-course meal while overlooking stunning views during brunch or dinner time.

For a romantic dining or special occasion, you can book a Fireworks Dinner Cruise for a wonderful night in Chicago.

Don’t forget to upgrade to a window table for the best views.

Later in the evening, have fun on an After Dark Dance Cruise and enjoy a nice buffet paired with your favorite cocktail in a club atmosphere.

  • Tours: Dining, Sightseeing & Events
  • Prices: from $28 USD adults
  • Departure Address for Dining: 455 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive Chicago, IL 60611
  • Departure Address for Sightseeing: Navy Pier, East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

Official site

2. Chicago Fireboat Tours

chicago river cruise reviews

What would be better than riding on a retired Chicago fireboat?

Whether a historical or a sunset tour, it’ll give you such an incredible experience as it also serves as a floating museum.

Escape the chaos of the city to relax on a 2-hour architectural tour.

Daily tours operate at 12 pm and 3 pm.

If these time slots aren’t suitable, you still have a chance to cruise along Lake Michigan for an unforgettable sunset scene.

Partnering with Phase Three Brewing, a Brew Cruise will make your sunset cruise even more memorable.

Choose from a wide selection of ales and lagers as you admire the city skyscrapers.

But note, that this cruise doesn’t leave every day.

Lastly, they also offer a Firework Cruise.

Reserve it for an intimate experience and indulge in the finest dishes among the Chicago skyscraper.

  • Tours:  Historial & Architecture, Sunset, and Fireworks
  • Prices: from $37 USD adults
  • Departure Address:  111 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60601, United States

3. Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

chicago river cruise reviews

Take a stroll along Chicago Riverwalk and board Chicago’s First Lady Cruises.

This is one of the most popular tours in Chicago.

If you’re an architecture lover, this tour is a must-do as their guides are well-trained volunteers from the Chicago Architecture Center.

For an extra 5 USD, you can upgrade the ticket to include Chicago Architecture Center admission.

Another option is to book a private vintage yacht that includes a bartender.

This is suitable for small groups of friends or family looking for a more personal tour on the river.

Pay extra for an alcoholic beverage package, so you can have a glass of wine while soaking up the Chicago sun.

For a romantic date, book your seats on the Evening River Cruise and have a few cocktails.

If you’re planning a wedding or a private event, Chicago’s First Lady Cruise could be a perfect option for you.

  • Tours: Architecture, evening & private
  • Prices:  from $50 USD adults
  • Departure Address: Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Wacker Drive.

4. Chicago Line Cruises

chicago river cruise reviews

At Chicago Line Cruises, their most popular tours are the 90-minute Architectural Cruise and Historical Cruise.

Onboard, you’ll be provided with a booklet so you can learn about Chicago’s story.

A complimentary Starbucks coffee, Twinings tea, or soft drink are included with the ticket.

On Saturday nights, the Architectural Cruise is even more spectacular as it includes fireworks.

For live Jazz, you can join the cruise on Sundas 6:30pm.

After the tour, you can stop by Pinstripes and get a complimentary antipasto taster by showing the cruise ticket.

  • Tours: Architecture, historical & jazz
  • Prices: from $45 USD adults
  • Departure Address:  465 N McClurg Ct, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

5. Mercury Cruises

chicago river cruise reviews

See the skyline views on Mercury Cruises most popular tour – the 90-minute Urban Adventure Cruise. 

You’ll see landmarks including Willis Tower, Aon Center, and John Hancock Building.

Although, what really sets them apart, are their Canine Cruises.

Its the only cruise in Chicago where passengers are allowed to bring their pet dogs!

Water bowls and a newspaper-lined restroom are available onboard for your dog.

If you prefer evenings, there are two available.

Chicago by Night Cruise or 3D Fireworks Cruise.

Both offer different experiences, as you’re provided with complimentary neon light wands or 3D glasses for the tour.

  • Tours:  Sightseeing, night & fireworks
  • Departure Address:  Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Wacker Drive

6. Shoreline Sightseeing

chicago river cruise reviews

This company features the largest fleet which includes 11 touring vessels and 6 water taxis.

Join an Architecture Tour from either Michigan Avenue or Navy Pier that will take you to see over 40 Chicago landmarks during a 75-minute ride.

For a shorter boat ride, there is a 40-minute Skyline Lake Tour.

Sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views of the dramatic skyscrapers from your waterfront seat throughout the journey.

At night, they also offer a Fireworks Tour.

You can kick off your evening with their Architecture River or Skyline Lake Tour before the magical fireworks show.

We recommend you to check their Event Cruises if you’re celebrating an occasion.

Look for the Orchestra Cruise, Summer Brew Cruise, or Wine Tasting Cruise.

A private charter can be arranged with the various packages of food, beverage, and onboard DJ.

  • Tours:  Architecture, skyline & fireworks
  • Prices: from $25 USD adults
  • Departure Address 1: Polk Bros Park/Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States
  • Departure Address 2: Michigan Ave, 401 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States

7. Tall Ship Windy

chicago river cruise reviews

If you’re planning a trip to Chicago during holiday periods, you should check out Tall Ship Windy special event sails first.

They often have extra services onboard to celebrate Fourth of July, Chicago Air & Water Show, and other events.

On normal days, you can explore the city with the classic Skyline Sail tour.

They operate at least three 75 minute tours a day from 1pm, departing from Navy Pier.

Some light snacks and drinks are available onboard.

Alternatively, reserve a seat for the Fireworks Cruise at night which also has a bar service.

For private charters, you’ll have a bar, buffet-style or picnic-style meals, and live entertainment.

  • Tours:  Skyline & Fireworks
  • Departure Address:  600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States

8. Wendella Boats

chicago river cruise reviews

Lastly, you can see Chicago from the water with a 90-minute Architecture Tour on Wendella Boats.

Their guide will share all the history of the most popular landmarks along the Chicago River.

Onboard, you’ll find a full-service bar, a restroom, and a climate-controlled lounge.

A shorter 45-minute Architecture Tour is also available.

For the best photos of the Chicago skyline, join their Sunset Cruise in the late afternoon.

Or catch a 2-hour Fireworks Cruise to make your night in Chicago more special.

On specific holidays, they offer a variety of event cruises for visitors.

These include Beer and BBQ Cruise, Wine & Cheese Cruise, Whiskey Tasting Cruise, and much more.

  • Tours: Architecture, drinks tours & special events
  • Prices: from $23 USD adults
  • Departure Address: 400 N Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611

Chicago River Cruise Docks Map

If you’re looking for the perfect hotel, check out these articles:

  • 13 Best Romantic Chicago Hotels with Private Hot Tub
  • 11 Best Luxury Chicago Hotels on the River
  • 10 Best Chicago Hotels with Cosy Fireplace in Room
  • 9 Best Luxury 5-Star Chicago Hotels in Magnificent Mile
  • 12 Best Luxury Boutique Hotels in Downtown Chicago

For more activities in Chicago, check the following guides:

  • 17 Best Chicago Architecture Tours
  • 19 Best Chicago Food Tours & Dining Experiences
  • 7 Fun Chicago Things to do at Night

Find more Chicago Cruises & Tours

City Cruises (by Hornblower) offers fine dining for brunch and dinner. They have a huge range of packages that include dining onboard while touring Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. The best deals are generally for special occasions like Fathers Day, 4th of July, or New Year’s Eve.

Get on board an actual piece of Chicago history, and admire the sunset on Chicago Fireboat Tours . They offer the most unique experience since their cruises are practically floating museums Grab some drink and enjoy a 1.30-hour ride along Lake Michigan.

Although most companies offer Architecture Tours, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is our top pick for an architect lover. They have a partnership with Chicago Architecture Center and offer tour guides in town as well. You can get an upgraded ticket that includes a visit to the Chicago Architecture Center.

There are a number of options for sightseeing tours in Chicago. If you’re craving for more fun and exciting, Chicago Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride from City Cruises (by Hornblower) is an excellent option. For something more relaxing, you should try a Historical Cruise from Chicago Line Cruises . They have tours showcasing past photos of the city so you can compare it with the Chicago scenery of today.

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Travel | chicago architecture river cruise ranks as one of the world’s top travel experiences.

A Shoreline Sightseeing boat cruises along the Chicago River during an architecture tour.

When it comes to the world’s best travel experiences, an architecture cruise on the Chicago River is near the top of the list.

It’s No. 2, in fact, right behind a tour of the Vatican in Italy with skip-the-line access.

The kudos come from TripAdvisor’s recently rolled out Travelers’ Choice awards for the top experiences bookable on the world’s largest travel site. That’s a pool of more than 200,000 tours, attractions and experiences — a number that has more than doubled in the past year.

Winners were determined using an algorithm based on 12 months’ worth of online reviews and ratings for these “things to do” that can be booked on TripAdvisor. The awards recognize 375 FOMO-inducing experiences around the globe, sorted into categories like food and wine excursions, hop-on/hop-off bus tours and day cruises .

The top 10 overall experiences in the world include a Tuscany-in-a-day sightseeing tour (No. 3); snorkeling in Iceland (4); pedaling around Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon on an electric bike (5); seeing Paris from the vantage point of a vintage motorcycle sidecar (6); a luxury canal ride starting at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (7); a tour of Ubud in Bali that includes a giant jungle swing (8); an evening food excursion by tuk tuk in Xi’an, China (9); and whitewater rafting on the Kaituna River in New Zealand (10).

For the best in the U.S., Shoreline Sightseeing’s Chicago Architecture River Cruise led the list. (The highly rated Chicago Architecture Center’s river cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady wasn’t eligible because you couldn’t book it through TripAdvisor until a few weeks ago.)

The river cruise was followed by the previously mentioned e-bike ride in Red Rock Canyon (2); an off-roading adventure in Moab , Utah (3); a walking tour with your own personal photographer in New York City (4); a “best of” Austin, Texas, tour (5); a Hawaiian zip line excursion on Oahu’s North Shore (6); snorkeling in Maui , Hawaii (7); a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon with a Champagne lunch (8); rafting Tennessee’s Pigeon River (9); and a food tour of West Palm Beach, Fla. (10).

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Chicago Architecture River Cruise Review – Why We Chose CAF First Lady

Chicago skyline as seen from a river tour

Chicago is the birthplace of the American skyscraper, and there is no better way to see its highlights than from a Chicago architecture river cruise.

Cruising on the river holds a unique advantage over walking on the streets. First, we were a distance away, yet there was nothing to get in our way. Therefore, we could see entire buildings. Secondly, the distance afforded by the river means we don’t need to strain our necks to look up.

While the city’s eclectic architecture can best be enjoyed from the river, multiple companies offer a Chicago architecture river cruise. We chose a Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. We tell you why below.

Some of our favorite architectural examples

Our guide kept it light and entertaining as she pointed out examples of historical revival, art deco, mid-20th century modern, post-modern, and contemporary design within Chicago architecture.

The commentary throughout our 90-minute cruise included architectural information as well as some of the city’s fascinating and colorful history.

Much of the city we see today was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Even before we pulled away from the dock, our CAF-trained volunteer docent guide highlighted some of the interesting buildings near our starting pier at the Chicago River walkway, including the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower.

Wrigley Building

Three more interesting examples of the eclectic architectural styles:

  • Marina City has a historic designation. Considered very innovative when built in 1967, today Marina City is a Chicago landmark. Architect and designer Bertrand Goldberg believes, “There are no right angles in nature.”
  • The art deco, post-modern NBC Building has structural gothic flying buttresses.
  • This curved reflective tower on Wacker Drive is an example of contextualism.

The two round towers of Marina City as seen from a Chicago architecture river cruise

A few key skyscrapers along the way

  • The Willis Tower (Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the world until 1996. Today, it is the third tallest in the United States.
  • When built, the John Hancock Center was the second tallest in the world.
  • At 98 stories high, the Trump Tower in Chicago is one of the world’s tallest residential buildings.

Willis Tower, once the tallest building in the world

Bridges on the Chicago architecture river cruise

Chicago’s first drawbridge was at Dearborn Street. It completed construction in 1834. Following that, the city built a total of 52 movable bridges, of which 43 of the original bridges are still in operation. I think we passed under about 18 of them on our tour, but I didn’t count.

These bridges vary in style from Art Deco to Beaux-Art to Modernism.

They ALL operate a few times each year to let boats pass along the river and out to Lake Michigan. It’s a really cool event to watch.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Chicago earned the moniker drawbridge capital in North America . In fact, it currently has more bridges than any city in America.

Two of the more than 50 movable bridges in Chicago

Residential life along the river

The Chicago River was so polluted it was toxic only 30 years ago. Now cleaned-up, river-front condos are considered desirable housing. Some of the housing high rises even have green grass parks at the riverfront.

Another draw card for river life is that River City has the only non-freezing marina in Chicago.

Riverfront condos in Chicago

How to choose a Chicago architecture river cruise

With so many options, there are plenty of things to consider when making your selection. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Tour duration Tours tend to run from 45 minutes to 2 hours. We had a 90-minute tour and thought it was perfect. Remember, you will need to arrive early (most often 30 minutes early) when you figure out how much total time you are allocating to the cruise.
  • Tour route There are three legs of the Chicago River. Take a look at this map of the CAW route which highlights the key sites, and make sure the tour you pick goes past the buildings you want to see.
  • Seating options Outdoor seating is optimal for a Chicago architecture river cruise as so many of the buildings are tall skyscrapers. However, if you prefer being indoors, make sure that option exists. Also, while cushioned seats sound nice, if it rains, they will be and stay wet for a while.
  • Onboard amenities I believe all commercial boats running a Chicago architecture river cruise have restrooms onboard. Some also have full bars, snack bars, or other amenities like free stroller storage.
  • Price I put this criteria last on purpose. Most of the cruise pricing is comparable for what they are offering, and choosing the cheapest option may not be the best choice.

Why we chose the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady

Based on our criteria above, the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center river cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady:

  • Tour duration : 90 minutes
  • Tour route : Cruises on all three legs of the Chicago River
  • Seating options : Enough outdoor seating for everyone, plus indoor options.
  • Onboard amenities : It has a restroom, full bar, and snack bar
  • Price : In the range. Check here and reserve your spot on the CAF First Lady .

Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

Best alternative: Shoreline Sightseeing

If CAF First Lady isn’t what you are looking for, our next recommendation is Shoreline Sightseeing. While we haven’t personally sailed with them, the over 8000 reviews resulting in a five-star rating is very impressive. From the reviews and webpage, we can conclude:

  • Tour duration : 75 minutes
  • Onboard amenities : It has a restroom and a full bar on some cruises
  • Price : In the range. Check here and reserve your spot with Shoreline Sightseeing .

What you need to know before any Chicago architecture river cruise

  • The cruising season typically runs from April through mid-November.
  • Bring sunglasses, a cap, or a visor, as the amount of sunshine at any moment frequently changes as you cruise past some of the taller buildings, thus affecting your vision.
  • Most cruises run regardless of the weather, so bring a light wind/rain jacket.
  • Advance reservations are usually recommended regardless of who you sail with, especially on weekends and holidays.

Extra tips if you are cruising on CAF First Lady

  • Arrive early for the best seats, which I think are on the small deck at the front of the boat. We sat on the large upper deck, where the specific seat isn’t that important as for the most part, we were looking up. However, from our observation, more highlighted features were on the left side (port).
  • Most people stayed in their seats for the entire tour; however, I moved about the boat to get better photos.
  • The dock for Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is located on the Riverwalk at the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Wacker Drive.
  • The tours are hourly from 10 am, with additional sailings on weekends.
  • The CAF River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises ranked among the top ten tours in the USA by Trip Advisor in 2015 and is the current USA Today’s Readers Choice poll’s #1 best boat tour.
  • Reserve your spot with CAF First Lady here .

A personal side note:

I was born and raised in this city, and lived here until my mid-20s. Today, I come back to visit friends and family, all of whom live in the suburbs. Yet, Chicago architecture still fascinates me, and I have taken more than one river cruise over the past few visits.

Save on your trip with these resources

These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.

  • Flights : we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
  • Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels), VRBO (self-contained), or Hostelworld (budget).
  • Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
  • Motorcycles : we have heard good things about BikesBooking .
  • Campervans or Motorhomes : we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount.
  • Private guides : we love the private guides at Tours by Locals .
  • Travel Insurance: while not required, we always opt for travel insurance and start at InsureMyTrip to compare coverage plans.

Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.

Save for later

If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media and save it for later on Pinterest.

Marina City seen from a Chicago architecture river cruise

Have you taken a Chicago architecture river cruise?

More from Chicago that you might like

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Disclaimer: We are frequently provided with complimentary entrances, tours, or sample items to aid in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.

About Rhonda Albom

Capturing the essence of travel through photography, Rhonda Albom is the primary author and photographer at Albom Adventures. She is an American expat based in New Zealand. She travels the world with her husband.

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Reader Interactions

Cascia Talbert

May 20, 2016 at 6:12 am

I live in the Chicago suburbs, but we don’t go downtown that often. The lake is beautiful and the tall building sure are stunning. You took some beautiful photos.

Rhonda Albom

May 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

I try to get downtown at least once every time I visit Chicago.

Trekking with Becky

May 20, 2016 at 3:24 am

Whoa! Marina City is particularly impressive!

May 21, 2016 at 5:01 pm

I like the rounded buildings as well.

May 19, 2016 at 8:41 am

Oh wow, you got some great pictures. I would love to visit here!!

indah nuria savitri

May 18, 2016 at 11:50 pm

I love them. A lot to see along the river bank and I guess we need to visit Chicago again..

May 19, 2016 at 7:28 pm

I used to live in Chicago and a river cruise really is the best way to see the architecture.

May 18, 2016 at 5:40 pm

There is just so much architecture to see in Chicago.

Joyce Lansky

May 18, 2016 at 3:10 pm

I wish visiting you was still only 600 miles away.

May 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm

If you travelled, we might even be closer than 600 miles at some point.

Suzy Godfrey

May 18, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Great shots of Chicago!!

Alissa Apel

May 18, 2016 at 9:12 am

I loved it when we went there. All except for the wind. That I could do without.

May 18, 2016 at 5:36 pm

I was lucky and the day was perfect. Good temperature, no wind, and sunny.

May 18, 2016 at 4:17 am

This tour was a highlight of my trip to Chicago a few years ago. I love all the buildings, and gliding along in the boat and learning about the history of Chicago is so fun. Thanks for sharing!

May 18, 2016 at 5:35 pm

I did a similar tour a number of years ago and the commentary was quite different (and still interesting).

Driller's Place

May 18, 2016 at 2:52 am

Very nice photo set of one of the most architecturally rich environments in the U.S. There is an apartment building (University Club Tower) in my hometown, Tulsa, OK, that was built in 1967 and obviously got it’s inspiration from the “Marina City” project. Thanks for sharing some very nice images.

May 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Perhaps the same architect was involved in the building in your hometown?

Patrick Weseman

May 18, 2016 at 2:36 am

I have never been to Chicago. I so want to go. Thanks for the tour.

May 18, 2016 at 5:33 pm

It is a great place to visit.

PARENT CLUB

May 18, 2016 at 12:36 am

I did a river cruise of Chicago last year — it was so great to hear the historical stories of the buildings.

May 18, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I agree. And each docent has different stories to tell.

stevebethere

May 17, 2016 at 8:32 am

I really enjoyed the photos Rhonda I have seen pics of Chicago before but these are much better clearer too 🙂

Have a tanfastic day

PS: I will add you to mine

Mary Burris

May 13, 2016 at 1:16 am

Chicago has some very fascinating architecture. I love skylines and these certainly lend themselves to a great skyline.

May 13, 2016 at 2:47 am

The eclectic variety standing side by side is what makes it so interesting to me.

Paul F. Pietrangelo

May 12, 2016 at 5:39 am

I couldn’t stop laughing honda. oops Rhonda on the ( T ) Rump Building What a photo to keep especially if Trump was to win the presidency , the President of the United States, Mr. Rump. ha,ha,ha.

I believe that you must be really enjoying your trip. Great. See ya my friend.

Cruisin Paul

LOL – Paul, I think the photo is priceless regardless of the outcome.

Comedy Plus

May 12, 2016 at 2:25 am

Being on the water is where I would want to be too. It’s always far more enjoyable.

Have a terrific day. ☺

May 13, 2016 at 2:46 am

Well of course you would!

Alex J. Cavanaugh

May 11, 2016 at 11:37 pm

Rump Hotel – priceless! Those are some cool looking condos. Riverboat cruises are the best way to see a city.

I have to admit, I laughed pretty hard when I saw that shadow. And yes, the boat tour is the best way to see the city.

May 11, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I’ve visited Chicago, but I’ve never been on a boat tour. The buildings are amazing. I especially like the Marina City one and the one near the water with the Willis Tower in the background. When I was young I watched the Bob Newhart Show where he was a psychologist in Chicago, and I always dreamed to have his life, be a psychologist and live in a colorful apartment in a high-rise. Funny that I transferred from Psychology to Film in college and am now living in a desert in a 3rd floor apartment … LOL!

May 13, 2016 at 2:45 am

Next time you visit Chicago, head out to the river, it really is the best way to enjoy the architecture and nurse your fantasy a bit.

May 11, 2016 at 8:23 pm

wow those are some seriously tall buildings, I have to say architecture and some of the old buildings within Auckland City are what I love, just the history more than anything is awesome.

May 13, 2016 at 2:43 am

Keep an eye out for art week, last year they offered a free architectural tour of Auckland during the week. It was pretty amazing.

May 11, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Hi Rhonda – what wonderful photos and architecture … love the clock tower, but particularly the Bertrand Goldberg buildings – beautiful … A place I’d love to visit one day … cheers Hilary

May 11, 2016 at 7:45 pm

It is a pretty amazing city.

May 11, 2016 at 3:54 pm

You were really able to get some great photos from this tour – I see why you enjoyed it so much! I think I like the reflection of the city in the curved tower on Wacker best – but “Rump” tower does make a statement!

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Chicago’s First Lady Architecture River Cruise Review

chicago river cruise reviews

Are you thinking about taking a Chicago River cruise but not sure which company to go with? Interested in Chicago’s architecture and the stories behind them? I’ve got a tour for you.

Chicago is one of my favourite cities to visit in the USA. From its many parks and museums to its blues bars and hotdogs, there’s plenty to see, do, and eat in the Windy City . That said, taking a Chicago river cruise with Chicago’s First Lady architecture tour tops my list. Here’s why.

Table of Contents

Home of the Skyscraper

chicago river cruise reviews

When I think of skyscrapers, my mind immediately drifts to views of the New York City skyline. You might do the same however did you know the world’s first skyscraper was actually built in Chicago? With the construction of the Home Insurance Building by William Le Baron Jenney in 1885, Chicago transformed how city planning works. With that, its skyline (and every other skyline around the world) would never be the same.

Chicago Architecture Center

Naturally, there is some incredible history that comes with being the home of the skyscraper. At the Chicago Architecture Centre , visitors can dive deep into Chicago’s historic buildings along with other tall towers from around the world. You can wander its many exhibits including incredible scaled models of Chicago’s famous buildings. Don’t miss the gallery displaying the story on how Chicago became “The City of Architecture.“

Chicago First Lady Architecture River Cruise Review

chicago river cruise reviews

With the Chicago River running through its downtown core, there’s no better way to experience the city’s incredible buildings and bridges than by boat. There are a few Chicago river cruise operators in town however there is no better operator than Chicago’s First Lady. Why? The Chicago First Lady is partnered with the Chicago Architecture Centre and provides trained tour guides to share interesting tidbits and stories behind the city, its river, and the many towers above.

chicago river cruise reviews

On top of that, the boat itself is well equipped. There is plenty of outdoor and indoor seats, a bar, and restrooms. I recommend the bow views of for the bridges and city skyline from Lake Michigan near the end of the tour.

Notable Buildings on the Architecture River Cruise

With over 50 buildings along the river, there’s no shortage of interesting stories and structures. Here are some of my favourites from my Chicago River cruise with Chicago’s First Lady:

Tribune tower

chicago river cruise reviews

Inspired by world-famous structures such as Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Pyramids, Tribune Tower certainly is one of the most unique buildings in town. Interestingly, the design was chosen by the Chicago Tribune newspaper through a competition they ran for their new home in 1922.

The Wrigley Building

chicago river cruise reviews

Next door to the Tribune Tower is another unique Chicago skyscraper, the Wrigley Building. This complex is actually two towers connected by a walkway on the 14th floor. Built in the 1920s by the Wrigley company, this building was also the first in town with air-conditioning.

chicago river cruise reviews

Willis Tower

chicago river cruise reviews

Once the world’s tallest building, today, the Willis Tower still dominate Chicago’s impressive skyline. Topping out at 1450 feet, it is the tallest structure in town.

chicago river cruise reviews

After your Chicago First Lady cruise, I suggest heading up Willis Tower. There is a great observation deck and includes a glass viewing platform some 1,350 feet above the ground.

Merchandise Mart

This massive building spans two city blocks and boasts its own ZIP Code. At 4,000,000 ft.², it was once the biggest building in the world showing that Chicago can do more than build up.

chicago river cruise reviews

Built in the 1930s to be a centralized marketplace, today much of this history and intention remains. It’s a business hub with tech and Fortune 500 companies taking up office space there. If you take the Chicago First Lady Architecturenight night tour, you can enjoy a part of the Art on the Mart, a video display projected on its façade.

chicago river cruise reviews

Marina City

Designed as the first city within a city, a concept all to familiar now. This complex has amenities on site including a grocery store and bowling alley. Marina City makes my favourite list for its mesmerizing balconies. How cool is that?

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Paul Wilson (@artbrut_architecture)

chicago river cruise reviews

With over 30 moveable bridges crossing the Chicago River, it’s hard to leave them off this list. Although DuSable Bridge is one of the most popular thanks to its Michigan ave location on at the mouth of the river, I enjoyed cruising under all of the bridges and seeing some open for tall ships to pass by.

3 Days in Chicago – What to See, Do, and Eat in The Windy City

Chicago First Lady Architecture River Cruise Details

chicago river cruise reviews

There are, of course, many more interesting buildings and stories behind them in Chicago. For that reason, I highly recommend taking the Chicago’s First Lady Architecture river cruise . I have heard that tours and information really depend on who is running them that day. This means you can learn something new on each visit. I look forward to my return!

  • Daytime Cruise Tickets: $48.18 (plus tax)
  • Evening Cruise Tickets: $52.91 (plus tax)
  • Cruise Add on: $5 gets you access to the CAC
  • Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Dock: Northeast corner of Michigan Ave. & E. Wacker Dr.

What say you? Thoughts on this Chicago River Cruise Review? Let’s hear it!

chicago river cruise reviews

For more reviews from the USA and beyond see HERE .

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Chicago River Cruises – 2024 Discount Tickets & Reviews

Wide shot of a boat doing a river tour with large city buildings behind it on a sunny day in Chicago, Illinois

Fall in love with Chicago aboard some of the best Chicago River cruises! Delight in stunning Lake Michigan views and the captivating Chicago skyline without breaking the bank by using these money-saving discount tickets.

Wondering what a trip to Chicago will be like? Let us paint a picture of one of your days exploring the Windy City.

As the sun casts its golden hues over Lake Michigan, you’re comfortably nestled aboard a Chicago River Cruise. Sailing under the iconic Michigan Avenue bridge, your heart skips a beat as the jaw-dropping views of the Chicago skyline come into play. And with each curve of the river revealing a new spectacle, your friendly tour guides impart captivating tales of the Windy City’s rich history.

Now, wouldn’t it be even more delightful to enjoy this captivating experience without breaking the bank? Follow along as we unveil insider tips on securing discount tickets for some of the most sought-after Chicago River Cruises. Enjoy the dazzling sights of Chicago should not have while saving you a pretty penny!

Chicago River Cruises Discount Tickets

Shoreline sightseeing boat tour.

Explore Windy City by boat with discount tickets to the Chicago Architecture River Cruise by Shoreline Sightseeing!

Immerse yourself in the city’s riveting past, acclaimed skyline, and impressive architecture, reminiscent of exhibits at the Chicago Architecture Center.

Depending on the season, this architecture tour lasts between 60 to 75 minutes and embarks from two convenient locations, Michigan Ave. or Navy Pier. Board the boat and learn from the tour guide’s captivating stories about Chicago’s architectural prowess and the birth of modern American skyscrapers.

Snap up your discounted tickets today and set sail on a Chicago adventure like no other!

  • Urban Adventure Cruise

Dive into a world of epic fun with discounted tickets to the Urban Adventure Cruise !

This 90-minute river tour offers a unique vantage point to experience the world famous Chicago skyline, iconic bridges, and architectural masterpieces. Of course, local experts will join the cruise with you to provide a lively narration about Chicago’s illustrious history and its notable citizens.

Ideal for the whole family, this cruise presents the perfect opportunity to appreciate the city’s modern architecture and historic buildings in an exciting and educational way.

Related Post: Chicago Food Tours – Ultimate Foodie Guide

Secure your discount tickets today and prepare to embark on a delightful Chicago adventure!

  • Mercury’s Canine Cruise

Looking for an un-fur-gettable experience? Enjoy a delightful outing on Mercury’s Canine Cruise with your four-legged friend without breaking the bank when you score discount tickets to Mercury’s Canine Cruise!

Soak in Chicago’s architectural marvels and rich history as you cruise along its stunning waterways with your pooch. This dog-friendly journey offers safe outdoor seating, water bowls, and newspaper-lined restrooms for your pet’s comfort, plus a dog-friendly map to help your pet explore the neighborhood.

Grab your leash, get your discounted tickets, and prepare to embark on a paw-some adventure with your furry friend!

A sailing boat with a building behind it

Chicago River Cruises Coupons and Discounts

Chicago river cruises military discount.

Good news for our brave service members! Most Chicago river cruises, including Shoreline Sightseeing and Urban Adventure Cruise, honor your commitment with a special military discount from Monday to Thursday. Remember to bring your military ID on the day of your cruise to claim your well-deserved Chicago River cruise discount.

Chicago River Cruises AAA Discount

Unfortunately, these spectacular Chicago River cruises do not offer AAA discounts at this time, nor is there a Chicago River Cruise coupon.

Related Post: Landmarks in Chicago: 12 You Don’t Want to Miss

Alternatively, purchase your discounted tickets through Tripster to save on travel, whether you prefer Chicago Architecture River Cruise , Urban Adventure Cruise , or Mercury’s Canine Cruise .

Chicago River Cruises Senior Discount

Although some Chicago River Cruises offer a senior rate, Architectural River Cruise Chicago by Shoreline, Urban Adventure, and Mercury’s Canin Cruise does not offer any.

Chicago River Cruises Vacation Packages

Experience the best of the Windy City with a money-saving Chicago River Cruises vacation package! These packages not only give you access to an unforgettable river cruise or boat tour of your choice but also includes tickets to another Chicago attraction that you’ve been yearning to explore.

Here are some of the most popular mixes and matches you can do with our Chicago River Cruise vacation package:

  • Mercury’s Canine Cruise + Art Institute of Chicago Skip the Line
  • Urban Adventure Cruise + Medieval Times Dinner Combo
  • Big Bus Tours Chicago + Shoreline Sightseeing Boat Tour

Hotels Near Chicago River Cruises

Most Chicago River cruises depart either from Michigan Avenue or at the Navy Pier. If you’re looking for convenience, these hotels are just steps away from the departure points of the river cruises, so you won’t have to worry about transportation or traffic:

  • River Hotel
  • Hotel Felix
  • Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
  • InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, an IHG Hotel

exterior of Congress Plaza Hotel at night with neon red sign and street lamps on ground and statue of man on horse in foreground in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago River Cruises Hotel Packages

Ready for an unforgettable trip to the Windy City? Take advantage of our money-saving Chicago River Cruise hotel package! This all-inclusive deal lets you select not only the river cruise of your dreams but also your choice of Chicago hotel.

Cruise the mesmerizing waterways, marvel at the city’s world-renowned architecture, and then retreat to the comfort of your chosen hotel nestled in the heart of the city. These packages simplify planning, save you money, and allow you to fully immerse yourself in everything that Chicago has to offer:

  • Mercury’s Canine Cruise + Hotel Package
  • Urban Adventure Cruise + Hotel Package
  • Art Institute of Chicago Skip-the-Line + Shoreline Sightseeing River Cruise + Hotel Package

Chicago Attractions

Blue man group chicago.

Immerse yourself in a dazzling blend of music, comedy, and multimedia artistry at Blue Man Group Chicago ! With vibrant rhythms on unique, homemade instruments, comical audience interactions, and a breathtaking visual feast of lights and colors, every moment becomes a captivating sensory experience led by the most charismatic Blue Trio you’ll ever meet!

Chicago’s Ultimate City Bike Tour

Cruise through the heart of the Windy City with Bobby’s Bike Hike, one of America’s leading city bicycle tour operators. This thrilling 2.5-hour Chicago Bike Ride promises an unforgettable picture of Chicago’s architectural gems and verdant landscapes.

Ideal for the adventurous traveler looking to stay active while drinking in the city’s sights, this bike tour offers a fun, fitness-friendly way to pack a multitude of must-see landmarks into your Chicago itinerary.

Art Institute of Chicago Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

Step into a world of artistic wonder with the Skip-the-Line Guided Tour at the Art Institute of Chicago. Bypass queues and dive straight into the Institute’s diverse treasure trove, where your knowledgeable guide will weave tales behind the masterpieces that span 5,000 years. More than just a museum visit, this tour is your fast-track ticket to an immersive art odyssey!

Insider Chicago River Cruises Tips

What to bring.

Before you embark on your unforgettable Chicago River cruise, there are a few essentials you might want to pack. Given Chicago’s notorious ‘Windy City’ nickname, a lightweight jacket or windbreaker is a good idea, even in warmer months, to protect against the breeze on the water.

Related Post: Best Things to Do in Chicago with Toddlers: 11 Most Entertaining Ideas

If you’re cruising in the colder months, layer up with a warm coat, hat, and gloves. Regardless of the season, don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses to protect against the sun’s rays reflecting off the water!

Can I Bring Food into Chicago River Cruises?

Before packing your picnic, it’s best to confirm with the specific cruise line you’re eyeing about their policy on outside food.

However, most cruises, including Chicago Architecture River Cruise , Urban Adventure Cruise , and Mercury’s Canine Cruise , offer snacks and drinks for purchase during the voyage. Mercury’s Canine Cruise also offers tasty treats for your four-legged furry friend!

Chicago River Cruises Parking

There are numerous parking garages available near both the Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier departure points, though availability and prices vary.

LAZ Parking Garage at 111 E. Wacker Drive is one of the closest parking spaces. Discount rates are available if you have tickets to Mercury’s Canine Cruise . To ensure a stress-free start to your cruise, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before boarding time.

Chicago River Cruises Reviews

Want to find out what other readers think of Chicago River Cruises? Check out the most recent River Cruise Chicago reviews:

  • Chicago Architecture River Cruise

From discounted tickets to handy tips, hopefully, you’ve found all the information you need to make your Chicago River Cruise an unforgettable experience!

And remember, whether you’re bringing your canine companion, planning a family outing, or seeking a romantic evening cruise, there’s a perfect cruise waiting just for you.

Have You Taken a Chicago River Cruise?

Tell us about your experience! Leave us a comment below!

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TripAdvisor users rank the Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady as the city's #1 boat tour.

There’s one sure recipe to make your business or social event even more memorable – just add water and Chicago’s First Lady!

Recalling the handsome elegance of 20th century luxury yachts, our vessels are sure to make an impression. Choose from seven perfectly sized ships for your private event.

Your wedding is the start of your lifelong journey together, so begin that journey in a truly memorable way - a wedding cruise down the Chicago River.

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Experience our renowned daytime CAC River Cruise in the glow of the setting sun. Take in the city’s magnificent architecture bathed in golden light as it begins its transition from day to night.

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Experience St. Patrick's Day Chicago-style and celebrate your green heart out with a festive cruise complete with food, drinks and plenty of fun.

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“The very best city tour I have been on in my life! We were in America for a month and this was our best morning.” - JurassicBill TripAdvisor, Dorset UK

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River cruise - Shoreline Sightseeing

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River cruise

Great tour would do it again. Uber raid was late and almost missed the boat. Thankfully we just made it.

The tour was very informative. We had a lot fun as well. Ashley was great. The story of the Great Chicago Fire was very well told.

Interesting trip with great docent, Antonio who made the architecture of Chicago inspiring. The tour helps you understand Chicago through it’s architecture as well as providing lovely views from the river. Well worth doing.

Bryant was great. Really enjoyed the boat ride and the knowledge she had. No complaints at all. Good time had by all

Amazing experience. All worth it. Our guide Brroke was amazing. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the city and its hidden architectural gems

Not to be missed when visiting Chicago. Mike the Map guy was spectacular - he had an incredible amount of knowledge about the sites along the way and the history of the city as well. His presentation was superb! Boat was clean, on time, and staff friendly.

chicago river cruise reviews

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