There’s no better way to experience Chicago than from the vantage point of its famous river. Whether you’re taking a leisurely daytime cruise or enjoying the sights and sounds of the cityscape at night, a boat ride on the Chicago River is a must-do for visitors and locals alike.
From the early 1900s to the late 1950s, Chicago’s famous river was polluted and largely considered a dirty waterway that was best left ignored. Thanks to environmental efforts over the past several decades, today, it’s a popular attraction filled with beautiful sights and vibrant activities. Even in winter, when a thick layer of ice covers the water, it’s still an impressive sight.
The Chicago River
The Chicago River is beautiful day or night, no matter what the season. If you want to enjoy the sights of the city at night, look for a clockwise cruise which starts around 7 pm and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Or if you’d rather spend a few hours by day, consider a counterclockwise cruise that stops for about 20 minutes at one of the docking areas so you can get off and explore.
Whether you’re on a romantic date or taking in the sights of the city with friends and family, Chicago riverboat rides are a favorite for visitors and locals alike. Stop by one of several docking areas along the river to kick back and relax as you glide past some of the most iconic buildings in the city.
Some of the most popular boats ride in Chicago
The most popular thing to see on a boat rides tour is the Chicago skyline. That’s what you’ll be able to admire during most of your ride, along with some passing architecture and bridges. Other attractions are Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, Buckingham Fountain, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum Campus.
The architecture tour is one of the most beautiful ways to see the city’s world-famous buildings. You’ll have some beautiful skyline views along with commentary on buildings’ history and design. The Chicago Architecture Foundation has 90 minute long tours that run daily at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:15 p.m.
The Chicago architecture tour starts at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, there’s one company that has a three-hour-long dinner cruise on Sunday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., which includes a great meal and live music during the ride.
The daytime boat tour has two hours of narrated sightseeing, and it runs daily at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.
The night sightseeing tour takes you along Chicago’s famous riverfront which includes great views of downtown skyscrapers, the Navy Pier, beautiful Lake Michigan, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and the beautiful Wrigley Building. The night boat ride starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday nights only.
About half of all boat rides are dinner cruises! On Wednesday nights there is a themed buffet dinner (Italian or barbecue) with music by a live band on the cruise. On Saturday nights there is a buffet dinner and live entertainment with a DJ or a band. Reservations are required for both cruises if you want to eat, drink, and dance on board.
The best time of year to go depends on what you’re looking for. In the summer months, it’s very hot and humid in Chicago so your best bet is to take a boat ride at night. In winter months the cold is bearable and you’ll have spectacular views of Chicago’s Christmas lights from a boat.
Tips for having an amazing experience on a Chicago riverboat ride
● Always check the weather – You don’t want to be stuck inside if a thunderstorm or blizzard blows through!
● Cash payments only – There aren’t any ATMs at docking locations, so bring cash with you.
● Dress warmly – Even in summer, Chicago’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to dress in layers.
● The boats don’t have bathrooms – If you need to use the facilities, it’s best to head over to one of the nearby restaurants or bars before boarding.
● If you’re on a dinner cruise, book in advance – This way you can pick the best boats and the best times.
● Make reservations for brunch or lunch cruises – You don’t want to be stuck inside if it’s raining or snowing!
● Want to have drinks with your meal? – Get to your boat 15 minutes before it departs to make sure you make it on time.
● Bands and DJs take breaks – It’s best to arrive 30 minutes before the entertainers start playing so you can get a good seat.
● Be mindful of people’s personal space – Remember that everyone is just doing their job, so don’t get upset if obstacles like floating trash or choppy waters make it hard for you to enjoy the tour.
● Don’t bring valuables on board – If something gets lost or stolen during your boat ride, you’ll be out of luck because there aren’t any safes that can hold important items while still allowing you to carry keys and wallets.
● If you’re going with a group, plan out who will be responsible for taking photos – It’s frustrating if everyone has their phone out at all times because it makes it difficult for the people behind the camera!
● Always have your ticket on hand – You’ll need to show it when you board the boat and when you leave.
● Keep your hands inside the boat at all times – It isn’t safe to lean over the edge or interact with other boats.
● Never stand up during the ride – Accidents happen quickly on a moving riverboat, so stay seated at all times.
A boat rides on the Chicago River is a must-do for anyone visiting the city. Whether you choose to go during the day or at night, there’s something special about seeing Chicago from the river. Our tips will help make sure your experience is amazing, so be sure to follow them!