Chicago has one of America’s most celebrated skylines. Particularly the landmark-packed neighbourhood called The Loop, where you’ll 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 city’s peaks and troughs from an appreciative distance. Meanwhile trips along the Chicago River get you up close and personal with the city’s 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.
FROM: $41/per person
It can be argued that many of the Chicago architecture cruises are much of a muchness, with prices and the boats themselves often quite similar to one another. However, this tour enjoys enduring popularity and has done for many years now. That’s partly thanks to this tour’s excellent, informative guides, and perhaps even partly owing to the alcohol sold on board. Cruise down the Chicago River and immerse yourself in all things architecture, as the monoliths rising up around you are given context and relevance through the live narration. This tour lasts just over an hour and is one of the more regularly scheduled services.
From $39/ per person
A slightly longer Chicago River cruise is this 90-minute variant which explores all main branches of the Chicago River as it seeks its way through the concrete jungle to Lake Michigan. Learn about how the city’s architecture has evolved over the years and why there are so few buildings remaining in the city from before 1871. Talking of history, this particular tour itself has seen many changes to the Chicagoan skyline during its years of service since 1935. Although rest assured, the boats running today are not quite as old as that. There is both indoor and outside deck-top seating available for whatever the Windy City weather may bring.
From $39/ per person
While Chicago River tours are the norm thanks to their proximity to the buildings themselves, the city skyline as a whole is a work of art in its own right as a sum of its individual parts. The best way to experience the skyline in this manner is from further back, and there’s no better, unimpeded view than that from across the water. Head out onto Lake Michigan as part of this 90-minute architecture tour to see whole stretches of city shoreline, of which Chicago enjoys approximately 26 miles. The on-board commentary will help you to pick out the most notable buildings from the bunch.
From $50/ per person
Neoclassical facades, Art Deco structures and Neogothic sculpture are all common features amid the steel and concrete of Chicago’s Downtown. There’s a lot of creativity and history packed into a comparatively small urban space and that makes it easy to miss some of the most special details when guiding yourself around Chicago. This boat tour is dedicated to exploring the idiosyncracies and landmarks of the great city of Chicago. The tour lasts 90 minutes and there is complementary tea, coffee and water available on this boat tour too.
From $50/ per person
Led by born and raised Chicagoans, the final entry to our list also keeps mostly to the Chicago River, exploring the myriad landmarks that line the banks of both South and North branches. However, this boat tour also dips a toe into Lake Michigan, passing by the historic Navy Pier and more contemporary inclusion of Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, which was installed in 2006. The narration on this tour is excellent and highly regarded, with details about the people and innovations behind the buildings themselves to offer greater context to your view.