Chicago, also known as the Windy City, is home to some architectural delights and innovations. And what better way to view them than with a boat tour along the Chicago River? There are over 50 skyscrapers and historic buildings that have seen the complete makeover of the city’s skyline since the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. After the fire burned for around two days, it destroyed around 3.3 square miles of the city, including 17,000 structures. This led to visionary architects introducing steel and glass in buildings, some of which would be considered the world’s tallest at given points in history. But what buildings can you see on a Chicago Architecture Boat Tour? And when is the best time for one? We take a closer look.

What are Chicago’s architecture boat tours and what will you see?

Chicago’s Architecture Boat Tours are numerous and run throughout the year. While some of them last for around 50 minutes, others cover more ground and last for between 75 and 90 minutes with tour guides giving you the low-down on some of the most iconic buildings and structures that currently make up the Chicago skyline. You will see the city and its’ diverse architecture from a very unique perspective, below street level. It’s ideal for design enthusiasts is a must-see if you’re visiting Chicago for the very first time. Wondering what some of the buildings you’ll see on the tour? Take a look at just a few of these below:

  • Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower): a 108-story skyscraper in Chicago, the Willis Tower was completed in 1974 and at the time, it surpassed the World Trade Center in New York City becoming the tallest building in the world. It held this title for a whopping 25 years. Designed and created by engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan, it is, at present, the third-tallest building in the US and the Western hemisphere and the 23rd tallest in the world. 
  • Lyric Opera: founded in 1954, this is and continues to be one of the leading operas in the United States. When founded, it was called the Lyric Theatre of Chicago. The Lyric is housed in a theater and related spaces in the Civic Opera Building, which is a 45-story office tower opening in 1929.
  • Lake Michigan: this is one of the Five Great Lakes of North America and although certainly not a skyscraper, joining a Chicago Architectural Boat Tour could take you on the lake where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the city in a tranquil environment.
  • Museum Campus: sitting near the shore of Lake Michigan, Museum Campus is a massive 57-acre museum park. It surrounds three of the city’s most notable museums, each of which is dedicated to the natural sciences. For example, it hosts the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History. 
  • Grant Park: home to some of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks and attractions, Grant Park consists of 312.98 acres and is often referred to as “Chicago’s Front Yard”. It is a public park located in the city’s central business district in the Loop Community Area. Some of the most notable features of the park include Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum Campus. 
  • Wrigley Building: located along the Magnificent Mile, the Wrigley Building was created to house the corporate headquarters of world-famous chewing gum company, Wrigley. Construction started in 1920 and was built with a white facade to house 30 stories in the south tower and 21 stories in the north tower.
  • Trump International Hotel and Tower: a condo-hotel, this is a 98-story structure that lies along the Chicago River and is close to Lake Michigan. The hotel comprises 339 rooms and it opened for guests in 2009. The tower rises 1,400 feet in total and was considered one of the tallest buildings in the US. 
  • Aqua: when completed, this skyscraper was considered the world’s tallest building designed by a woman and has since won numerous awards and accolades. Some of these include the Emporis Skyscraper Award of 2009 as skyscraper of the year; being shortlisted for the biennial International Highrise Award in 2010; in 2018, it was chosen as on of the Illinois 200 Great Places by the American iNstitute of Architects Illinois component and has been recognised as one of the 25 must-see places by USA Today Travel magazine. 
  • Navy Pier: Navy Pier is one of the places where your Chicago Architectural Boat Tour is likely to take off. It offers free fireworks displays throughout the year as well as live music, theater, art exhibits, dance performances, cultural celebrations, lake cruises and kids’ activities.
  • John Hancock Centre: this is a 100-story building also located along the Magnificent Mile. In 2018, it was renamed “875 North Michigan Avenue” although the John Hancock Centre name is still widely used. Construction of the skyscraper ended in May 1968 when it was then considered the second-tallest building in the world.
  • Tribune Tower: a four-minute walk from the Chicago Riverwalk, Tribune Tower is a magnificent 463-foot-tall, 36-floor neo-Gothic skyscraper located at 435 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was built between 1923 and 1925.
  • Marina City: a multi-building complex that opened between 1963 and 1967, it occupies almost an entire city block on State Street. The complex consists of two 587-foot, 65-story apartment towers, opened in 1963, as well as a 10-story office building, opened in 1964, which is now a hotel. 

When can you book a tour and how much does it cost?

Booking your Chicago Architectural Boat Tour can take place practically every month of the year, although some operators do not work during January and February as this is when the boats are removed from the river in the winter. Prices for tours will vary based on operators and may range anywhere from $10 to $80 and in the region thereof. 

In closing

Ready to embark on your Chicago Architectural Boat Tour? You’ve made the right choice. This is a must-do activity for anyone visiting the city for the first time as its magnificent architecture is best viewed from the side of a boat. You can enjoy dinner, drinks, and music as offered by most boat operators, and if you’re worried about how to get there, we’re here to put your mind at ease. With Bus Connection, you’ll never miss the boat (pun intended) and you’ll arrive in style and comfort, ready to begin a new adventure. And when it’s all over, we’ll be right there waiting to transport you back to your accommodation. We treat each of our passengers as guests and offer them the ultimate travel experience. So, if you’re thinking of booking your bus transportation service, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!