Chicago River cruises give a unique perspective of the Windy City and its legendary skyline. The educational and exciting sailings are a top attraction in the “City of Broad Shoulders,” especially for visitors who are looking to experience Chicago’s famous sites in an unforgettable fashion.
Chicago River Cruise Options
The Chicago River is one of the Windy City’s crown jewels. The 156-mile waterway flows through the downtown area buffering some of the most architecturally rich structures in the nation. Originally, the river emptied into Lake Michigan. However, due to sanitation concerns, city leaders reversed the river’s flow, and now it heads away from Lake Michigan and empties into the Mississippi River basin.
The change in the river’s directional flow has done nothing to reduce visitors’ attraction to it. People travel from around the world to sail the Chicago River. Fortunately, there are several reputable companies that offer cruises on the iconic river, including:
Chicago’s First Lady Cruise
Chicago’s First Lady Cruise is the official line of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The group runs critically-acclaimed 90-minute architecture river tours from April through November. Voyages depart from the southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Lower Wacker Drive and sail past Chicago’s world renowned architectural wonders. All cruises are narrated by certified Chicago Architecture Foundation guides. The knowledgeable docents share insightful facts about the design and history of more than 50 of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Tribune Tower and the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). Chicago’s First Lady Cruise ships feature indoor and outdoor seating allowing you the option of sitting in air-conditioned comfort or enjoying unobstructed views on the vessel’s open-air decks.
Chicago Line Cruises
Chicago Line Cruises offers in-depth historical and architectural cruises on the city’s famous river. Each 90-minute sailing departs from an exclusive dock located at historic North Pier/River East Plaza. The architectural cruise travels to the north and south branches of the Chicago River, while the historical voyage covers the Chicago River and parts of Lake Michigan. Both sailing options are narrated by professional guides and all passengers are treated to complimentary Starbucks coffee, lemonade, and cookies. Highlights of the cruise include unprecedented views of:
- Trump Tower
- Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Building
- Merchandise Mart
- Wrigley Building
- River City
- Marina City
- Willis Tower
Those looking to take an evening sail on the Chicago River should consider booking a spot on a cocktail cruise. In addition to its architectural and historical sailings, Chicago Line Cruises also offers a cocktail voyage from May through October. Enjoy a libation as you sail past Chicago’s famous skyscrapers aglow in the burnished hues of a gorgeous Midwest sunset.
Wendella Boats is a Chicago institution. The company has been offering public cruises on the Chicago River for four generations. The family run business is considered among the city’s best of the best, featuring the most comprehensive river tours narrated by highly-educated guides. Cruises are offered seven days a week from April through November. Sailings depart from Wendella’s dock at the northwest corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Passengers can choose from a wide array of Chicago River cruises including the company’s most popular:
- Architectural tour
- Historical tour
- Combined lake and river tour
- Chicago at Sunset tour
Another highly recommended Chicago River cruise for adults is Wendella’s two-hour wine tasting architectural cruise. In addition to learning about the Windy City’s architectural heritage, passengers are treated to different wines by Kafka Wine Company and are offered samples of delicious Italian dishes by Buca di Beppo.
River Cruise Tips
Since cruises on the Chicago River are only offered seasonally, they tend to sell out quickly. To ensure a spot on the voyage of your choice, it’s a good idea to purchase tickets in advance. You can do so by visiting the companies’ ticket booths at their respective docks or by buying seats online at the companies’ websites. Finally, remember to be at the dock at the hour printed on your ticket, as the cruises set sail promptly at their scheduled departure times.