Regarded as one of the most famous attractions in Chicago, Illinois, Navy Pier sits on Lake Michigan. Also known as the People’s Pier, this attraction is distinguishable by the Centennial Wheel that is visible along the shoreline and from various buildings throughout the city. Offering an attraction that seems to provide a never-ending list of activities, this list of top things to do at Navy Pier will help guide your time spent in the Windy City.

Open year-round, Navy Pier is a must-see in Chicago for people of all ages. This attraction which draws millions of visitors each year, is a top choice for all budgets, as it’s stocked with trendy rooftop restaurants and more casual offerings as well as shopping and recreational space. Besides riding on the Centennial Wheel, visitors can enjoy Cirque du Soleil performances, a maze of mirrors, various rides, and cruises. Although the Pier is open year-round, some outside attractions are seasonal.

Navy Pier transitions into a Winter Wonderland in the colder months, complete with an ice rink, fun decorations, and holiday-themed activities for kids. There are over 170,000 square feet packed with snowy-wonderland entertainment for all. During the summer months, there is no better spot to view fireworks. Enjoy this fantastic spectacle each Wednesday and Saturday from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. The below will guide you on some of the best things to do at Navy Pier.


Things to Do at Navy Pier, Chicago: A History of this Iconic Landmark

Navy Pier initially opened in 1916 and was known as Municipal Pier. The original purpose of the pier was a recreation and shipping center near the city. After about ten years, the name changed to Navy Pier due to Navy personnel stationed at the pier during WWI and becoming a training center for the United States Navy; about 10,000 people worked, trained, and lived there.

About 50 years later, the pier became a designated Chicago landmark. After improvements to the pier in 1994, it shifted to one of the most well-known attractions worldwide. These improvements aided in creating a unique and eclectic spot that draws in large numbers of tourists and locals annually.


Chicago Attractions Around Navy Pier

The bustling city of Chicago does not lack activities and attractions. Below, you’ll find some top tours and things to do while visiting Navy Pier and the surrounding area. Whether you are looking for a romantic date experience or bringing along the family, the Navy Pier is the ultimate spot!


navy pier things to do on the water

Chicago Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour

If you have the need for speed and are looking for a thrill-seeking adventure, one of the top boat tours in Chicago is the Chicago Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour. This 30-minute tour takes off from Navy Pier and provides an exciting and scenic ride along the shore. This activity is ideal for families and people of all ages (and the dog too!) As you race along the water, you’ll learn about the Chicago skyline in an amusing and informative way. It’s one of the top things to do at Navy Pier. Seadog is BYOB- bring your own drinks to enjoy on the water (no glass containers).

If you want to up the thrill ante even more, try Chicago Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride for heartpounding360-degree spins during this jet-propelled ride that blasts off to start and splashes down to stop. Experience full-throttle slalom runs sharp twists and turns, and feel the raw power and excitement of Seadog Extreme’s two 1400 HP engines. Music and narration about Chicago’s history add even more fun to this exhilarating ride. You will most likely get wet, and you must be 48” tall to ride. Don’t forget to BYOB, but if you do, luckily you can purchase drinks and snacks at concessions. Lakefront and Architecture tours on Seadog are dog-friendly, but Extreme tours are strictly people-only.


Chicago: Field Museum of Natural Historynavy pier museums

Beyond its culinary treats and famous architectural sites, Chicago has a rich culture with some of the best museums in the state. The Field Museum, located along the iconic Lake Michigan shore, is one of the top options when visiting Museum Campus. This museum offers various exhibits that offer insight into ancient cultures. Artifacts, including jewelry and an ancient burial chamber, provide a unique, educational experience in the city.

World-renowned items on display include Egyptian mummies, the man-eating lions of Tsavo, and SUE, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. The museum opens daily at 9 am with the last entry at 4 pm. Plan on spending about four hours to ensure you hit all the highlights. The best part about this museum is that it is appropriate for all ages with touch and explore science for the younger kids and interesting science areas for the older kids.


Polk Bros Park

Outside Navy Pier lies the Polk Bros Park, now serving as the Pier’s “front door.” This park is an excellent spot for a relaxing break from the busyness of the city. The twenty-million-dollar redevelopment of the park, which the Polk family generously gifted, provides visitors with 150 programmable water jets that simulate waves, fish, and birds and are designed to be walked through to enjoy. Lush greenery, water fountains, and free cultural and arts programs are found in the park. This family-friendly spot is a top attraction built to inspire and bring communities together.

Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion

In 2018, Navy Pier debuted its newly renovated Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion, a 200,000-square-foot hub for over 50 Chicago-centric experiences showcasing the city’s best in dining and entertainment as well as retail stores. Here you can also find access to the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Centennial Wheel

Built in the 1800s, the city’s first Ferris wheel ride is one of the oldest attractions. Your ticket will provide you with three rotations on the Ferris wheel allowing you ample time to enjoy the scenery on this one-of-a-kind experience with 360-degree views of Chicago’s skyline. Each gondola is enclosed allowing the ride to open all year long for visitors to enjoy.

Spend your evening after a long day of enjoying attractions onboard a Chicago Signature Dinner Cruise in an unforgettable way. Recap the day’s events while you admire this spectacular city’s picturesque views from the water enjoying a cocktail and a chef-prepared dinner.

navy pier things to do at night


Things to Do at Navy Pier: Planning a Visit

Navy Pier in Chicago is a bustling hub of entertainment, culture, and leisure activities, making it a must-visit destination for travelers of all ages. When planning your visit, it’s crucial to tailor your itinerary to the preferences and needs of your group. Here’s an extended guide to help you make the most out of your Navy Pier adventure, ensuring a memorable experience for everyone involved.

Understanding Your Group’s Interests

First and foremost, consider the composition of your travel party. Navy Pier offers a plethora of attractions suited for different age groups and interests. For families with children, the Chicago Children’s Museum and the iconic Centennial Wheel offer fun and educational experiences. The Funhouse Maze and the historic carousel are also hits among the younger crowd. For those seeking a bit of adrenaline, the Wave Swinger and other rides provide an exhilarating experience.

Adult visitors have plenty to look forward to as well. The Pier is home to several trendy rooftop bars and fine dining restaurants that offer stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Enjoying a craft cocktail or a gourmet meal while soaking in the ambiance is a perfect way to relax and unwind.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Activities

Chicago’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to include both indoor and outdoor activities in your plan. The Crystal Gardens is a beautiful indoor botanical park that offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. For art enthusiasts, the Pier also hosts rotating art exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.

Outdoor explorers will enjoy walking along the South Dock, soaking in the breathtaking views of the lake and skyline. Bike rentals are available for those who wish to explore the surrounding areas at a leisurely pace. Additionally, seasonal outdoor attractions such as the Navy Pier Beer Garden offer live music and entertainment with a backdrop of spectacular firework displays during the summer months on Friday and Saturday evenings—a highlight that shouldn’t be missed.

Planning Your Visit

Once you’ve identified the attractions and activities that interest your group, it’s time to start scheduling. Check the operating hours for each attraction, as some may vary seasonally or require reservations. Purchasing tickets in advance for popular attractions like the Centennial Wheel can save you time and ensure availability. Similarly, if you’re interested in any special tours or experiences, such as the sightseeing boat tours that offer a unique perspective of the city from the water, booking ahead is advisable.

For those traveling with children, consider incorporating downtime into your itinerary to rest and recharge. There are plenty of green spaces and seating areas throughout the Pier where you can take a break and enjoy a snack or a meal.

Dining and Shopping

No visit to Navy Pier is complete without exploring its diverse dining and shopping options. From quick bites to upscale dining, there’s something to satisfy every palate. The food court offers a variety of fast-casual options, while restaurants along the Pier serve up everything from fresh seafood to authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza.

Shopping enthusiasts will enjoy browsing the unique boutiques and souvenir shops that offer everything from handmade crafts to Navy Pier memorabilia. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a memento of your visit or gifts for friends and family back home.

  • Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of ground to cover.
  • Check the Navy Pier website or app for any special events or temporary closures during your visit.
  • Consider purchasing a multi-attraction pass if you plan to visit several of Chicago’s landmarks to save money on admission fees.

By taking into account the interests and needs of your group, and with a bit of planning, your visit to Navy Pier can be filled with enjoyable experiences that cater to everyone in your party. Whether you’re admiring the view from the top of the Ferris wheel, exploring the wonders of the Children’s Museum, or enjoying a leisurely meal by the water, Navy Pier offers countless opportunities to create lasting memories.



FAQs – Things to Do at Chicago Navy Pier (2024 & 2025)

Is it free to walk around Navy Pier?Navy Pier Chicago Wave Swinger ride

Yes, the path around Navy Pier is free to the public and open year-round. Though, the activities and attractions have additional fees.

What is Navy Pier famous for?

One of the major reasons Navy Pier is famous is the Ferris wheel (Centennial Wheel), one of the tallest in the U.S. Beyond the Ferris wheel, Navy Pier is recognized for a variety of reasons, such as the 1920s-inspired carousel inside, the Pepsi Wave Swinger, and the stunning views of the Lake.

How long of a walk is Navy Pier?

The walk around Navy Pier is about 1.5 miles out and back, making it a great option for those who want to see what the pier has to offer. The full walk takes about thirty minutes and travels outside the buildings.

Is Navy Pier indoors?

Most of the attractions and restaurants at Navy Pier are indoors. However, certain rides, shows, and activities occur outdoors during the warmer months. For example, boat rides are available along the pier outside the main Navy Pier building.

Are there carnival games at Navy Pier?

A few carnival-like rides and games at Navy Pier help keep people of all ages entertained. Besides the Ferris wheel, there’s also a Virtual Rush Ride. You’ll find the mirror maze inside the building, which you can explore for an additional fee (like the other rides/activities).

Is it worth the trip?

With cultural events, activities, and food to delight all ages, Navy Pier is a must-do when visiting Chicago.

What are some water activities available at Navy Pier?

Navy Pier offers a range of water-based activities including boat tours, dinner cruises, and speedboat rides. There’s something for everyone, from scenic cruises on the Chicago River to thrilling rides on Lake Michigan.

Are there any annual events held at Navy Pier?

Yes, Navy Pier hosts many annual events, such as fireworks shows in the summer and winter festivities. It’s best to check their events calendar for the most up-to-date information.

Are there dining options at Navy Pier?

City Cruises has you covered there! Navy Pier boasts a variety of dining options, from sit-down restaurants with views of the lake and city skyline to quick-service eateries. You can find a diverse range of cuisines to satiate any palate.

What are the transportation options to Navy Pier?

Navy Pier is accessible by car, bus, and boat with City Cruises. There are on-site parking facilities, and several CTA bus lines service the pier. During the summer months, water taxis also operate between the pier and various points along the city’s river and shoreline.

Is Navy Pier suitable for children?

Definitely! With its carousel, interactive fountains, and the Chicago Children’s Museum, Navy Pier is a family-friendly destination. There are also special programs and events tailored specifically for kids throughout the year.

Are there any theaters or live performances at Navy Pier?

Yes, Navy Pier is home to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which showcases a variety of productions year-round. In addition, the pier frequently hosts live music, cultural festivals, and other entertainment events.

Can I rent a space at Navy Pier for a private event?

Yes, Navy Pier offers rental spaces for both small and large private events, including weddings, corporate gatherings, and parties. The picturesque backdrop of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline makes it a sought-after venue. You can also do this on the water with City Cruises!

Is there shopping at Navy Pier?

Yes, Navy Pier has a selection of shops and kiosks where you can buy everything from Chicago-themed souvenirs and apparel to specialty items and local handicrafts.

What unique experiences does City Cruises offer from Navy Pier?

City Cruises offers a diverse range of waterborne experiences from Navy Pier, including sightseeing tours, dining cruises, and special event cruises. These cruises provide an unparalleled perspective of Chicago’s skyline and architectural marvels.

How do City Cruises’ dining cruises differ from standard boat tours?

While standard boat tours focus on sightseeing, City Cruises’ dining cruises combine the beautiful views with gourmet meals, drinks, and often, live entertainment. Whether it’s a lunch, dinner, or holiday cruises, guests can enjoy a memorable dining experience against the backdrop of Chicago’s iconic skyline.

Is there entertainment on board City Cruises from Navy Pier?

Yes, many of City Cruises’ offerings feature live entertainment, including music, dance floors, and sometimes themed performances, ensuring a lively and memorable experience on the water.

Can I charter a private cruise with City Cruises from Navy Pier?

Yes! City Cruises offers private charters perfect for corporate events, weddings, birthdays, or any special occasion. Their team will help customize the event to suit your needs, ensuring a unique and unforgettable experience.

Why choose City Cruises for a unique experience at Navy Pier?

Choosing City Cruises offers guests the opportunity to experience Chicago from a unique vantage point – the water. With top-notch amenities, entertainment, and unparalleled views of the city, it transforms a regular outing into a memorable event.

How do I book a cruise with City Cruises from Navy Pier?

Booking is easy! You can reserve your spot online through the City Cruises website or contact the customer service team for assistance.

View more things to do in Chicago by Navy Pier

Original Post Date July 26, 2022