Regarded as one of the most famous attractions in Chicago, Illinois, Navy Pier sits on Lake Michigan. 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 is a top choice for all budgets, as it’s stocked with trendy rooftop restaurants and more casual offerings. Besides riding on the Centennial Wheel, visitors can enjoy Cirque du Soleil performances, a maze of mirrors, various rides, and cruises.
Navy Pier transitions into a Winter Wonderland in the colder months, complete with an ice rink, fun decorations, and holiday-themed activities for kids. 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 nearby the city. After about ten years, the name changed to Navy Pier due to the Navy personnel stationed at the pier during WWI.
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.
Chicago Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour
One of the top boat tours in Chicago is the Chicago Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour. This tour takes off from Navy Pier and provides a fun ride along the shore. This activity is ideal for families and people of all ages. As you ride on the water, you’ll learn about the Chicago skyline in a fun way. It’s one of the top things to do at Navy Pier.
Chicago is a highly walkable city, making a walking tour the perfect way to learn more about the area. Inside the Loop: Chicago Architecture Walking Tour is a top way to see some of the famous building designs around the city. This tour takes you through the Loop to explore the Art Deco buildings from the outside and insid
Part of the appeal of Chicago is its diverse food offerings from various cultures. The Chicago West Loop Food Tour allows you to explore the local food options, from popular Chicago dishes to meals prepared by famous chefs. This tour takes you through the former meatpacking neighborhood, now known as a foodie haven. The West Loop food tour includes a stop at 5-6 establishments with 7+ dishes you’ll taste along the way.
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 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.
Polk Bros Park
Outside Navy Pier lies the Polk Bros Park, a gift to the city by the infamous Polk family. This park is an excellent spot for a relaxing break from the busyness of the city. 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.
Things to Do at Navy Pier: Planning a Visit
When considering what things to do at Navy Pier, it’s important to consider who will be traveling with you. The vast number of attractions appeal to various age groups, so determining who is visiting will aid in narrowing down the activity list. Also be sure to consider indoor vs outdoor things to do around the pier area.
If you’re traveling with children, you can include activities such as the Funhouse Maze, carousel, and a sightseeing boat tour. Adults will enjoy visiting the trendy rooftop bars and trying fun cocktails. In the summer, there are fireworks on Friday and Saturday evenings. This is one activity that is a must-see while at Navy Pier.
After considering the activities to include, schedule them, purchase any necessary tickets, and make reservations for tours and rides
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.
Most of the attractions and the 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.
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).
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