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It might sound a little crazy—because we’re all about walking tours—but the best way to see Chicago actually may not be by foot. A Chicago River architecture tour is the place to be if you’re in search of the best skyline views of the Windy City. Home to some of the nation’s finest architecture—think of buildings like the Sears Tower and the Aon Center—Chicago only gets better when you hop aboard a Chicago River architecture tour and head off-shore to admire the stunning skyline from afar.
There are certainly plenty of companies that offer a terrific Chicago architecture tour, but we’ve done the heavy lifting and found a few Chicago architecture boat tours that really stand out among the rest. When planning a memorable trip to Chicago, consider booking one of the following six Chicago architecture boat tours.
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
An obvious first choice when seeking out the best Chicago architecture boat tour would be one of the Chicago architecture tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Visitors hop aboard Chicago’s First Lady, the vessel that will take passengers on a very informative 90-minute cruise. Chicago Architecture Center-certified docents tell guests about more than 50 buildings that sit along the Chicago River, offering details about construction and the city’s exciting history. There’s a full-service snack bar aboard the ship, beautiful open-air decks on top, and climate-controlled lower cabins.
To book: $48-$53; architecture.org
Seadog Cruises Architecture River and Lake Tour
On the Seadog Chicago Architecture Boat Tour, passengers will board a sleek open-air speedboat and spend 75 minutes cruising around the Chicago Locks and then right up the Chicago River for sweeping views of the city’s impressive skyline. On the Chicago River boat tour, you’ll also cruise past iconic locations like Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain. There’s live, guided narration with bits and bobs about Chicago's history and stories about notable architecture, like the Willis Tower and Lyric Opera, so guests are sure to come away with plenty of historical and architectural information about the storied Windy City. And for some extra fun: this cruise is BYOB!
To book: $45; seadogcruises.com
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Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour
With building highlights like the Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, and Marina City, Shoreline Sightseeing will take passengers past more than 40 landmarks that have defined Chicago as the beautiful and iconic gem that it is today. The cruise will visit all three branches of the Chicago River for breathtaking views of and detailed stories about the city’s most famous landmarks.
To book: $35-$48; shorelinesightseeing.com
Mercury Cruises Urban Adventure Tour
Mercury offers a great architecture boat tour option for families. The company’s Urban Adventure Cruise is just that: passengers will board the Mercury where live narrators will take guests through the history of Chicago’s legendary skyscrapers, landmarks, and architectural marvels. After 90 minutes spent boating around Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, guests will return to shore well-equipped with all kinds of fun Chicago history! For a parents-only cruise, check out Mercury Urban’s Chicago River and lakefront night cruise, where you’ll see the river illuminated against the romantic backdrop of the city skyline.
To book: $35; mercurycruises.com
Chicago Line Cruises River Architecture Tour
With Starbucks’ coffee and a bar on board, Chicago Line Cruises is all about a laid-back approach to sight-seeing on the water. Chicago Line Cruises can also customize a private architecture boat tour for your party of 20 or more passengers, if you are seeking a more personalized tour on the Chicago River. Chicago Line Cruises’ certified docents weave in the history of Chi-town as they provide context around some of the most important examples of Chicago architecture. In addition to architecture cruises, Chicago Line offers dog cruises (for your seafaring canine companion), nighttime cruises, and firework cruises. Their classic Chicago River architecture tour is 90 minutes.
To book: $45, chicagoline.com
Wendella Boats Chicago River Architecture Tour
Wendella Boats offers a 45-minute or a 90-minute Chicago River architecture tour that delves into “130 years of architectural innovation.” You’ll explore all three branches of the Chicago River with an expert tour guide on a vessel equipped with libations a-plenty (because craft cocktails pair particularly well with architecture on the water). Passengers are sure to grab some Instagram-worthy shots as they cruise past iconic landmarks like the Chicago Water Tower, Tribune Tower, and Marina City.
To book: From $23, wendellaboats.com