It might sound a little crazy—because we’re all about walking—but the best way to see Chicago actually may not be by foot. A breezy boat tour across Lake Michigan or on the Chicago River 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 and head off-shore to admire the stunning skyline from afar.
There are certainly plenty of companies that offer tours, but we’ve done the heavy lifting and found a few Chicago architecture boat tours that really stand out among the rest.
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
An obvious first choice when seeking out the best Chicago architecture boat tour would be one of the 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. CAC-certified docents tell guests about over 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: $47-52; architecture.org
Seadog River and Lake Architecture Tour
On the Seadog Architecture 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, as well as a 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: $42; seadogcruises.com
Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour
With building highlights like Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, and Marina City, Shoreline Sightseeing will take passengers past over 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: $37-43; shorelinesightseeing.com
Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise
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!
To book: $35; mercurycruises.com