Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations—and with good reason. The 3,300-foot (1,010-meter) pier jutting into the waters of Lake Michigan, originally constructed in 1916 as a freight dock and public space, encompasses almost 50 acres (20 hectares) of exhibits, rides, parks, and family attractions.
Most Chicago sightseeing tours (by foot, bike, bus, or Segway) include a stop at Navy Pier, which buts right up against the Streeterville neighborhood and the distinctive Chicago skyline—and is one of the largest entertainment complexes in the United States. The pier is also a departure point for the must-do Chicago architecture river cruises and classic lake tours. For kids, Navy Pier features the Chicago Children’s Museum, plus a collection of high-tech rides, hands-on fountains, kid-focused educational exhibits, restaurants, and trinket vendors that will transport your child into the realm of overstimulated joy. Adults will appreciate the lakefront views, cool breezes, and a ride on the gigantic Ferris wheel or classic carousel. Skyline Stage, a 1,500-seat rooftop venue under a canopy, plays host to a variety of shows throughout the summer; and on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the pier puts on a whopping fireworks show.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Navy Pier is a must-do for families visiting Chicago with children.
- For a unique view of Navy Pier or the fireworks show, book a dinner cruise.
- The Chicago Explorer Pass includes admission to several Navy Pier attractions, including the Ferris wheel and miniature golf.
- Most attractions and businesses on Navy Pier are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
How to Get There
Located east of the Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier is easy to get to by bus and El trains from anywhere in the city, including on the free pier trolley bus. In summer, Shoreline Sightseeing runs a handy water taxi between Navy Pier, the Sears Tower, and the John G. Shedd Aquarium.
When to Get There
Although Navy Pier is open year-round, it really comes alive in the summer—in fact it can get mobbed, so arrive early and take public transportation. An IMAX Theater and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater are both good cold-weather options, and there is a winter festival held every year.
Navy Pier History
Originally named the Municipal Pier, it was renamed Navy Pier in 1927 in honor of the naval veterans from the First World War. During World War II, the pier was used as a naval training facility, where about 10,000 people lived, worked, and trained.