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11 of the best boat tours in Chicago 2024

Have you been wondering about the best boat tours in Chicago? I’ve got you covered!

Chicago is no doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the USA and although there are many ways to explore it, nothing quite compares to a boat tour. The city skyline is majestic and seeing it from a boat can be incredibly romantic as well!

After having spent a few months travelling around the USA, I did a lot of research on the best boat tours in Chicago and created this article to help travellers who are not sure which Boat tour to take in Chicago.

One of the most popular boat tours is the Architecture Tour. These 90-minute cruises goes along Lake Michigan and offers an up-close look at some of Chicago’s famous buildings, including Navy Pier, Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), John Hancock Center, Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, as well as many other architectural landmarks.

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My Top 3 Picks: the best boat tours in Chicago

#1 Top Pick
Chicago river and bridge in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago Architecture River Cruise

  • 1 hour 15 mins
  • Runs 20 times a day
  • Drinks available
#2 Pick
Chicago Skyline. Chicago downtown and Chicago River with bridges, Chicago city, USA.

Lake Michigan And Chicago River

  • 1 hour 15 mins
  • Thrilling speedboat
  • Small group tour
#3 Pick
Chicago Water Taxi in downtown Chicago. The Chicago River serves as the main link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways.

Best of Chicago Skydeck + Shoreline Cruise

  • 4 hours
  • Max of 6 people
  • Admission fees

11 of the best boat tours in Chicago

Chicago river and bridge in Chicago, Illinois, USA

1. Chicago Architecture River Cruise

⭐️ RATING: 5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 15 minutes | ✅ Book it!

Embark on an adventure as you hop aboard this boat tour along the Chicago River, where the city’s iconic architecture takes centre stage.

Glide through the waters while an onboard guide narrates the fascinating history behind over 40 remarkable structures, such as the Navy Pier, Wrigley, and John Hancock. 

Immerse yourself in the ongoing narrative of Chicago’s architectural transformation as you navigate all three branches of the Chicago River, encountering notable landmarks such as the East Bank Club, the Post Office Building, and the Willis Tower (formerly recognised as the Sears Tower).

This architecture river tour showcases the beauty of Chicago and delves into the key events that have shaped the city’s rich architectural history. 

“Ricky was a fantastic story teller bringing alive the architecture along the Chicago River. Great experience” – Michelle_S

You’ll take a lovely boat ride along the pretty Chicago River, lasting about 1 hour and 15 minutes. While on this journey, you’ll have chances to see some cool stuff.

As you smoothly float on the water, you’ll see fantastic views of the Chicago skyline, which is a great time to take incredible photos.

During this boat tour, you’ll also go past Navy Pier, a large waterfront place that’s 50 acres in size. You’ll also see the Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. This tour includes a professional guide, so expect to learn many new things. 

St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame, the White House, and even the Berlin Wall, will come into view. Lastly, the boat tour will let you glimpse the giant John Hancock Center, an enormous skyscraper with 100 stories and 1,128-foot tall.

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 401 N Michigan Ave or 24 N Streeter Dr, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Includes: Guided architecture cruise, Live commentary

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago Skyline. Chicago downtown and Chicago River with bridges, Chicago city, USA.

2. Lake Michigan And Chicago River Architecture Cruise By Speedboat

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 15 minutes  | ✅ Book it!

Discover Chicago’s famous architecture during this river architecture tour. Board a relaxing riverboat for a cruise on the Chicago River, viewing landmarks like the Willis Tower and the Tribune Tower while listening to engaging commentary from your guide. 

Board a speedboat for a thrilling ride up the shore of Lake Michigan to see views of Grant Park, the Chicago Harbor, and the Museum Campus. 

“The tour guide was a wealth of knowledge. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about Chicago’s architecture and ending with the speed boat was fun.” – Nancy_T

Begin your journey at the Navy Pier, where you’ll meet with your guide and fellow explorers. Board the riverboat for the first part of your architectural tour in Chicago by boat.

Along the way, you’ll pass by noteworthy landmarks like the Tribune Tower and the Willis Tower while your guide shares captivating tales about Chicago’s architectural legacy and pioneering role in skyscraper construction.

Delve into how the Chicago River’s direction was ingeniously altered through modern engineering. You’ll also experience a smooth passage through the historic locks that separate the Chicago River from Lake Michigan.

Following the river cruise, get ready for an exciting ride on a speedboat as it zips along the shores of Lake Michigan, offering spectacular views of Chicago’s stunning cityscape.

Watch for the Museum Campus, home to the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum. As you drift past Grant Park, take in the impressive sight of Buckingham Fountain and savour the panoramic views of the Chicago Riverwalk. 

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Includes: Architectural tour, Speedboat ride, Professional guide, Live commentary, All fees and tax

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago Water Taxi in downtown Chicago. The Chicago River serves as the main link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley waterways.

3. Best Of Chicago Small Group Tour With Skydeck + Shoreline Cruise

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 4 hours | ✅ Book it!

Try this small-group tour if you want to see the best of Chicago in just half a day. You’ll be picked up from your hotel and travel in an air-conditioned vehicle to Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower for breathtaking city panoramas.

Next, you’ll go on a private boat ride Chicago cruise to discover Buckingham Fountain and more. See more of the city in less time on a driving tour. This tour is limited to just six people for a personal experience.

“Tour guide was very courteous. Also very knowledgeable about Chicago’s history. Carefully guided us around the city. Problem arose out of his control and he handled it perfect.” – Chance_S

No Chicago visit is complete without going to the Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Take the elevator to the 103rd floor for a jaw-dropping 360-degree view of the city! Don’t miss “The Ledge,” unique glass balconies that extend 4.3 feet outside the building.

Next, visit the Cloud Gate, aka the Chicago Bean, a stunning outdoor work by British artist Anish Kapoor. Then, embark on the Shoreline Architecture Cruise to see over 40 Chicago landmarks along the picturesque Chicago River.

Wrap up your tour with a stop at Buckingham Fountain. Please note that from June 18th to August 13th, this may be replaced with a luxurious drive along the Magnificent Mile, with hop-out stops at The Chicago Theatre, the striking Chicago Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza, and the historic Chicago Watertower.

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time to be picked up at your hotel or head to 55 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Includes: Hotel pickup and drop-off, Professional guide, All admission fees, Small-group tour (6 people maximum)

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago Downtown skyline and speedboat on Chicago river at sunset, Chicago, Illinois.

4. Chicago Sunset Cruise

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 30 minutes | ✅ Book it!

Experience Windy City in one of the best evening Chicago river boat tours, perfectly timed with the sunset.

Board your open-top riverboat in the heart of the Magnificent Mile and cruise along the Chicago River as your guide points out architectural marvels. 

Witness the skyline from a distance and watch the skyscrapers light up as you continue to Lake Michigan for a sunset viewing. Admire a perspective of Chicago that most visitors admire during this tour. 

“Had a amazing time enjoy the ride and the staff it was a beautiful ride. Sunset was amazing. Enjoyed watching the bridge open will go again.” – Paris_C

Gaze at the city’s stunning sunset skyline as you go on one of the best river cruise in Chicago. Catch sights of the John Hancock Center, Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower, and the Aqua Tower, all from the vantage point of your boat on Lake Michigan. 

Experience the peaceful waters of Lake Michigan for an hour as the sun sets behind the city, creating a serene atmosphere. Then, embark on a short journey along the Chicago River as you head toward Lake Michigan.

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen schedule at 400 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Includes: Riverboat cruise, Live commentary, All fees and taxes

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

view of Chicago skyline from Michigan lake

5. Skyline Tour Aboard 148 Ft. Schooner Windy – Chicago’s Official Tall Ship

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 15 minutes  | ✅ Book it!

Escape the bustling city and enjoy a relaxing trip along the scenic shores of Lake Michigan. Look at the famous skyline, take in beautiful views, and see the charm of the Windy City from a different angle on the water.

You’ll be boarding Windy, the Official Ship of Chicago, at 148 feet long, and is one of the few 4-masted Schooners made in the US. 

Choose from different sail options, like the Pirates and Maritime Stories Sail at 1 p.m., the Skyline/Architectural Theme at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and the Skyline Sunset Sail at 7 p.m. Each one lasts about 75 minutes. Remember, the ship leaves on time, so arrive early to find parking if needed.

“Views of Chicago skyline were spectacular. My teenage son enjoyed hoisting the sails! We definitely could have stayed on the ship longer!” – Andrea_B

Lake Michigan is a marvel of nature in its own right. This tour lets you see Chicago from a whole new perspective. The 1 p.m. schedule is best when bringing kids, and this is one of the best Chicago boat tours for families.

Enjoy the scenic views and experience an engaging boat ride aboard the official ship of Chicago. Be sure to participate in raising the sails for an experience you’ll never forget!

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen schedule at 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Includes: Ship ride, All fees and taxes

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago River with boats and traffic in Downtown Chicago

6. Chicago Lake And River Architecture Tour

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 30 minutes | ✅ Book it!

Delve into Chicago’s rich architectural history during one of the recommended Chicago boat tours. While sailing along Lake Michigan, take the opportunity to capture memorable photos of yourself and your companions against the backdrop of Chicago’s impressive 26-mile shoreline.

This comprehensive architectural tour offers in-depth insights into Chicago’s architectural treasures, all delivered through live commentary.

“Learned a lot about the city. The view was great… the guide was very knowledgable. Perfect amount of time on the lake!” – Lorena_B

This Chicago architecture boat tour departs at Wendella, in the heart of Chicago’s vibrant Magnificent Mile. This tour sets sail regardless of weather conditions.

Enjoy a live commentary as you cruise down the river. There is an onboard bar so that you can enjoy snacks and drinks. 

You’ll pass by significant landmarks such as the Centennial Fountain And Water Arc, the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, the Willis Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and many more architectural wonders. 

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 400 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Includes: Riverboat cruise, Live commentary, All fees and taxes

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Downtown view with Chicago River. Chicago is the 3rd most populous US city with 2.7 million residents (8.7 million in its urban area).

7. Private Lake Michigan Sailing Charter And Sightseeing Tour Of Chicago

⭐️ RATING: 5/5   | ⏳ LENGTH: 2 hours  | ✅ Book it!

This is the perfect tour if you’ve ever dreamed of sailing away on your private sailboat. Complete with a captain and crew, you and up to five other guests will exclusively use a sailboat. 

Sail on Lake Michigan and enjoy the sights of Chicago’s remarkable skyline. If you want, you could even take a turn at the helm. You could choose from morning, afternoon or evening departures. 

You could bring your own bottle, but no glass containers. Ice and fridge are included along with fully customizable itineraries based on your preferences. Be sure to get your tunes playing for the perfect sailing vibe!

“Great experience as part of our 19th anniversary celebration. Beautiful views and great captain and service. Bluetooth music was a nice touch.” – DeWayne_P

Your journey kicks off from the north side of Monroe Harbor at a dedicated pick-up and drop-off spot. The specific route depends mainly on the wind direction, but it’s incredibly flexible because this is a private charter. 

Suggest landmarks or ways you’d like to see, and the captain will happily oblige. If you prefer the captain to decide, that’s no issue either. The exclusivity of your time sailing makes this one of the best boat tours in Chicago. 

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen schedule at East Monroe Street & South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Includes: Private sailboat, Professional US Coast Guard licensed captain, bluetooth speakers

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

The Chicago River and downtown Chicago skyline USA

8. Chicago Architecture Boat Tour

⭐️ RATING: 5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 30 minutes | ✅ Book it!

Famous for its architecture, the best way to explore the Windy City is to try one of the best Chicago architecture boat tour along the Chicago River. Aboard an open-deck boat, glide past the historical and modern marvels like the Civic Opera House, Wrigley Building, and Willis Tower.

The live narration of a professional guide during this big-group tour reveals each building’s captivating history, so you’ll learn more than you would observe. 

“We toured on a cute boat named the Summer of George (Seinfeld fans will know). The captain was great and so was our tour guide Hillary. She is very knowledgeable in architecture and has a fun personality. Lovely views of the city. I would go again!” – Naima_O

Your one-and-a-half-hour tour starts by passing by the Magnificent Mile. You’ll then continue and pass the Wrigley Building, which has graced Chicago’s skyline since 1920. Originally built to serve as the headquarters for the chewing gum company, it draws inspiration from Spain’s Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower.

Continue to pass by some iconic landmarks, including Willis Tower,  Aqua Tower, an 82-story mixed-use skyscraper in Lakeshore East, Chicago Chinatown, the Merchandise Mart, an iconic structure housing top home showrooms and offices, and the famous Navy Pier. 

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 900 S Wells St, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Includes: Guided architecture tour

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Sightseeing boat with tourists on the Chicago river in the Chicago Loop in Chicago. The Loop is one of Chicago district and the seat of Chicago's government.

9. 45-Minute Chicago River Architecture Tour From Magnificent Mile

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5  | ⏳ LENGTH: 45 minutes  | ✅ Book it!

Experience an up-close view of the magnificent buildings surrounding the Chicago River in this 45-minute best boat tours Chicago. Enjoy live commentary about the city’s history and architectural marvels on this tour, which is suitable for the whole family.

Discover iconic landmarks, including the Chicago Riverwalk, Michigan Avenue Bridge, Wrigley Building, and Willis Tower. Choose between the open-air top deck or the covered bottom deck for the best view to admire Chicago’s beauty.

“It was an amazing tour, I had very good time. Our tour guide was awesome, he explained everything in detail.” – Aycan_T

During your cruise, you’ll sail past remarkable landmarks. Uncover the captivating history of the Chicago Riverwalk and hear enchanting tales surrounding the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Behold the iconic Wrigley Building and the Merchandise Mart, a colossal structure that commands attention in Chicago and the entire nation.

Then, you’ll have the privilege of admiring the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a prestigious venue that hosts live performances, business events, and entertainment galore.

Finally, see the distinctive Marina City, featuring mixed-use apartment buildings with their distinct corn-cob exterior, often described as a “city within a city.”

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 400 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Includes: Architecture tour, Live commentary, All fees and taxes

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago river and bridge in Chicago, Illinois, USA

10. Chicago Urban Adventure River And Lake Cruise

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5   | ⏳ LENGTH: 1 hour and 30 minutes  | ✅ Book it!

If you’re a first-time visitor and choosing among the best Chicago river cruise, this is perfect for you. Witness the Second City from the water with a sightseeing cruise along the Chicago River and the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

See the towering buildings and spot the gargoyles atop the city’s historic structures. Hear stories about the city’s history and culture as you pass famous Chicago landmarks.

Capture striking images of the city skyline from Lake Michigan and get a distinctive look at Chicago that’s suitable for all ages.

“Great experience. If you are in Chicago and are looking for an informative tour, this is . Great option. This tour was everything that I hoped it would be.” – Quinton_F

As you sail, you’ll pass by notable landmarks, including Marina City, the Buckingham Fountain, one of the world’s largest fountains, the Adler Planetarium, a famous celestial observatory in Chicago’s museum campus, and Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears. 

Catch a glimpse of the John Hancock Center, a 100-story skyscraper in the Magnificent Mile district, as seen from the lake.

Lastly, pass by the Chicago Riverwalk. These landmarks are just some of the many iconic sights you’ll witness during your boat ride

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen schedule at 112 E Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Includes: Boat tour, Live commentary, All fees and taxes

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

Chicago, Illinois, USA cityscape over the river at twilight.

11. Lake Michigan Skyline Cruise In Chicago

⭐️ RATING: 4.5/5 | ⏳ LENGTH: 40 minutes  | ✅ Book it!

Enjoy the iconic views of the stunning Chicago skyline and its many landmarks during this Lake Michigan sightseeing boat cruise. Climb aboard your vessel for a laid-back ride, enjoying scenic views of the Windy City’s skyline from a striking viewpoint.

The cruise duration varies with the weather, spanning 40 minutes in the warmer months and 30 minutes in the colder ones. 

During the cruise, you’ll listen to informative commentary and view the John Hancock Center, Willis Tower, and many other landmarks. Feel free to bring your lunch or grab a drink at the onboard bar during your boat ride

“Whether was perfect, view was beautiful . great time with the family. I will be booking another boat tour !.” – Sandra_G

Be treated to pre-recorded audio narratives recounting Chicago’s vibrant history and iconic landmarks, all while taking in the breathtaking panorama of the city’s famous skyline.

Gaze upon renowned skyscrapers like the John Hancock Center, Aon, Trump Tower, and more. As you sail, spot downtown neighbourhoods, including the Gold Coast, Streeterville, Grant Park, and the enchanting Buckingham Fountain. 

This experience is perfect for the entire family to savour Chicago’s picturesque lakefront. Additionally, you’ll pass by Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center with its magnificent stained-glass domes, the Chicago Architecture Center, and the Historic Water Tower. 

Important details 

  • Start Time (and location): Your chosen time at 800 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Includes: Pre-recorded commentary, Scenic skyline cruise

🤩 Check Prices and Availability!

FAQs About best boat tour chicago

What are the best Chicago river tours?

The best Chicago river tours available in Chicago include the Shoreline Sightseeing Architectural River Cruise, Seadog River and Lake Tour, Wendella Grand Tour, and Urban Kayaks. Each offers its own unique perspective on the iconic sights of the city like Willis Tower, Navy Pier, and beautiful bridges.

How long do Chicago river tours last?

The duration of each tour depends on which type you choose to take. Shoreline Sightseeing’s Architectural River Cruise is one hour long, while Wendella’s Grand Tour and Seadog River and Lake Tour are both two hours long. Urban Kayak offers a variety of tour lengths, ranging from one-hour to four-hour experiences.

Navy Pier and skyline in Chicago, Illinois. It was built in 1916 as 3300 foot pier for tour and excursion boats and is Chicago's number one tourist attraction.

Final Thoughts: chicago river tours

Chicago boat tours offer breathtaking views, unparalleled experiences, and a memorable journey.

As you explore the city’s fascinating landmarks from a new perspective, your tour guide will bring to life the amazing history that surrounds Chicago.

From the stunning skyscrapers and iconic architecture, to the unique stories about the characters of this vibrant city – it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Whether you’re looking for family fun or something romantic and special, there’s a boat tour in Chicago that’s perfect for you. Book your best boat tour experience in Chicago today.

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