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Culture & history

Our most recommended Chicago Culture & History

Chicago River: 1.5-Hour Guided Architecture Cruise

1. Chicago River: 1.5-Hour Guided Architecture Cruise

Experience more of Chicago by boat than on any other architectural cruise. See architectural highlights and enjoy an open-air deck or climate-controlled interior as you travel the main River and its north and south branches. View all of Chicago's architectural highlights during this comprehensive sightseeing tour. Be entertained by the expert and friendly tour guides as they explain the 130 year-long history behind the skyline, while bartenders and staff keep you comfortable with refreshments.  Choose between the fresh air of the open-air decks or enjoy the comfort of the climate-controlled interiors during your cruise. The tour starts at the Michigan Avenue (DuSable) bridge and goes up the main branch of the Chicago River past Wolf Point. It then cruises along the north and south branches of the river, before heading back past the Chicago Riverwalk towards Lake Michigan. On the way, learn about ornate, historic early skyscrapers like the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower, the imposing art deco Merchandise Mart, mid-century skyscrapers like the Mies Van der Rohe AMA Building. Don't miss the circular Marina City Towers, the majestic Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower and the tallest building in Chicago) the soaring AON Center, and more modernist structures like Aqua, Trump Tower, Nuveen, and the new Vista Tower. During your cruise, have the opportunity to enjoy a full-service cash bar featuring authentic Chicago products, including local beer and spirits, and Garrett’s Popcorn. Don’t forget to take a selfie at the Grand Staircase at the front of the boat or pose for photos at the picturesque stern or bow of this classic vessel.

Chicago: 1.5-Hour Lake and River Architecture Cruise

2. Chicago: 1.5-Hour Lake and River Architecture Cruise

Experience an architecture cruise along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, a family tradition since 1935. Admire Chicago’s historic and ever-changing skyline with a local expert guide as you cruise through the city. Choose between the open-air decks or the comfort of the climate-controlled interiors during the cruise. Start the cruise at Michigan Avenue (DuSable) bridge and go up the main branch of the Chicago River to Wolf Point before heading back past the Chicago Riverwalk towards Lake Michigan. Learn about historic skyscrapers like the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower, the deco Merchandise Mart, mid-century skyscrapers like the Mies Van der Rohe AMA Building, the circular Marina City Towers, the AON Center, and modernist structures like Aqua, Trump Tower, Nuveen, and the Vista Tower. After passing through the Chicago Lock and cruising past Navy Pier, admire the Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. Here you can also see the twin super-skyscrapers, the famous Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, and the John Hancock Building. See the majesty of Grant Park with its famous Buckingham Fountain, and iconic Chicago venues such as Soldier’s Field, Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. Enjoy several vantage points for memorable pictures throughout, and finally arrive back at Du Sable Bridge on Michigan Avenue.

Chicago: Willis Tower Skydeck and The Ledge Ticket

3. Chicago: Willis Tower Skydeck and The Ledge Ticket

Enjoy an unrivaled view over the city of Chicago on a trip up the city's Willis Tower. This famous building, once known as the Sears Tower, is not only home to a Skydeck on the 103rd floor, but it also features The Ledge, a series of 4 glass-paneled boxes that extend out from the building's facade to give visitors a view straight down. As you wind through the ground levels of the Willis Tower, you will be surrounded by museum-quality exhibits highlighting the iconic tower. Learn about Chicago's rich history and culture through these informative visuals. Watch a video presentation, "Reaching for the Sky," where you will be briefed on the history of the building and of architecture in Chicago. Then step into your elevator and you will be amazed at how quickly it ascends. As you travel, your multimedia-equipped elevator will inform you about your vertical progress. Upon reaching the 103rd floor, step out onto the Skydeck, which offers views spanning over 50 miles and across 4 states. Then summon your courage to step out onto The Ledge, a glass balcony that hangs over the edge, for vertigo-inducing views 1,353 feet (about 412 meters) straight down to the city below! Download the Skydeck Mobile App for a free viewfinder which points out many of Chicago’s notable landmarks. Learn more about sights like Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and Field Museum of Natural History.

Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip-the-Ticket-Office

4. Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip-the-Ticket-Office

Skip the lines at the ticket office and climb aboard a state-of-the-art cruise for a 60- or 75-minute cruise of all 3 branches of the Chicago River, and marvel at the architecture that has made the city so legendary. Get an insight into the buildings and engineering of a city that gave birth to the skyscraper and is the spiritual home of modern American architecture. Your expert guide will lead you down the Chicago River to uncover hidden gems, as well the city’s most renowned landmarks, such as the John Hancock building, Trump Tower, Marina City, Willis Tower, and more. Relax with a glass of something cold from the cash bar, as you cruise the Windy City’s waterway, and learn its status as a modern metropolis and one of the world’s most beautiful cities. End your tour in the same place where you boarded the boat.

Chicago: 360 Chicago Observation Deck Skip-the-Line Ticket

5. Chicago: 360 Chicago Observation Deck Skip-the-Line Ticket

Marvel at the views from 1,000 feet over Chicago’s legendary Michigan Avenue with this ticket to the 360 CHICAGO observation deck on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. Save time with skip-the-line access to this popular attraction. Head up to the 360 CHICAGO observation deck to take in breathtaking views of Chicago’s lakefront and view the city skyline from above. Take a peek at 4 neighboring states from this height. Feel the thrill of a 40-second ride in one of North America's fastest elevators to the observation deck to experience what 'Travel & Leisure Magazine' voted one of the best views in America. Get easy access to Chicago’s premier shopping and dining districts with 360 CHICAGO. Also, enjoy an interactive exhibit on the Ground Floor that highlights Chicago’s rich history and showcases 9 of the city’s culturally unique neighborhoods. Then, on the 94th floor, explore the history and architecture of the magnificent city stretched out before you with audio tours in 5 languages. By purchasing this timed ticket, you get to skip the ticket desk and present your barcoded voucher to security to be scanned - you may have to wait in a short line at security, then head directly into the Ground Floor Exhibits, and then on to the Elevator Line.

Chicago: Museum of Ice Cream Entry Ticket

6. Chicago: Museum of Ice Cream Entry Ticket

The world-famous ice cream attraction is now open in Chicago. Step into an ice cream wonderland that is bound to ignite your senses through a theatrical experience with unlimited ice cream treats as you journey through 14 installations. Ride on the pink Sprink-L line, put your golf skills to the test on the Putt-Putt course, or take a dip in a pool filled with millions of sprinkles. Come with an empty stomach and get ready to make unforgettable memories. When you finish your experience, be sure to explore the museum's whimsical shop. The Museum of Ice Cream is not a traditional museum — every installation is interactive. This means touching isn't only allowed, it's encouraged.

Chicago: 45-Minute Family-Friendly Architecture River Cruise

7. Chicago: 45-Minute Family-Friendly Architecture River Cruise

Admire Chicago’s impressive architecture from a unique perspective aboard a cruise sailing down the Chicago River, which features an indoor and outdoor deck, along with live commentary tailored to entertain the whole family. Treat yourself to a full-service cash bar at your own expense. Experience the best of the Chicago River from Lakeshore Drive to the Willis Tower, navigating along the South branch of the river, before heading back past the Chicago Riverwalk towards Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. Be entertained by the fun and experienced tour guides as they explain the history behind Chicago’s buildings along the river and the exceptional architects who created this ever-changing skyline. Enjoy the most relaxing way to sightsee in Chicago, exploring the city free of traffic, noise, and congestion. Make sure to visit the full-service cash bar featuring authentic Chicago products, including local beer and spirits. Explore the open-air decks that allow you to feel the cooling river breeze and see the city from many vantage points that provide perfect photo opportunities.

Chicago: Lake Michigan Skyline Sightseeing Cruise

8. Chicago: Lake Michigan Skyline Sightseeing Cruise

Immerse yourself in the sights and learn about Chicago’s history and architecture during a cruise on Lake Michigan. Take advantage of skip-the-line entry privileges with a barcoded ticket that lets you proceed directly to the boarding line. Whether you’re a local or a visitor to the city for the first time, taking in the spectacular views of Chicago's skyline from the lake makes for a perfect outing. You’ll see the city as never before while listening to commentary on Chicago's history and architectural gems. Simply hop on board, sit back, relax, and enjoy as you admire Chicago's most significant landmarks and striking buildings that make up the city's skyline that has appeared in so many movies and TV shows.

Chicago: 90-Minute River and Lakefront Cruise at Night

9. Chicago: 90-Minute River and Lakefront Cruise at Night

Experience the magic of Chicago at nighttime and watch the city's glorious skyscrapers, historic buildings and modern marvels come to life with millions of twinkling lights. Relax and unwind at the end of the day on a cruise which not only lets you enjoy the scenic Chicago River, but also takes you through the Chicago Harbor Lock and out onto Lake Michigan where you can admire epic views of the sparkling Chicago skyline and shoreline. Throughout the ride, listen to lively narration about Chicago's rich history as the onboard guides point out the many sights of the city including Buckingham Fountain, Willis Tower, Aon Center, John Hancock Building, Museum Campus, Marina City, Wrigley Building, Chicago Tribune Building, Navy Pier, the Lighthouse and more. This tour also gives you the unique experience of passing through the Chicago River Lock System, while learning about the operation and the uses of the lock from your guide. You’ll also feel the boat rise as you enter Lake Michigan and lower as you return to the river, a unique experience for any boat lover.

Chicago: Lake Michigan Buffet Brunch, Lunch or Dinner Cruise

10. Chicago: Lake Michigan Buffet Brunch, Lunch or Dinner Cruise

See the sights of Chicago from onboard the Spirit of Chicago with a brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise on Lake Michigan. Enjoy a buffet dining experience as you sail through the Windy City and delight in panoramic views of its skyline. Board your vessel at Navy Pier and receive a personal greeting. Get your photo taken by the ship's photographer to capture the memory before being seated at your private table. After settling in, savor your brunch, lunch, or dinner buffet consisting of freshly-prepared entrees, main course, and desserts, while listening to the onboard DJ's tunes. View the city's imposing towers like John Hancock Center, Aon, Trump Tower, and Willis Tower. After your meal, play games like giant Jenga and shuffleboard, or bust out some moves on the dance floor. Don't forget to visit any of the 3 climate-controlled decks to watch the skyscrapers of Chicago's distinctive skyline glide by. SAMPLE BRUNCH BUFFET MENU Early Risers Seasonal Fruit Breakfast Pastries Scrambled Eggs Breakfast Meats Breakfast Potatoes Late Risers Organic Mixed Field Greens Green Bean Salad Red Beetroot Salad Roasted Broccoli Florets Baked Ziti Pasta Mashed Potatoes Oven-Baked Atlantic Atlantic Flounder Filet Honey and Sesame Chicken Hand-Carved, Slow-Roasted Strip Loin Dessert Raspberry Mousse Lemon Pound Cake and Fresh Strawberries Coconut Vanilla Cake Red Velvet and Chocolate Chip Brownie SAMPLE LUNCH AND DINNER BUFFET MENU Salads Organic Mixed Field Greens Organic Spinach and Kale Salad Green Bean Salad Kidney Bean, Black Bean, and Chickpea Salad Red Beetroot Salad Bow Tie Pasta Salad Vegetables, Potatoes, and Pasta Roasted Broccoli Florets Creamed Corn and Cheddar Cheese Casserole Baked Ziti Pasta Mashed Potatoes Entrées Oven-Baked Atlantic Flounder Filet Honey and Sesame Chicken Italian Beef Meatballs Braised Beef Short Ribs (dinner only) Dessert Seasonal Fruit Raspberry Mousse Lemon Pound Cake and Fresh Strawberries Coconut Vanilla Cake Carrot Cake Red Velvet and Chocolate Chip Brownie (dinner only) The menu is subject to change. Please inform your server if anyone in your party has a food allergy.

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Frequently asked questions about Chicago Culture & History

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What people are saying about Chicago

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 1,407 reviews

We took the 18:45 and it was an excellent choice. We could see the buildings under dusk and with beautiful lights. The guide was very active and passionate with her description.

The tour was awesome. Very knowledgeable and entertaining guide. The views of the city from the boat were outstanding.

Great introduction to Chicago. The boat was comfortable and the guide was very informative and engaging.

Our guide leader was very animated and seemed to love telling us about the history of the City.

Very enjoyable excursion and knowledgeable cruise host.