Things to do at Navy Pier

The popular tourist destination provides plenty of draws for visitors—and some for locals as well

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

For being Chicago’s top tourist draw, Navy Pier is a curious jumble of attractions. Tacky souvenir shops and junky retail kiosks live next door to queues for lake cruises, a movie theater and, for some odd reason, WBEZ’s broadcast studios. But there are several good reasons to make the trek, for tourists and Chicago residents alike. Here are some of the best arguments for a visit to Navy Pier.

Best things to do at Navy Pier

Chicago Children's Museum

Connect learning and playing through the engaging exhibits at the Chicago Children's Museum. Explore all three floors to encounter sensory experiences combined with literature, math, science and creative activities; dig up dinosaur bones; learn the ways of the CTA; or show your creativity through arts and crafts.

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Navy Pier IMAX Theatre

Don't believe the misleading marketing being employed at theaters around the city—there's only one honest-to-god IMAX screen showing studio films in Chicago and it's on Navy Pier. Boasting a screen that measures 60 feet high and 86 feet wide, it's the most immersive way to watch a movie (especially if it's being shown in 3D).

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Chicago Shakespeare Theater

In less than 20 years, this unpretentious Bardic troupe moved from the back of a Lincoln Park pub to a mouthwatering, multimillion-dollar facility with a spectacular Lake Michigan view. (The main stage was modeled on Stratford-upon-Avon’s Swan Theatre.) And in 2008, Chicago Shakes became the fourth Chicago institution to pick up the Tony Award for regional theater excellence. The main course here is Shakespeare, of course, but with detours into classics of every stripe, including the occasional musical. Some of the company’s best trimmings include the dynamic international programming presented under the World's Stage banner.

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Centennial Wheel

Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel got a major upgrade for the pier’s 100th anniversary in 2016. The new wheel is nearly 200 feet tall and features enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas so it can operate year-round.

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Crystal Gardens

A six-story atrium encloses this botanical garden stocked with palm trees, fountains and foliage. It’s available to rent for private events.

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Navy Pier, Festival Hall

The pier’s massive exhibition hall spends much of the year playing host to conventions, but it’s also where you’ll find some of the best temporary and seasonal attractions, like the Rolling Stones’ “Exhibitionism” show, the annual Chicago Flower & Garden Show and the Winter WonderFest.

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