You can walk the streets of Chicago and look up in awe at the towering buildings (maybe skip the ugly ones), but most of the city's architectural attractions are best appreciated from a different vantage point. In the summer, there are few better ways to see the sights than by taking a cruise along the river or riding up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. Whether you're interested in Chicago's history, want to watch some fireworks or just wave at your friend on the beach, there's probably a tour that will float your boat.
RECOMMENDED: Find more to explore on the best Chicago tours
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
Certified Chicago Architecture Foundation docents describe more than 50 buildings on this comprehensive, 90-minute tour of the city's riverfront. Tours depart from the Chicago First Lady dock on the south side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. $40-$43. More information at www.architecture.org/rivercruise.
Chicago Line Architectural Cruise
Chicago Line partners with the Chicago History Museum to present one of the most in-depth architectural tours in town. The 90-minute cruise is offered several times each day and departs from the North Pier docks near the River East Arts Center. $42, seniors $35, children ages 7-18 $20. More information at www.chicagoline.com.
Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour
Don't have the time for a two hour lakefront cruise? Seadog's tour puts you in a speedboat and gets you to all the obligatory landmarks in 30 minutes. Tours depart daily from Navy Pier at various times. $23, children $15. More information at www.seadogcruises.com/chicago.
Seadog River and Lake Architectural Tour
Speed across Lake Michigan before entering the Chicago River for a guided tour of the city's architetural attractions, including the Lyric Opera and Willis Tower. The 75-minute tour depart from Navy Pier throughout the summer. $32, children $18. More information at www.seadogcruises.com/chicago.
Shoreline Sightseeing Classic Lake Tour
The Classic Lake Tour takes visitor out into the waters of Lake Michigan, where they can gaze at Chicago's skyline from afar during this 40-minute excursion. Multiple tours depart daily from Navy Pier starting at 11:30am. $21-$23, children $7-$8. More information at www.shorelinesightseeing.com.
Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour
Shoreline Sightseeing’s 75-minute Architecture River Tours run daily from Gateway Park and Navy Pier. Multiple departures are scheduled each day, beginning at 10am. Additionally, a tour departs daily from the Michigan Avenue Bridge at 9:15am. During the tour, guides highlight more than 40 Chicago landmarks. $32-$39, children 12 and under $16–$20. More information at www.shorelinesightseeing.com.
Shoreline Sightseeing Lake Fireworks Tour
You've seen fireworks from the shore, but have you watched them explode directly overhead? This 60-minute Lake Michigan tour includes front-row seats to enjoy Navy Pier's summer fireworks displays. Tours depart from Navy Pier on Wednesday and Saturday evenings May 24 through August 30. $24–$28, children $12–$14. More information at www.shorelinesightseeing.com.
Wendella Chicago at Sunset Cruise
Watch the sun set over the Chicago skyline while learning more about some of the famous landmarks it contains. Tours depart at 7:45pm each evening and include views of the nightly light display at Buckingham Fountain. $35.50, seniors $32. More information at www.wendellaboats.com.
Wendella Chicago River Architecture Tour
Explore the architectural history of Chicago during this 75-minute boat excursion, which departs throughout the day from the Wendella Dock at Trump Tower. Visitors will view residential and office buildings located along the Chicago River while learning about architectural styles. $35.50, seniors $32, children 11 and under $16.50. More info at www.wendellaboats.com.
Wendella Chicago River Experience
Hop onto a Chicago water taxi and breeze down the river during this 45-minute crash course in the history of the city and its architecture. This tour departs from the Wendella Dock at the Wrigley Building on weekends and holidays. $19, seniors $17, children 11 and under $6.50. More information at www.wendellaboats.com.