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The best Chicago boat tours

Get on board and see the Chicago skyline from the river or lake on some of the best boat tours in town

Photograph: Roark Johnson
Shoreline Architectural Boat Tour

Most people experience Chicago from the sidewalk or in the back of a cab, but the best way to see the city is from a boat. Hop on board a tour and you'll be treated to amazing views of beautiful buildings, fireworks and the Chicago skyline. You can cruise down the river learning about the city's history or eat dinner while gliding across Lake Michigan. Trust us: most of Chicago's best attractions look even more gorgeous from the water. Check out some of the best boat tours in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: Find more to explore on the best Chicago tours

Best Chicago boat tours

1
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise

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. There are versions of the tour that cater to photographers (where you can move freely around the boat) and one that departs at twilight. All tours leave from the Chicago First Lady Cruises dock on the south side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. 

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2
Seadog Lakefront Speedboat Tour

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—it's fast, furious and informative. High-speed tours depart from Seadog's dock on Navy Pier at various times each day.

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3
Mystic Blue Chicago Boathouse Cruise

Mystic Blue Chicago Boathouse Cruise

Every weekday and Sunday afternoon, the Mystic Blue hosts a getaway complete with a DJ, dance floors and games. You can partake in cocktails (including "adult lemonade" and daiquiris) and order appetizers and small plates a la carte. The 1.5- to 2-hour tour departs from Navy Pier throughout the week.

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4
Shoreline Sightseeing Classic Lake Tour

Shoreline Sightseeing Classic Lake Tour

Want to see Chicago from the water but don't have much time to spare? You can see the skyline in just 40 minutes on Shoreline's Classic Lake Tour, which departs from Navy Pier and boasts some of the best views you'll find on Lake Michigan. Take the tour in the evening and you can watch the Navy Pier fireworks before you return to the dock.

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5
Mercury 3D Fireworks Cruise

Mercury 3D Fireworks Cruise

Whenever there's a fireworks display at Navy Pier (Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer), there's a Mercury 3D fireworks cruise that allows you to watch them from a unique vantage point. All guests get a pair of special glasses that add some extra pizazz to the aerial display. The two-hour tour departs from the southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

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6
Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour

Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour

Departing from Navy Pier and the northeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, this 75-minute trip packs in plenty of architectural sights. Tour guides highlight more than 40 Chicago landmarks, including the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building and the Aon Center.

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7
Odyssey Lunch Cruise

Odyssey Lunch Cruise

Why settle for lunch at a land-lubbing restaurant when you could eat your meal on Lake Michigan? The Odyssey's daily lunch cruise includes a three-course meal and all the coffee, hot tea, iced tea and water you can drink. Visit the cash bar to buy wine, beer and cocktails and enjoy the views on this two-hour tour.

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8
Chicago Line Architectural Cruise

Chicago Line Architectural Cruise

Chicago Line present one of the most in-depth architectural tours in town, touching on everything from city planner Daniel Burnham to Aqua Tower designer Jeanne Gang. Plus, you'll find complimentary Starbucks coffee, tea, soda and cookies on the boat. The 90-minute cruise is offered several times each day and departs from the the Lofts at River East on Odgen Slip. 

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9
Spirit of Chicago Sunset Dinner Cruise

Spirit of Chicago Sunset Dinner Cruise

Maybe you can't afford a luxury cruise to some exotic locale, but you can probably swing the cost of admission to Spirit of Chicago's Sunset Dinner Cruise. You'll get the full cruise ship experience, including an all-you-can-eat buffet, unlimited (non-alcoholic) beverages and tunes from a DJ. Tours depart from Navy Pier and last 2.5 to 3 hours.

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10
Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise

Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise

This family-friendly 1.5-hour cruise offers the best of both worlds, with a trip down the Chicgao River to admire the architecture followed by a quick spin in Lake Michigan where you can take in the skyline. All tours depart from the southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

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11
Seadog River and Lake Architectural Tour

Seadog River and Lake Architectural Tour

First, you'll hop on a speedboat for a guided tour of the city's architectural wonders, including the Lyric Opera and Willis Tower, and an explination of how the Chicago River was reversed. After you've seen the sights, this 75-minute tour ends with a thrilling ride across Lake Michigan, where you'll zoom past Museum Campus and Grant Park. The tour departs from the Seadog dock at Navy Pier throughout the summer. 

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12
Wendella Chicago River Experience

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, located at the northwest corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at the foot of the Wrigley Building.

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Comments

4 comments
Catherine G
Catherine G

Can you get on any of these in a wheelchair?

Jo
Jo tastemaker

I moved here last Labor Day weekend and the first thing my family and friends did for me was book us on the Seadog.

I loved it! So much fun!  The speeding out on a dark Lake Michigan, great blaring music, the screams when the spray would hit those closest to the railing (part of the fun!) and knowledgable commentary from the staff were all great-- and for the finale, the Seadog turns just in time to see the Fireworks over the gorgeous Chicago skyline.  It was an unforgettable way to begin life in my new city - Love you, Chicago!

James C
James C

Chicago river taxi, from Michigan Avenue bridge to Chinatown and back. $10 for an all day pass. 

Joan W
Joan W

By far, hands down, the best docents are the ones trained by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.