One of our favorite things to do with friends who come in for a visit, is to take them into the city for an architecture boat tour. It is a combination of being on the water, catching some rays and great views, and soaking up a little history of our big city. There are many companies to choose from and different types of tours to fit your needs. I chose Wendella Boats based on recommendations from friends, specifically for the Lake & River Tour.
Wendella offers 3 types of tours and 10 different cruises. The tours vary in length (45, 75, or 90 minutes) and subject. You can take a condensed river, full river, or lake and river combo tour. The cruises also vary in length and activity. Get romantic on a sunset cruise, catch the Wednesday and/or Saturday light show on the fireworks cruise, or sample some libations on the wine and cheese or whiskey tasting cruises. They even have special event cruises for St. Patrick’s Day and the 4th of July. I would imagine those book up quickly.
Prices are different for each type of boat ride you are taking. The Lake & River Tour costs $39.00 and they offer multiple dates/times to choose from. Sorry, I couldn’t find any discount codes that worked. However, they offer discounts for college students, Military personnel, Chicago First Responders, and Veterans and Reservists (all with a valid ID).
The boat itself is large and there is plenty of seating to choose from. I have sat in the front, back, and along the sides (I told you we take a lot of friends on this adventure!). You can hear the tour guide from every angle, so you don’t have to worry about being first in line to board.
The tour guides are very knowledgeable, not only about the architecture, but also about the history of the river and the city of Chicago. You begin your trip by heading down the river, away from the lake. I am not as knowledgeable as the tour guides, so I will simply share with you some of my favorite buildings and/or details on the façade.
This first picture is looking back up the river after we passed the Merchandise Mart:
This photo is of the decorative masks that are part of the façade of the Civic Opera House (home to the Lyric Opera):
The story behind the top of the Carbide and Carbon building is that it was meant to look like the top of a champagne bottle:
The new sleek, shiny style architecture doesn’t really do it for me. I love the look of the classic older buildings. Like the Wrigley Building:
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Chicago architecture tour without the iconic Sears Tower:
At this point, the boat turns around and heads back up the river and covers buildings with better views from that direction. At the end of the river, the boat enters the Chicago Harbor Lock. The lock was originally built as a component in reversing the flow of the river back in the 1930s. Now, its main function is to prevent the river from flooding. Once in the lock, the boat sits idle while the water level rises up to Lake Michigan. You have to go through this process again, in reverse, on your way back.
Once on the lake, the tour takes you around Navy Pier and then a short distance north of that. The views, on a good day, are spectacular.
Then the boat turns around and takes you south. Not far enough to hit the museums, but you still get a clear view of the campus and the south end of the city.
Tours are offered year-round (weather permitting) if you would prefer to pass on the city in the summer heat. I don’t know if you can bring food on the boat, but they do offer a full-service bar with snacks you can purchase. They also offer a climate-controlled lounge on the main level in case of rain or cooler temps.
So next time you have friends visiting from out of town, or you just want to have a “staycation” in the city, make some time for one of these boat tours. You might even learn something new about the city!