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Chicago River Architecture Tours: Skyscraper Views

by Tayebah Malik
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Chicago is a city known for its breathtaking architecture. There are so many things to do in Chicago, but there’s no better way to experience it than by taking a Chicago River architecture tour. These tours offer a unique perspective, allowing visitors to witness the city’s iconic skyline from a new angle while learning about its rich architectural history.

On a Chicago River architecture tour, you’ll glide along the Chicago River, taking in the towering skyscrapers that dot the cityscape. From the art deco buildings of the 1920s to the modern masterpieces of today, you’ll see it all and gain a new appreciation for Chicago’s architectural heritage.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chicago River architecture tours offer a unique perspective on the city’s skyline.
  • These tours allow visitors to learn about Chicago’s rich architectural history.
  • Visitors will see a range of architectural styles, from historic to modern.
  • Chicago is known for its skyscrapers, and the architecture tours highlight many of these iconic buildings.
  • A Chicago River architecture tour is a must-do activity for anyone visiting the city.

Exploring Chicago’s Architectural Gems

Chicago is renowned for its exceptional architecture, with a diverse range of styles and iconic buildings that make it a hub for architectural enthusiasts. From towering skyscrapers to historic landmarks, the city is home to some of the most impressive architectural gems in the world.

Chicago Architecture

The architecture of Chicago has a rich history that spans over a century, from the early innovations of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright to the modernist designs of Mies van der Rohe and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The city’s architecture is characterized by a unique blend of styles, including Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Gothic Revival, creating a distinctive skyline that is instantly recognizable.

Architectural Gems

Chicago’s architectural gems encompass a wide variety of buildings and landmarks, each with its own unique character and history. Some of the most notable examples include the Willis Tower, which was once the tallest building in the world; the Wrigley Building, with its striking white terra cotta facade; and the Tribune Tower, which features fragments of famous buildings from around the world embedded in its walls.


Other notable landmarks include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Rookery Building, which is renowned for its stunning atrium and intricate cast iron staircase. The city is also home to numerous historic theaters, including the Auditorium Theatre and the Chicago Theatre, which host a range of performances throughout the year.

Whether you’re an architecture buff or simply appreciate beautiful buildings, exploring Chicago’s architectural gems is a must-do activity during your visit to the city.

Introduction to Chicago River Architecture Tours

Chicago, with its rich architectural heritage, is a city that demands exploration. One of the best ways to discover the city’s skyline and architectural marvels is on a Chicago River architecture boat tour. These popular tours allow visitors to experience the city from a unique perspective, cruising along the winding Chicago River while marveling at the towering skyscrapers and iconic landmarks.

Chicago River architecture tours are a must-do activity for anyone visiting the city. They provide a comprehensive overview of Chicago’s impressive skyline and architectural diversity, offering insights into the city’s history and cultural heritage.

These tours are especially popular during the warmer months, when the weather is pleasant and the river is teeming with life. However, they are available year-round, making them a great option for visitors looking to explore the city in any season.

Experience the Windy City from a different angle on a Chicago River architecture tour.

Top Chicago River Architecture Tour Companies

If you’re looking for the best architecture tours in Chicago, you’re in luck. The city has no shortage of tour companies providing unparalleled experiences of its stunning architecture, history, and culture. Here are some of the top Chicago River tour companies that offer exceptional architecture tours:

Company Tour Duration Price Range
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise 90 minutes $48-$58
Wendella Boats 75 minutes $43-$49
Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour 75 minutes $49-$64
Chicago’s First Lady Cruises 90 minutes $49-$69

All of these companies have knowledgeable tour guides and offer a variety of tours to suit different interests and preferences. The Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, for example, is led by a certified volunteer docent, while Wendella Boats offers an evening tour with a live jazz performance.

Booking in advance is advisable, especially during peak season, and can be done online or by phone. Keep in mind that prices and tour durations are subject to change, so it’s always best to check the company’s website for the most up-to-date information.

Highlights of a Chicago River Architecture Tour

Embarking on a Chicago River architecture tour is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique perspective of the city’s skyline and architectural gems. Here are some of the notable landmarks and architectural highlights that you can expect to see during the tour, showcasing the rich history and diversity of Chicago’s architecture:

  • Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower): At a height of 1,450 feet, the Willis Tower stands as one of the tallest buildings in the United States and was once the tallest building in the world for over 20 years. Its iconic black exterior and steel-framed design are a true testament to Chicago’s architectural legacy.
  • willis-tower
  • Wrigley Building: Built in 1920, the Wrigley Building is a prominent example of the Chicago School of Architecture, which emphasizes clean lines, simple geometric shapes, and the use of steel and glass. The building’s white terra cotta exterior is an easily recognizable landmark on the Chicago River.
  • Tribune Tower: Completed in 1925, the Tribune Tower is a neo-Gothic masterpiece located along the Magnificent Mile. The tower’s exterior features a collection of historic stones from significant landmarks around the world, including the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Berlin Wall.

Other notable architectural highlights include the Chicago Board of Trade Building, the Merchandise Mart, and the modernist Aqua Tower. The tour also offers a unique perspective of some of Chicago’s famous bridges, including the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which was once the world’s largest bascule bridge.

Overall, a Chicago River architecture tour is a perfect way to explore and appreciate the city’s rich architectural heritage and experience the breathtaking views of its iconic landmarks from a different vantage point.

The Magnificent Mile and Skyscraper Views

One of the most iconic areas in Chicago is the Magnificent Mile, a bustling stretch of Michigan Avenue with some of the city’s most noteworthy skyscrapers. This mile-long stretch is home to over 460 stores, 275 restaurants, and 60 hotels, making it a must-see destination for visitors.

Walking down the Magnificent Mile is like taking a journey through history, as many of the buildings have been standing for over a century. This district features a mix of architectural styles, from the ornate Gothic Revival Tribune Tower to the sleek modern design of the 875 North Michigan Avenue building, also known as the John Hancock Center.

While strolling through the Magnificent Mile is a worthwhile experience, seeing it from the river on a Chicago River architecture tour is an unforgettable experience. The tour offers a unique perspective on the towering buildings, giving you a panoramic view of the stunning architecture. You’ll get up close and personal with the skyscrapers, seeing the intricate details and design elements that make these buildings so captivating.

Some of the notable buildings that you’ll see on a Chicago River architecture tour include the Wrigley Building, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and the Tribune Tower. These iconic structures are not only visually stunning, but they also have fascinating stories behind them, which your tour guide will be happy to share with you.

There’s something truly awe-inspiring about seeing the Magnificent Mile from the river. The towering skyscrapers seem even more impressive when viewed from below, and the glimmering lights reflecting off the water add a magical quality to the experience. If you’re looking for an unforgettable way to see some of Chicago’s most stunning architecture, a Chicago River architecture tour is a must-do activity.

Iconic Chicago Skyscrapers to Marvel At

Chicago is home to some of the most famous and awe-inspiring skyscrapers in the world. Here are just a few of the iconic buildings you can marvel at during a Chicago River architecture tour:

Building Name Height Year Built Architectural Style
Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) 1,450 feet 1973 Modernism
John Hancock Center 1,500 feet 1969 Modernism
Aqua Tower 876 feet 2009 Contemporary
Trump International Hotel and Tower 1,388 feet 2009 Modernism
875 North Michigan Avenue (formerly John Hancock Center) 1,127 feet 1969 Modernism


Each of these buildings has a unique story and history behind its architectural design and construction. Witnessing them in person is a truly unforgettable experience, and the Chicago River architecture tours offer the perfect opportunity to do so.

Captivating Stories Behind Chicago’s Architecture

Chicago’s architecture is more than just a collection of buildings; it’s a reflection of the city’s rich history, culture, and the people who shaped it. Here are some interesting stories and architectural anecdotes that highlight the ingenuity and creativity behind Chicago’s iconic structures.

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” – Daniel Burnham, architect and urban planner

Daniel Burnham’s words continue to inspire architects and city planners to this day. One of his most significant contributions to Chicago is the Burnham Plan of 1909, which laid out a grand vision for the city’s development, including the creation of the magnificent lakefront parks.

The Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) is a towering symbol of American ingenuity and innovation. When it opened in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world. It held this distinction until 1998 when the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur surpassed it.

The John Hancock Center is another iconic building that dominates the skyline. Its distinctive X-bracing not only adds to its visual appeal but also provides structural stability against wind and earthquakes.

The Aqua Tower is a relatively newer addition to the city’s architectural landscape, but its undulating balconies and curvaceous shape have already made it a fan favorite. The building also features a unique green roof, which reduces the building’s heat island effect.

The Rookery Building is a historic landmark that dates back to 1888. Its ornate lobby was redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905, who famously said, “It is the best interior in the loop” after completing the renovation.

The Chicago Water Tower is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Its ornate Gothic Revival style and distinctive yellow color make it a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. 


These are just a few examples of the captivating stories and architectural anecdotes that make Chicago a hub for architectural enthusiasts. By exploring the city’s iconic buildings and learning the stories behind them, visitors can appreciate the rich cultural and historical significance of Chicago’s architecture.

Chicago River Architecture Tours: Practical Information

If you’re planning a visit to Chicago, embarking on a Chicago River architecture tour is a must-do activity. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of your tour:

Booking Your Tour

We recommend booking your Chicago River architecture tour in advance to ensure availability. You can book directly through tour company websites or through third-party booking sites such as Viator. Consider the duration of the tour and the area covered when making your selection.

Tour Duration

Most Chicago River architecture tours last around 1-2 hours. However, some companies offer longer tours that include the north and south branches of the river. Determine how much time you have available and what you want to see before booking your tour.

Ticket Prices

Ticket prices for Chicago River architecture tours vary depending on the company and tour duration. Most tours cost between $35 and $70 per person. Discounts are often available for children and seniors. Check each tour company’s website for pricing and deals.

Choosing Your Tour Company

There are several Chicago River tour companies to choose from, but not all tours are created equal. Consider the reputation and expertise of the company, as well as the quality of the tour guides and boats. Some of the top Chicago River architecture tour companies include:

Company Name Website
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise https://www.architecture.org/tours/detail/chicago-architecture-center-river-cruise-aboard-chicago-s-first-lady/
Wendella Boats https://www.wendellaboats.com/
Shoreline Sightseeing https://shorelinesightseeing.com/

What to Bring

Be sure to bring a camera to capture the stunning views, as well as sunscreen and a hat for protection from the sun. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for being on a boat.

Additional Tips

  • Arrive early to check in and find your boat.
  • Listen closely to the tour guide to learn about the history and significance of the buildings and landmarks you’ll see.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or interact with the tour guide.

With these practical tips in mind, you’ll be ready to embark on a Chicago River architecture tour and discover the architectural gems that make this city truly remarkable.

Other Must-Do Activities in Chicago

Chicago is a city that offers a diverse range of attractions and activities that cater to all ages, interests, and tastes. Whether you are a foodie, a museum lover, a nature enthusiast, or a history buff, there is something for everyone in the Windy City.

Below are a few of the must-do activities and attractions that you won’t want to miss:

  • Explore Millennium Park – Home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as “The Bean”), Millennium Park is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Chicago. Admire the modern architecture, walk around the gardens or catch a concert on the lawn.
  • Visit the museums – With world-class museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago offers plenty of opportunities to indulge your intellectual curiosity.
  • Indulge in Deep-Dish Pizza – Nothing screams Chicago more than deep-dish pizza. Whether you prefer classic cheese and tomato or something more gourmet, there is no shortage of pizza places in Chicago to satisfy your cravings.
  • Stroll along the Lakefront Trail – The Lakefront Trail is a scenic path that runs along the stunning Lake Michigan shoreline. Take a leisurely walk, rent a bike, or go for a run to take in the beautiful views of the lake and the city skyline.
  • Immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant culture – Chicago is a city that boasts a rich cultural heritage. From live music venues and comedy clubs to street festivals and art galleries, there is always something happening in the city that celebrates its diverse communities.

With so many attractions and experiences to choose from, you’ll have no trouble filling your itinerary in Chicago. So come, explore this dynamic city, and discover all the wonders it has to offer!


If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, the city’s architecture tours are a must-do activity. The Chicago River architecture tours offer unparalleled views of the city’s iconic skyscrapers and architectural gems. From exploring the Magnificent Mile to learning about the captivating stories behind Chicago’s architecture, these tours are perfect for both locals and tourists.

Be sure to book with one of the top Chicago River tour companies, who offer expert guides and high-quality tours. And while you’re in the city, don’t forget to indulge in the deep-dish pizza and explore other attractions like Millennium Park and its museums.

Overall, Chicago is a city that truly celebrates and cherishes its architecture. So, what are you waiting for? Book your Chicago River architecture tour today and experience the breathtaking skyscraper views for yourself.


What are Chicago River architecture tours?

Chicago River architecture tours are boat tours that allow visitors to experience the city’s iconic architecture while cruising along the Chicago River. These tours provide a unique perspective and offer breathtaking views of the city’s skyscrapers and landmarks.

Why are Chicago River architecture tours popular?

Chicago River architecture tours are popular because they provide a fascinating and immersive way to explore the city’s rich architectural heritage. They offer a different vantage point from land-based tours, allowing visitors to see the impressive buildings and structures from the river.

Which tour companies offer Chicago River architecture tours?

There are several top tour companies that offer Chicago River architecture tours, including Shoreline Sightseeing, Wendella Sightseeing Co., and Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. These companies have knowledgeable guides and provide informative and entertaining tours of the city’s architecture.

What landmarks can I expect to see on a Chicago River architecture tour?

During a Chicago River architecture tour, you can expect to see famous landmarks such as the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower. You’ll also pass under historic bridges and get a glimpse of the city’s stunning skyline.

How long do Chicago River architecture tours usually last?

Chicago River architecture tours typically last about 1.5 to 2 hours. The duration may vary depending on the specific tour company and the route taken. It’s advisable to check the tour details when making a booking.

Can I book Chicago River architecture tours in advance?

Yes, it is recommended to book Chicago River architecture tours in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Most tour companies offer online booking facilities, allowing you to secure your spot and choose the preferred date and time for your tour.

Are Chicago River architecture tours suitable for children?

Chicago River architecture tours can be enjoyed by people of all ages, including children. The tours provide an educational and entertaining experience, and children can marvel at the impressive buildings and learn about the city’s architecture along the way.

Are there any specific guidelines or restrictions for Chicago River architecture tours?

While guidelines and restrictions may vary depending on the tour company, it is generally advised to follow any safety instructions provided by the tour guide. Additionally, ensure that you dress comfortably and consider bringing sunscreen, hats, and water bottles, especially during summer months.

What other activities and attractions can I explore in Chicago?

In addition to Chicago River architecture tours, there are numerous other must-do activities and attractions in the city. Some popular options include visiting Millennium Park, exploring museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, indulging in deep-dish pizza, and immersing yourself in the vibrant cultural scene.

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