Navy Pier is known as the People’s Pier. Originally designed to be both a commercial shipping pier and a recreational space, Navy Pier’s purpose has morphed several times since it opened in 1916.
Today, the former municipal pier is one of the top attractions in Chicago, drawing millions of locals and tourists each year.
Besides the signature Centennial Wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, boat cruises, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, there are lots of other Navy Pier Chicago attractions to keep you entertained.
Navy Pier is free and open year-round, although some of the outdoor attractions are seasonal.
Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly activity or the perfect Chicago date night, Navy Pier has you covered.
More articles to help you explore Chicago:
- You’ll never be bored with these best things to do in Chicago
- Chicago on a budget: how to save money in the Windy City
- Road trips from Chicago, for when you want to get out of town
- Chicago in winter: yes, the city’s “cool” in winter, too!
- Tiptoe through the tulips during Chicago in spring
- Chicago in summer is delightful
- Discover why the Field Museum is the beloved institution that almost wasn’t
- How one man’s vision became the Museum of Science and Industry
Navy Pier Chicago Attractions
Ready to find out what to do at Navy Pier? Explore this Chicago landmark and all its rides, games, and cultural attractions.
Table of Contents
There may be affiliate links in this post, which means we may get a small commission. It’s at no extra cost to you and helps keep TLT free. Everybody wins!
Peoples Energy Welcome Pavilion
Begin exploring the Navy Pier Chicago attractions with a stop at the People Energy Welcome Pavilion.
There are public restrooms and comfy seating. There’s also a giant digital screen that broadcasts information in multiple languages to honor the diversity of Navy Pier’s visitors.
Polk Bros Park
Located at the entrance to Navy Pier is a beautiful park named for one of the most generous of Chicago families.
In 2013 alone The Polk Bros. Foundation, which was established back in the mid-1950s, donated $20 million to more than 350 Chicago nonprofits.
The next year, in addition to their normal largesse, the foundation gave another $20 million to Navy Pier to fund the redevelopment of the pier itself and of its gateway park.
At the center of the 13-acre park is 12,500-square foot Polk Bros fountain. Designed to be experienced, visitors are encouraged to walk through the fountain itself as its 150 programmable jets mimic waves, fish, and birds.
Two lawns offer performance spaces featuring unique arts programming and cultural events.
Chicago Children’s Museum
Since 1995, the Chicago Children’s Museum has offered kids and families a place to play and learn at Navy Pier.
The museum is filled with interactive exhibits that help children exercise and expand their knowledge and imagination. They can climb a three-story schooner, dig for dinosaur bones in the Dinosaur Expedition, fight “fires,” and unleash their inner artists, just to name a few.
Save on admission to the Chicago Children’s Museum with GoChicagoCard.
Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion
Inside this 200,000 square foot space are restaurants and Chicago-centric businesses. It’s where you’ll find Harry Caray’s Tavern, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and access to the Chicago Children’s Museum and The Crystal Gardens.
Have you even been to Chicago’s Navy Pier if you don’t ride the Centennial Wheel?
The very first Ferris wheel was unveiled at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Navy Pier’s original was installed in 1995, and the new Ferris wheel opened in June 2016 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the public pier. It’s an iconic part of Chicago’s skyline.
Nearly 200 feet tall, there are 42 gondolas that can carry over 400 passengers.
The cars are climate controlled so visitors can now get those amazing views all-year round.
Worried about that infamous wind? Don’t be. The wheel is the same model as the one in Hong Kong, which is built to withstand typhoon-strength winds.
Navy Pier Park
With the Centennial Wheel as its centerpiece, Navy Pier Park is an outdoor playground with carnival rides located on the second level.
The park is open during the summer months from May through Labor Day.
Designed specifically for Navy Pier, the carousel features 36 hand-painted animals that represent carousel styles throughout the years.
The rounding boards at the top are also hand-painted, and they tell Navy Pier’s history.
You’ll fly through the air with the greatest of ease on the Wave Swinger. It’s one of the pier’s most popular carnival rides.
S&S DoubleShot Drop Tower
Your stomach won’t know which way is up with this ride, that starts with a G-force launch to the top, followed by a free fall to the ground.
Virtual Rush: Chicago
Strap in for this 4D Virtual Reality ride in Navy Pier Park. Virtual Rush: Chicago goes beyond just a visual experience to become an interactive game where you compete with your fellow riders.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a 500-seat courtyard-style theater plus a more intimate 200-seat versatile venue upstairs.
The theater stages classic performances, new twists on the Bard’s tales, guest troupes from around the world, and shows that the whole family will enjoy. With over 600 performances per year, there is always a chance to experience live theater at Navy Pier.
Speaking of stages, CST has created a whole theater experience called The Yard. Consisting of mobile towers with three levels of seating, the space can be configured differently based on the needs of the production.
Need a break? Step into this indoor oasis and its one-acre botanical garden. The “Crystal” refers to the six-story glass atrium that towers fifty feet above the palm trees.
Sprinkled throughout the space are dancing fountains that leapfrog spouts of water.
TLTip: Crystal Gardens is a popular location for weddings and private events so it’s often unavailable.
Navy Pier Beer Garden
Head towards the lake to find this outdoor beer garden, offering free live music during the summer. You can get something to eat and drink craft beer while listening to local bands and dueling pianos.
Formerly the Miller Lite Beer Garden, it now serves craft beer from locals Tangled Roots brewery.
East End Plaza
Head to the end of Navy Pier for unfettered views of the lake at East End Plaza. This is the perfect place to catch some of the cool breezes off Lake Michigan.
Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze
This 4,000 square foot attraction wants you to get lost – but don’t worry, they’ll find you!
Weave your way through the Rainbow Tunnel, skip over the Funny Floor, find your way through the Mirror Maze, and get dizzy in the Spinning Light Tunnel. There are also games.
Heading to a convention at Navy Pier? It’s most likely in this grand hall, which is the location for many of the city’s most popular events, including Navy Pier Light Up The Lake.
Summer Fireworks at Navy Pier
One of the most popular reasons to visit Navy Pier in the summer is the weekly fireworks. Taking place Wednesday and Saturday evenings from Memorial Day through Labor Day, these free fireworks displays light up the night.
TLTip: If you see a free concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, you’ll be able to see the fireworks.
There’s nothing like viewing the Chicago skyline from a boat, which makes a cruise on Lake Michigan one of the best ways to experience the city.
Several of the cruise ships dock at Navy Pier and there’s a diverse selection from which to choose.
Whether you’re looking for dinner cruises or a fast – literally! – tour of the lakefront these cruises have you covered.
Mystic Blue is comprised of three enclosed decks with the largest picture windows of any ship on Navy Pier.
They offer lunch cruises and dinner buffet cruises. You can also catch the fireworks and there are craft beer-themed cruise nights and moonlight cruises for the night owls.
For a more upscale cruising experience consider Odyssey Cruises. The recently renovated luxury vessel has a sophisticated rooftop lounge and an elegant interior, suited for the three-course dinner you’ll enjoy with the Chicago skyline as your backdrop.
They have a DJ for those who enjoy dancing, and you’ll even have the opportunity to visit the Captain’s Bridge.
No time? In a hurry? Or do you just like to go fast? Then Seadog is your speed. With 2,000-horsepower engines you’ll feel the spray of the lake on your face as your guide shares fun facts about Navy Pier and Lake Michigan.
It’s a 30-minute adrenalin rush!
If you’re looking for a more involved experience, they’ve also got a combination architecture tour on the river followed by the thrilling race on the lake.
Shoreline has been showing off Lake Michigan since 1939. Since then they’ve grown to a fleet of ten touring boats and nine water taxis.
You can take an architectural tour on the river, a lake tour, or just use their boats for transportation.
Shoreline water taxi can take you both to the Museum Campus (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Adler Planetarium) and down the Chicago River to Willis Tower.
Food and drink is not included unless you’re taking one of their specialty beer- or wine-themed cruises. Note that the Water Taxis are not wheelchair accessible!
Spirit of Chicago
Sister ship to Mystic Blue, Odyssey, and Seadog, Spirit of Chicago offers buffet-style dining with a menu from Chopped champion Chef Eric LeVine.
Whether you choose a brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise you can kick your heels up on the dance floor. It features a large winding staircase and an open ceiling, creating a festive party atmosphere.
Their unique specialty cruises include a series of comedy cruises, gospel lunch, senior cabaret, and cocktail cruises, to name a few.
Tall Ship Windy
For a unique cruising experience, set sail on the Tall Ship Windy. The 148’ schooner is the first certified four-masted traditional sailing vessel built in America since 1921.
Up to 150 people can choose from three decks, making for a more intimate cruising experience.
Bike and Roll Chicago
The 28-mile lakefront path rolls right by Navy Pier, so you can head either north or south with a bike from this kiosk in Polk Bros. Park. You can rent bikes by the hour, day, or week, or you can join a guided tour.
That lakefront path will take you north to Lincoln Park Zoo or North Avenue Beach and south to Northerly Island and the Museum Campus, and several miles beyond in either direction.
You can also take a Segway tour, those fun two-wheeled contraptions that glide with the greatest of ease. Open seasonally.
Big Bus Hop-on Hop-Off Tours
This hop on – hop off tour has fourteen stops in downtown Chicago, including Navy Pier. Big Bus Tours’ distinctive double-decker buses take you to the top attractions.
Because you can get on and off at any stop you can use this service as transportation and get a tour along the way.
Navy Pier FAQs
What is Navy Pier known for?
Navy Pier is known for its Centennial Wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It’s also the site of several popular events and there are free fireworks shows during the summer.
What does the Navy Pier have?
As you can see from above Chicago’s Navy Pier has tons of things to do. There are also dozens of restaurants, both local and national chains.
Is Chicago Navy Pier worth it?
With all these Navy Pier Chicago attractions, it’s definitely worth visiting.
Why is Navy Pier in Chicago famous?
Chicago’s Navy Pier is famous because it was important as a military training ground during World War I and World War II. It was also the site of the University of Illinois for many years in addition to its status as a popular tourist attraction.
How much does it cost to ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier?
Tickets to ride the Centennial Wheel are $18.
What else is there to do near Navy Pier?
Navy Pier is just east of the Magnificent Mile. It’s near Chicago’s Museum Campus as well as Grant Park.
Is Navy Pier indoors?
Parts of Navy Pier are indoors.
Is Navy Pier free to get in?
Yes! There’s no admission to Navy Pier, although several rides and attractions charge fees.
Where can I find out more about Navy Pier?
You can visit their website for upcoming events and current information.