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Highlights of the Navy Pier: A Chicago Family Day Trip

Updated on October 27, 2014

Visiting Chicago's No. 1 Tourist Attraction for the Amusement Rides

The No. 1 tourist attraction in Chicago -- and all of the Midwest -- is Chicago's Navy Pier, which receives more than 8.6 million visitors each year according to the pier's operators. Originally built in 1916 as a shipping and entertainment area, the pier was reopened as a mixed-use entertainment venue in 1995.

There are restaurants, museums, amusement rides, bars, theater, event halls and much more spread out over the site's 50 acres, so there is someone for everyone to enjoy. After a day of traveling around Chicago, we arrived at the pier in late afternoon to see what it had to offer.

Following are some of the highlights of our visit. All photos are by us unless otherwise noted.

The Best Chicago Tour Book That We Used

We usually travel with three or four guidebooks, as we find that each one contains slightly different but useful information.

This book was the one we found most helpful. An added plus is that it is slender so it wasn't a bother when we carried it around.

Seeing the Navy Pier From the Waters of Lake Michigan

The Navy Pier is right on Lake Michigan, so we decided a fun way to get there would be by water taxi from Chicago's Museum Campus to the south.

As you can see from the photo, there are numerous tour boats alongside the pier. These run tours out onto Lake Michigan regularly.

Behind the pier, the large black skyscraper is the John Hancock Center, which had been the tallest in the world outside New York City when the building opened in 1968. Now, of course, it isn't even the tallest in Chicago. In fact, it's only the fourth tallest, behind the Willis Tower, Trump Tower Chicago and the Aon Center!

Four Amusement Rides Highlighted by the Ferris Wheel and High Swings

The main reason we went to the pier was the amusement rides for the children. We had promised them that if they had behaved while we did our sightseeing during the day they would be allowed to go on the rides, and to their credit they were very good.

There are four amusement rides at the pier: the high swings, Ferris Wheel, carousel and drop-bounce ride, and you can buy a combo ticket that is good for all the rides plus the miniature golf course that is partly at the foot of the Ferris Wheel.

A little tip for you. If you are a member of AAA, stop by the information booth at the front of the pier and get the coupon book available for AAA members. There's a coupon that gives you a discount on the combo ride ticket!

The Swings as Seen From the Top of the Ferris Wheel

Navy Pier Swings, Chicago
Navy Pier Swings, Chicago

Our children are bit too old for the drop-bounce ride or the carousel, but they loved the swings so much they went on twice. My son and I also rode the Ferris Wheel, which is patterned after the after the world’s very first one constructed for Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition (according to the pier's website).

The Ferris Wheel is 15 stories high, so it was a cool way to see some of Chicago in the afternoon light. It was also pretty neat looking down at the people below enjoying their strolls along the pier or going on the other rides.

My son and I also played the miniature golf course, which actually was a pretty challenging 18 holes. It was also very busy, and there were a lot of distractions, but it was very fun.

The Museum of Stained Glass and Other Attractions

In addition to the amusement rides, the pier has the Chicago Children's Museum and a funhouse maze for its youngest visitors.

For adult visitors, there is the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, a free exhibit that is definitely worth checking out.

There are 150 windows on display, along 800 feet of corridors and exhibition space in the pier's event hall. I really liked the 13 3 windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his workshop , made from 1890-1930. The newer ones, including a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., aren't as interesting, but that may just be because I think of stained-glass art as an old-fashioned medium that doesn't lend itself to contemporary subjects.

The pier also has a Shakespeare theater, as well as many shops, restaurants and outdoor bars that will keep you busy for hours. We really enjoyed our visit, and will definitely go there again the next time we are in Chicago.

A Video About the Navy Pier

This short spot about the Navy Pier is from earlier in 2013 but it does give you a flavor of what you might expect!

Have You Ever Visited Chicago's Navy Pier?

Stained Glass Museum Navy Pier Chicago
Stained Glass Museum Navy Pier Chicago

Have You Ever Visited Chicago's Navy Pier?

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Book Your Room Today

We have used Hotels.com to book our recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!

One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

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    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      It has been years since I have been to Chicago so I've never been to Navy Pier. It sounds great. Thank you for giving us a look at a fun place to visit in Chicago.

    • TheJVilleKid profile image

      TheJVilleKid 3 years ago

      Bubba Gump's is a great place to stop and grab a bite to eat also! Last I remember it is right as you get to the Pier!

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 3 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I must confess my ignorance about this place prior to reading this page. This looks like some place I would really enjoy visiting. Everything except that incredibly high ferris wheel. yikes! lol

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 3 years ago from Europe

      I love Chicago. I'd rather spend the day at the Art Institute than Navy Pier, but it is a good day out.