View of Navy Pier against the skyline in Downtown Chicago City, Illinois

Chicago’s Navy Pier (A Local’s Ultimate Guide)

I’m a Chicago local and in this guide, I share insights into one of the city’s top attractions: Chicago’s Navy Pier. Learn the history of how the Pier transformed from a military site to a bustling center for culture and entertainment. 

Today, the mile-long pedestrian boardwalk hosts a variety of activities. These include shopping and dining, as well as memorable rides, tours, year-round events, and more. I’ll help you build your personal itinerary, and even share travel tips to ensure you have a great experience.

Here’s what we’ll cover (click to jump around):

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How to Visit Navy Pier

A water taxi on the water in Navy Pier
Travel to Navy Pier by water taxi (photo: Tupungato / Shutterstock)

How to Get to Navy Pier 

🚌 Public Transportation – There are many CTA bus routes that go to Navy Pier, including the 65 and 66. The 29 and 124 can be taken from Millennium Station (and other stations that serve the Metra lines). You can also take the 2, but only during weekday rush hours in the morning and evening.

🚕 Taxi and Rideshare – You can get to Navy Pier from anywhere in Chicago using a taxi or rideshare app, such as Uber or Lyft. Rideshare is usually the cheaper option, although fares vary. In general, this is one of the best ways to get around Chicago

⛴️ Shoreline Water Taxi – There are two water taxi routes that can get you here. The Lake Route comes from Museum Campus close to the south side of Chicago, and the River Route comes from Willis Tower/Union Station.

🚎 Free Trolley – The Navy Pier free trolley stops at multiple attractions near Navy Pier in downtown Chicago, in addition to Navy Pier itself. These include the Art Institute, Chicago Riverwalk, Millennium Park, and more. The service is available every day between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. It runs on Saturdays and Sundays year-round.

Costs, Hours, and Details

View of buildings on the city from the Navy Pier

🎟️ Entrance – Navy Pier is free to the public, although attractions and events may come with a cost.

🕖 Hours – 11:00 am – 8 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:00 am – 9 pm Friday-Saturday, year round.

Accessibility – With two indoor parking garages, Navy Pier is easily accessible for those driving in Chicago. The entrance is wheelchair-accessible, as are most parts of Navy Pier.

😷 COVID-19 Regulations – At this time, masks are not required at Navy Pier. However, masks are strongly recommended at certain locations within the Pier. These include the Chicago Children’s Museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

🖥️ Website Navy Pier

📞 Phone: 312-595-7437

📍  Map It: 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60611

🧑🏻‍🤝‍🧑🏻 Tours – There are currently no official tours of Navy Pier. But there are Chicago tours that include this location, including sightseeing cruises and Chicago bus tours.

6 Best Things to Do at Navy Pier

Navy Pier is one of the top Chicago attractions. Specifically, here are six things to do at Navy Pier:

Chicago Children’s Museum

Take a fun, educational field trip with your kids

View of the Chicago Children's Museum from the outside
Right outside a world of wonders! (photo: Thomas Barrat / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 527-1000 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 2 pm Mondays and Thursdays, 10 am – 5 pm Fridays-Sundays, Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays | Entrance: $19 per person, free for kids under age 1 | 👉 Browse Tours on Viator

Close to the Navy Pier entrance lies the Chicago Children’s Museum, one of the best museums in Chicago. Even though most exhibits are geared towards children ages 4 through 8, the entire family can have hours of fun here!

You can explore a tall ship that extends the entire height of the museum. Also, help your kids dig for bones, simulate putting out a fire, and showcase your creative side in a real art studio. The Children’s Museum is three floors of pure excitement for not only kids, but the entire family! 

Centennial Wheel

Gaze out on the Chicago skyline from a bird’s eye view

The Centennial Wheel from afar in Navy Pier
The Centennial Wheel, Navy Pier’s new and improved Ferris wheel (photo: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 595-7437 | Website | Hours: 11 am – 8 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am – 10 pm Friday-Saturday | Entrance: $15 for adults, $12 for kids aged 3-11 and military personnel, free for kids under 3

If you like Ferris wheel rides, this is a must-do for you. Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel, a notable part of the Chicago skyline, is actually a new Ferris wheel, opened in 2016. It’s taller than its predecessor, and it received its name in honor of the 100th birthday of the Pier.

This new Ferris wheel offers nightly light shows that can be seen from far away. For year-round comfort, the gondolas are temperature-controlled with padded seats. While on this Ferris wheel, you will be lifted to heights of almost 200 feet above the ground. You’ll be able to see a 360° view of the city of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

👉 Pro Tip: There are many other fun rides here, including the Pepsi Wave Swinger, Carousel, and Drop Tower.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Watch your favorite Shakespeare productions

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater with neon lights on the outside at night
The illuminated exterior of the Shakespeare Theater at night (photo: Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 595-5600 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays | Entrance: fee varies based on the package

This theater was founded in 1986. It hosts about 650 performances every year and has won many national and international awards for its brand of entertainment. It also frequently tours its own productions overseas.

At this theater, you can see Shakespeare’s works acted out, as well as the works of other dramatists, both classic and contemporary.

Boat Tours on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River

Cruise along Lake Michigan or the Chicago River from the Pier

A cruise ship about to depart from Navy Pier
A cruise about to depart from the Pier (photo: Brian Kim Photography / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 815-3213 | Website | Hours: variable | Entrance: $14-115, varies based on the package | 👉 Browse Chicago Boat Tours 

Whether you live in Chicago or are a tourist, a cruise that departs from the Pier can be a relaxing and truly unforgettable way to see the sights of the city.

There are many options when it comes to boat tours. These include sightseeing cruises (most notably hosted by the Chicago Architecture Center), dinner cruises, and even fireworks cruises in the summer.

One example is Mystic Blue, offering delicious food, dance music, and full-service bars all while you’re on the water.

Crystal Gardens

Find peace and tranquility in a beautiful indoor green space

View from the indoor botanical garden in Crystal Gardens
Lively greenery in Navy Pier’s indoor botanical garden (photo: elesi / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 595-5436 | Website | Hours: Temporarily closed | Entrance: free

Located inside a six story glass atrium, this is a one-acre indoor botanical garden. It’s accessible to everyone and offers a very peaceful environment full of greenery. It’s a nice green haven during the winter months in particular.

One of the few free public indoor gardens in the city of Chicago, many people love to gather here. The space even hosts a variety of special events, such as proms and weddings.

Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze

Get lost in a world of moving floors, mirrors, and more

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 595-5375 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 8 pm daily | Entrance: $13.99 per person, $15.99 per person with games included, free for kids 4 and under

This funhouse maze offers a guaranteed unforgettable experience. Here, you can find your way through 4,000 square feet of mazes and tunnels, moving at your own pace.

The experience starts with cascading lights in the Rainbow Tunnel, then moving floors in the Funny Floor section. The Mirror Maze will confuse your sense of direction, and the Spinning Light Tunnel will leave you dizzy!

Over 2 million guests have gotten lost in this one-of-a-kind sensory maze experience.

Tips for Visiting Navy Pier

Colorful sky over Chicago during winter season
A winter day along the waterfront (photo: Cavan-Images / Shutterstock)

Check the weather

Even though this location is open daily, you’ll likely enjoy it more when the weather is nice. Check the weather forecast before you visit Navy Pier, and the city in general. 

👉 Pro tip: Refer to our Chicago Packing List for a local’s recommendations on how to dress for the weather and more.

Plan out your day

There’s so much to do at Navy Pier that you may get overwhelmed if you don’t plan ahead. Look at everything this location has to offer before coming so you can prioritize your favorite activities. 

Wear comfortable shoes

If you plan to experience everything on the Pier, you could be here all day! It’s a good idea to wear practical shoes so that you can comfortably enjoy everything there is to do. 

Bring enough money

Even though you can enjoy this location for free, you may want to experience some of the attractions that cost money. These include rides, boat tours, and the Chicago restaurants on-site.

Colorful fireworks over Navy Pier during Independence Day
Summer fireworks from Navy Pier

Take advantage of everything that is free

You can enjoy the Pier without spending a dime. Year-round, you can enjoy public art all over the Pier, such as the bronze Captain on the Helm statue. 

In the summer, firework displays on Wednesdays and Saturdays are free to the public. There’s also Live on the Lake!, a weekly outdoor live music series.

History of Navy Pier

Overlooking view of the Navy Pier in Chicago
(photo: f11photo / Shutterstock)

Early History

In the early 20th century, Daniel Burnham envisioned a public pier that would be both a useful civic space and social space. At the time, Burnham was one of the most renowned architects in the world. Though he passed away in 1912, architect Charles Sumner Frost stayed true to his vision. In 1916, Municipal Pier No. 2 officially opened.

During World War I, the Pier housed many soldier regiments. In 1927, it was renamed Navy Pier in honor of the Navy personnel who served in WWI. Then in 1941, the Navy converted the Pier into a large training facility that was instrumental in the Allies’ World War II efforts. 

After World War II, the Pier was utilized by the University of Illinois, as they needed room for their expansion. In the 1950s, it experienced somewhat of a resurgence and became a world freight terminal and home for trade shows.

Though the Pier experienced another decline in the late 1960s, this was not permanent. There were intermittent events keeping the Pier alive in the decades following. In 1987, the city of Chicago created the Navy Pier Development Authority to address the need for repair and restoration of the Pier.

Redevelopment

View of different rides in Navy Pier in Chicago
(photo: Stephen B. Goodwin / Shutterstock)

In 1989, the city of Chicago sold the Pier to The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority to manage its redevelopment. The next year, a concept plan was set into motion to make the pier a hub for culture in Chicago. This would include public promenades, stores, restaurants, an indoor garden, and more.

In the early 1990s, $150 million was spent on reconstruction and improvement. The newly renovated Navy Pier was reopened to the public in 1995. Visitors found a unique mix of restaurants, shops, and year-round public entertainment.

Since then, it has become one of the most popular things to do in Chicago. Navy Pier brings together all sorts of people, as Daniel Burnham had originally intended.

Map of Navy Pier

FAQs About Navy Pier

Why do they call it Navy Pier?

They call it Navy Pier as a tribute to the Navy personnel who were living there during WWI. The original name of Navy Pier, originally open to the public in 1916, was Municipal Pier. However, in 1927, it was renamed accordingly. 

What is Navy Pier famous for?

Navy Pier is famous for not only its history, but everything it currently has to offer. Some of the top attractions in the city are located here, including the Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion and Centennial Wheel. The vibrant culture also attracts many people, residents and tourists alike.

Is Navy Pier free to get in?

Navy Pier is free to get in. However, you will have to pay to experience certain attractions within the Pier, such as the rides and restaurants.

How much does it cost to ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier?

It costs $15 for an adult to ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Admission costs $12 for a child between ages 3 and 11, as well as military personnel. Children under the age of 3 can ride for free.

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Hopefully, you found my guide to Navy Pier useful, and now you’re ready to visit on your own! If you want to know what else you can do in Chicago, check out our Ultimate Chicago Travel Guide. Safe travels and enjoy! 

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