There are few activities more enjoyable — or more quintessentially Chicago — than a sunny float down the Chicago River or a twilight cruise on Lake Michigan. Summer is prime boating season both for locals who stow their ships in the city’s 10 harbors and for visitors looking to get a glimpse of the incredible skyline from a different perspective. Here are our picks for the best river and lake cruises in town:
This is the crowd favorite. In its 20th season, this 90-minute river cruise floats at a photogenic pace through the heart of Chicago’s downtown with postcard-worthy views of skyscrapers and historic buildings. Departing from Michigan Avenue, each cruise is staffed with a well-versed docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, offering non-stop factoids of the buildings in plain view. New this summer is a special weekend morning Capture Chicago Photography version of the CAF cruise, with select stopping points along the way to nail the perfect picture. Tickets: $46.54.
The season’s long days yield later sunsets falling within the 8 o’clock hour — the right window for a cocktail cruise with a sunset behind the Chicago skyline. This cruise boards from the Wendella dock near the Wrigley Building and makes its way to Lake Michigan just in time to catch the sunset from a picture-perfect perspective. After you’ve gotten your sunset fill, the boat travels south to the famous Buckingham Fountain to take in its spectacular water and light display. Tickets: $26.60.
For those who prefer to brush up on Chicago history while cruising, the best floating classroom belongs to the Chicago History Museum, whose daily rides are operated by Chicago Line Cruises. Basic Chicago history and architecture tours are offered regularly, and special theme cruises — such as the history of brewing in Chicago — are sprinkled throughout the season. These cruises board from the pretty North Pier Docks behind the River East Art Center. Tickets: $43.60.
Mystic Blue Chicago Fireworks Dinner Cruise
Offering a literal bang for your buck are Mystic Blue’s fireworks dinner cruises, which correlate with the twice-weekly (Wednesday and Saturday) fireworks displays at Navy Pier, from which it departs. These evening cruises are a bit longer — three hours in all — and include a light buffet-style dinner, a cash bar and live entertainment. Bring your dancing shoes for this one. Tickets: starting at $135.87.
Photos Courtesy of Chicago’s First Lady, Entertainment Cruises and Wendella