When I was planning my trip to Chicago, one activity kept cropping up on people’s recommendations to me.
Go on an architectural river cruise.
Firstly, I’d like to apologise about the rude word in that picture. I’m sorry, It was just so obnoxiously placed that I really couldn’t get around it.
Having glimpsed various boats chugging merrily up and down the Chicago river when we arrived, we took no more persuading. We made our way to the ticket booth on the south side of DuSable Bridge and got a place on the next sailing. There were virtually no queues and everything was very straightforward. Given we were there in August, on the middle of a nice sunny day, I was expecting to have to wait a bit so I was pleasantly surprised not to have to.
Our tour jumped straight into the good stuff, no hanging about. As the title of the cruise suggests, we talked about architectural styles but also covered a bit of the city’s history as well. We gazed up at lots of buildings with fascinating histories to tell, as well as some which were just very shiny and tall. This building on the right is apparently Chicago residents favourite. Who knew.
We sailed past Marina City, which these two knobbly towers belong to. Apparently the strange looking balconies give the fairly small and wedge-shaped apartments a light and airy feel. I think it looks like a cool place to live, but I couldn’t imagine trying to park my car 13 floors up with only a spindly railing between me and the river. Can you see that one car that looks like it’s just about to go over the edge? Terrifying.
We saw buildings mid construction, like this top-heavy beast. Some of the cladding was yet to be put on which gave us a glimpse at all of the engineering holding the thing up. Oh and we got the old above-ground subway bonus here as well, which I love because it makes me feel all Gotham-y.
Sidenote: if you’re more of an active person and aren’t so fussed about the commentary, how about hiring a kayak and paddling the river like the intrepid soul in the picture above?
Personally, I loved seeing how the old and the new are mixed together in the city. I also have a thing about water towers, don’t ask me why. I particularly liked the contrast of this older style brick building with the water tower perched on top, next to the postmodern building with the chevron features.
I also love the wide riverside walks and parks that appear in between the buildings. I’ve already mentioned how I was surprised at how green Chicago is, and this just demonstrates it.
We sailed pretty far down the south branch of the river, into some areas with derelict buildings (notably the old Post Office) and got a good perspective of the skyline from a little further away.
On our way back into the city we caught a great glimpse of the Carbide & Carbon Building, a gorgeous Art Deco building with a top that was supposed to look like the top of a champagne bottle. You’ve just got to love Art Deco.
One thing I found fairly amusing was that this helicopter was flying in between the skyscrapers like they were streets. It made me think of futuristic films and flying cars, and then I felt bad for feeling amused because I’m pretty sure this is an air ambulance and I hope nobody was really sick 🙁
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed our Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise and I thought it was a great way to get an overview of the city from a comfy chair. Here are S and I looking like properly eccentric British with my scarf draped elegantly across both of us in the high heat and humidity. As an emergency anti-sunburn measure it worked fairly well!
I asked S for some feedback on the cruise, and he said he would like to point out that his favourite building was a crane.
> I liked that the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise is run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (funnily enough) who are a not-for-profit organisation. That made me feel less like I was being sucked into a massive tourist trap.
> The boats were nice and clean, you got a great view, the chairs were comfy, and the audio was loud enough to be heard.
> There was a man selling cold beer right at the start of the tour but he got off before we pulled away. There was also a bar on board I think, but I’d recommend taking your own drinks and snacks for the duration.
> The tour lasted 1.5 hours which felt like just the right length of time to me.
> The decks are exposed so you can get a good view, but that means no shelter from sun or rain. Prepare accordingly.
> There were other cruises offering variations on a theme. This cruise was particularly architecture focussed, so if you’re not into your buildings I’d look into one of the alternatives like the cruise run by the Chicago History Museum, which also offers free snacks and drinks on board.
> Check Groupon for offers, there were some good ones on there but for some reason I couldn’t buy a voucher – maybe due to a foreign credit card?
Have you been on a river cruise in Chicago? What kind was it, and would you recommend it?
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