Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise: Best Bits and Top Tips

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.


Top Tips

> 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?


Linking up with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel  for Wanderlust Wednesday. Thanks for hosting, ladies!

Save me for later:

I took a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise and I'm here to tell you all about it.



    • 27th September 2016 / 19:54

      They’re great, aren’t they! Not all cities have such great waterways right through the centre, sailing right between the skyscrapers 🙂

  1. 27th September 2016 / 18:23

    The architecture tour in Chicago was probably my favorite thing too! I loved the fact that you learned all about the different types of buildings and the styles they were built in, but also the contrasts between young and old Chicago buildings. The ones thing that I regret during our trip was not bringing sunscreen with us because I got so burned during our trip! I’m glad that you included that as a tip!

    • 27th September 2016 / 21:39

      And thanks for giving me the tip! I loved it. I know very little about architecture so it was great to learn all completely new stuff, and I liked the other random facts our docent threw in as well. I thought it was all really well done.

      Sunscreen, ugh. Annoyingly we had it in our hotel room, so near and yet so far! I swear it wasn’t sunny until we got on the boat. The shawl worked pretty well for the most part, apart from it wasn’t quite big enough so I got a randomly burned forearm. Not a good look! I need to be better with my sunscreen!

  2. 28th September 2016 / 02:01

    This looks just fantastic! There is something so special about seeing the city from the water, I think it gives you a whole new perspective, especially when you get to look up at so many skyscrapers!
    And, hahaha about that rude word, I couldn’t see it at first in the photo… oh dear!!

    • 29th September 2016 / 16:44

      It was so much fun, I’ve never sailed in between such huge buildings. It’s really quite strange when you think about it. I just felt like I had to apologise for that gross appearance in my nice picture – try as I might, I couldn’t get rid of it!

  3. Jen
    28th September 2016 / 02:57

    The architecture is absolutely amazing! Wow!

    • 29th September 2016 / 16:45

      Isn’t it gorgeous?! It’s so different than what we have in London, I was walking around with my eyes like saucers.

  4. 28th September 2016 / 11:43

    Oh it sounds like a lovely cruise! Nice way to see more of the city too! 🙂 That’s the thing with the citycats in Brisbane – friends/family like to ride on them but you don’t get much commentary so it gets a little dull to want to join them, haha!

    Hope you’re having a wonderful week 🙂

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • 29th September 2016 / 16:46

      It was brilliant. We loved riding around on the Citycat, there wasn’t any commentary and I think some of the locals gave us funny looks, but it was brilliant to stand in the front in the crazy wind! And seeing all the scenery from water is always fun. My week is busy but good thank you, I hope yours is going well too!

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:09

      I completely agree. And it’s just so relaxing and pleasant to be out on the water, makes the whole thing so enjoyable!

  5. 28th September 2016 / 12:45

    Chicago certainly is pretty! I’d love to see it for myself one day! #WanderfulWednesday

  6. 28th September 2016 / 12:59

    this looks like a great way to see the city!
    lol @ rude word in the picture. ew. haha.
    i love water towers too. i also don’t know why. and yeah that car looking like he’s about to go off the edge made my stomach drop lol

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:11

      Seriously, could it get any bigger!? It’s just so intrusive! I’m hoping someone can tell us what’s so cool about water towers, because I have no idea, but I love them. You couldn’t pay me money to live in that apartment and try and park my car there every day. No. No thank you.

  7. 28th September 2016 / 13:34

    favorite building was a crane. i almost spit out my tea. haha. and apologizing for the offensive part of the photo. i love it. this is a tour i’ve wanted to do and now realize i definitely should! chicago is so pretty 🙂

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:13

      My husband, ladies and gentleman.

      You should definitely do the tour! It’s really interesting, plus being on a boat is great any day of the week, and the vantage point is pretty unique. Also it was pretty cool going underneath the bridges because you can see all the traffic rattling over the grating just above your head… Cool, and a bit scary.

  8. 28th September 2016 / 15:57

    I love boat sightseeing cruises but this one seems definitely really special. Seeing skyscrapers from below? So cool!

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:13

      It was really cool! Definitely different from your average river cruise, I think. The skyscrapers were so cool! I got a sore neck from looking up so much 😀

  9. 28th September 2016 / 16:56

    I had no idea there was such a thing as an Architecture river cruise in Chicago! My husband’s hometown is near Chicago, and I’d love to visit the city.

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:14

      I really hope you manage to do it! It’s a really cool tour and the city is great, really buzzing.

  10. 28th September 2016 / 21:29

    Goodness, I think the last river cruise I was on was a couple years ago when I was in Amsterdam and did a canal cruise. This cruise looks like it was a nice boat ride through the Chi. Will definitely add it to my to-do list then next time I’m in the city!

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:15

      Oh that sounds like fun, I still haven’t been to Amsterdam which is awful as it’s only an hour away on the plane! The cruise was brilliant, really interesting and overall very well done. Let me know what you think if you do take one!

  11. 29th September 2016 / 03:37

    Cruises are one of my favorite ways of exploring a city. Looks like a visit to Chicago would not be complete without a cruises. Thanks for mentioning Groupon. I use it all the time when I am at home and forget to check when I visit another city.

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:16

      I’ve now decided it’s one of my favourite ways, too. I think by foot is still my favourite, though. I wish I could have used Groupon, there was some really cool stuff on there but I couldn’t buy any of it! 🙁

  12. 29th September 2016 / 08:00

    I would love to see this tour as well! Love it that the Architecture Group runs it. The city is just so beautiful!

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:17

      Yeah I liked that our docent really knew what she was taking about, such a pro. The city is brilliant, such lovely buildings. And I definitely wouldn’t have appreciated them as much without the tour so I’m really glad I did it.

    • 29th September 2016 / 17:17

      It really was! I’ve decided I’m going to specifically seek out boat tours now, because this was just so much fun.

  13. 29th September 2016 / 20:35

    I’ve been absolutely dying to get to Chicago! It’s super high up on my list when I return to the States! Your pictures are absolutely beautiful and this river cruise looks like an awesome way to get a new perspective on the city! I’ll kee this in mind for when I visit 😀

    • 30th September 2016 / 18:07

      I highly recommend a visit, there’s so much cool stuff to do and the city has a great atmosphere. It’s a really good way to get an overview of the city when you first arrive, get your bearings etc. I’d highly recommend it! Let me know if you do make it 🙂

  14. 30th September 2016 / 02:35

    What a fun tour! Sounds like a great way to see some of the city 🙂

    • 30th September 2016 / 18:08

      Yes it was so much fun! Being on boats is fun anyway and mix in some educational content and photo opportunities and I’m a happy camper!

  15. 2nd October 2016 / 10:48

    I love the architecture river cruise in Chicago! Perfect way to see this beautiful city 🙂

    • 5th October 2016 / 13:01

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it too! I’ve never been somewhere with a river right through skyscrapers like that, it was a pretty unique experience.

  16. 2nd October 2016 / 13:36

    The cruise sounds a great way of exploring Chicago’s architecture. Beautiful photos!

    • 5th October 2016 / 13:02

      Thanks Ahila! It was a brilliant way of exploring Chicago’s architecture. I think we got pretty up close and personal with lots of key landmarks.

  17. 10th October 2017 / 12:18

    Thanks Rachel your site helped in writing good text on my blog . I am Architecture student and have mentioned your name in my blog. Please do visit and put suggestion. I appreciate that your quiet amazing than mine and I need to learn more from your blog.

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