- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
Hop on a Shoreline water taxi and cruise down the river or on the lake. You won't get running narration, but it's affordable (single rides range from $2 to $7 from Michigan Avenue with stops at Wells/Wacker, Union Station/Willis (Sears) Tower, Buckingham Fountain, Navy Pier, and the Museum Campus) and not crowded.
For a more adventurous spin down the river, rent a canoe or a kayak. Just beware of large boats and crew shells.
Chicago River Canoe and Kayak (3400 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL, 60640-4587. 773/704-2663. www.chicagoriverpaddle.com.)
Wateriders (Kingsbury Yacht Club, 950 North Kingsbury St., Chicago, IL, 60610. 312/953-9287. www.wateriders.com.)
Chicago Architecture Tours
Every great city has great buildings, but Chicago is its great buildings. Everything Chicagoans do is framed by some of the most remarkable architecture to be found anywhere. The best way to see the sky-scraping Loop towers or the horizontal sweep of the Prairie School is on one of these top tours.
Chicago Architecture Foundation. The foundation conducts excellent, docent-led boat, walking, and bus tours of the Loop and beyond. To get a panoramic view of Chicago's magnificent skyline, try the boat tours. The ArchiCenter, the foundation's home, also hosts exhibitions, lectures, and discussions. Santa Fe Bldg., 224 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 60604. 312/922-3432. www.architecture.org. $17 walking tours, $35 boat tour. Walking tours run year-round; boat tours available May-Nov., daily.
Chicago Greeter. Savvy local volunteers run free two- to four-hour walking tours of the city's neighborhoods and areas of interest, such as fashion, film, and public art. Tours run daily at 10 am and 1 pm; make your reservation 10 business days in advance. Those who don't sign up in advance for a Chicago Greeter tour can show up for an on-the-spot InstaGreeter tour, offered Friday through Sunday 10-4. Both Chicago Greeter and InstaGreeter tours depart from the Visitor Information Center at Chicago Cultural Center. 77 E. Randolph St., Chicago, IL, 60604. 312/744-8000. www.chicagogreeter.com.
Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co.. Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. This hop-on, hop-off ride takes visitors to many downtown and Loop highlights and allows you the flexibility to stop at attractions that catch your fancy. 773/648-5000. www.chicagotrolley.com. $35.
River and Lakefront Tours
Hop in a boat and sail down the Chicago River for some of the prettiest views of the city. Some tours even head out to the lake for a skyscraper-studded panorama.
Mercury Chicago's Skyline Cruiseline. Mercury does Canine Cruises, where dogs are welcome, and a Wacky Pirate Cruise that caters to kids. 112 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL, 60606. 312/332-1353. mercuryskylinecruiseline.com. $28. May-Oct., daily.
Shoreline Sightseeing. Shoreline's been plying these waters since 1939, and has tours of both the river and Lake Michigan. Chicago, IL, 60611. 312/222-9328. www.shorelinesightseeing.com. Apr.-Oct., daily; Nov., weekends only.
Tall Ship Adventures of Chicago. Adventure and education meet on lake tours that illuminate Chicago's maritime history, the life of lake sailors, and environmentalism. In 2006 Mayor Daley declared the tall ship Windy the flagship of Chicago. 312/595-5555. www.tallshipadventuresofchicago.com.
Wendella. See the city at dusk on the Chicago at Sunset tour. There's also a river architecture tour and a combined river and lake tour. 400 N. Michigan Ave., at the Wrigley Bldg., Chicago, IL, 60611. 312/337-1446. www.wendellaboats.com. Apr.-Nov., daily.
Whether you're a foodie, a history buff, or a shopaholic, there's a custom tour for you.
Chicago Food Planet Food Tours. Gut-busting stuffed pizza, hot dogs, and gourmet chocolate are just the beginning on these tours of Chicago's most famous and most hidden culinary treasures. 212/209-3370. www.chicagofoodplanet.com.
Chicago Neighborhood Tours. Get out of downtown to experience Chicago the way the locals do. Combining bus rides and walking, these guided trips introduce visitors to the history and cultures that have contributed to the city's diverse, vibrant communities. 312/742-1190. www.chicagoneighborhoodtours.com. $30-$55.
Chicago ShopWalk. Shop 'til you drop on one of these specialized trips focusing on local designers and boutiques. Personalized itineraries are available. 773/255-7866. www.chicagoshopwalk.com.
Untouchable Tours: Chicago's Original Gangster Tour. Your guides, in character as Prohibition era goons, take you on a bus tour through Chicago's checkered mafia past. Though the kitsch factor is high, the tours are stuffed with history and will take you to neighborhoods you might otherwise miss. 773/881-1195. www.gangstertour.com. $30.
Behind the Scenes
For a look at what (or who) makes the city tick, check out the following activities.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The facility processes currency and checks, scanning bills for counterfeits, destroying unfit currency, and repackaging fit currency. A visitor center in the lobby has permanent exhibits of old bills, counterfeit money, and a million dollars in $1 bills. One-hour tours explain how money travels and show a high-speed currency-processing machine. Call in advance for reservations. 230 S. LaSalle St., Loop, Chicago, IL, 60610. 312/322-2400. www.chicagofed.org. Free.
Goose Island Brewery. Follow a brewer on a tour of this well-known Chicago brewery producing hand-crafted lagers, ales, and vintage ales. During the tour you'll sample six beers from the current rotation and receive a souvenir pint glass to take home. Reserve at least a week in advance. Tour participants must be 21 or older with valid ID. 1800 N. Clybourn Ave., Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL, 60614. 312/915-0071. www.gooseisland.com/pages/clybourn_brewpub. $10. Tours last 60-90 minutes and take place Sat. at 12:30, 2, and 3:30 and Sun. at 1:30, 3, and 4:30.
Graceland Cemetery. A comprehensive guide available at the entrance walks you by the graves and tombs of the people who made Chicago great, including merchandiser Marshall Field and railroad-car magnate George Pullman. 4001 N. Clark St., Far North Side, Chicago, IL, 60613. 773/525-1105. www.gracelandcemetery.org. Free.
Though Chicago isn't the industrial center it once was, you can still watch all sorts of things being made in the Chicago area, from cheesecakes to harps. Log on to www.factorytoursusa.com for a complete list of tours.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $134 & up -- 4-Star Hotel in Chicago Loop, Save 60% BookIt.com
- $179 -- Chicago: 4-Star Hotel over July Fourth Weekend JW Marriott Chicago
- $139 -- Chicago Hotel incl. Summer Weekends, 45% Off — $139 The Silversmith Hotel & Suites
- $99-$139 -- Weekends at Chicago Airport Hotel w/Wi-Fi — $99-$139 Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport
- $162-$190 -- 4-Star Downtown Chicago Hotel, Save 40% — $162-$190 Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro Downtown