Water taxis are an economical, in-the-know way to cruise parts of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. A combination of working stiffs and tourists boards these boats daily. You won't get the in-depth narrative of an architecture tour, but the views of Chicago's waterways are just as good—and you can't beat the price (about $3 per ticket).
Wendella Boats operates Chicago Water Taxis, which use three downtown docks (Madison Street, Michigan Avenue, and Chinatown) along the Chicago River. The entire ride takes about a half hour, and you'll get to see a good portion of the downtown part of the river. The boats operate seven days a week, April through October. You can purchase tickets at any dock or on the company's website.
Shoreline Sightseeing's water taxis run two routes: the River Taxi cruises between the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and Navy Pier, while the Harbor Taxi navigates Lake Michigan between Navy Pier and the Museum Campus. Late May to early September, water taxis run from 10 am to 6:30 pm. You can purchase tickets at any dock or in advance on the company's website.
Shoreline Sightseeing. Illinois. 312/222–9328; www.shorelinesightseeing.com.
Wendella Boats. Illinois. 312/337–1446; www.wendellaboats.com.