Chicago is home to two stunning waterfronts.

You can explore the city cruising along the Chicago River or Lake Michigan.

But with so many tours available, which one is best for you?

You can get on board a cruise tour and admire the spectacular Chicago skyline.

Or dress up elegantly for a dinner cruise, relax, and enjoy Chicago’s gorgeous shores with a fireworks show at night. 

There’s even a tall ship cruise for those looking for a different experience.

In this article, we’ll show you the best river cruises and boat tours around Chicago to get the most out of your trip.

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1. City Cruises (by Hornblower)

If you would like to experience both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, you should go for a 75-minute architectural tour by Hornblower.

Get to know Chicago a bit more while admiring the beautiful skyline view and several landmarks along the route.

Prefer a short and fun ride?

Try a 30-minute Lakefront Speedboat Tour.

Or go on a high-speed jet boat when you book a Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride.

The boat departs between 11 am – 8 pm at Navy Pier.

Alternatively, get on board and enjoy a three-course meal while overlooking stunning views during brunch or dinner time.

For a romantic dining or special occasion, you can book a Fireworks Dinner Cruise for a wonderful night in Chicago.

Don’t forget to upgrade to a window table for the best views.

Later in the evening, have fun on an After Dark Dance Cruise and enjoy a nice buffet paired with your favorite cocktail in a club atmosphere.

  • Tours: Dining, Sightseeing & Events
  • Prices: from $28 USD adults
  • Departure Address for Dining: 455 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive Chicago, IL 60611
  • Departure Address for Sightseeing: Navy Pier, East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

Official site

2. Chicago Fireboat Tours

What would be better than riding on a retired Chicago fireboat?

Whether a historical or a sunset tour, it’ll give you such an incredible experience as it also serves as a floating museum.

Escape the chaos of the city to relax on a 2-hour architectural tour.

Daily tours operate at 12 pm and 3 pm.

If these time slots aren’t suitable, you still have a chance to cruise along Lake Michigan for an unforgettable sunset scene.

Partnering with Phase Three Brewing, a Brew Cruise will make your sunset cruise even more memorable.

Choose from a wide selection of ales and lagers as you admire the city skyscrapers.

But note, that this cruise doesn’t leave every day.

Lastly, they also offer a Firework Cruise.

Reserve it for an intimate experience and indulge in the finest dishes among the Chicago skyscraper.

  • Tours: Historial & Architecture, Sunset, and Fireworks
  • Prices: from $37 USD adults
  • Departure Address: 111 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60601, United States

Official site

3. Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

Take a stroll along Chicago Riverwalk and board Chicago’s First Lady Cruises.

This is one of the most popular tours in Chicago.

If you’re an architecture lover, this tour is a must-do as their guides are well-trained volunteers from the Chicago Architecture Center.

For an extra 5 USD, you can upgrade the ticket to include Chicago Architecture Center admission.

Another option is to book a private vintage yacht that includes a bartender.

This is suitable for small groups of friends or family looking for a more personal tour on the river.

Pay extra for an alcoholic beverage package, so you can have a glass of wine while soaking up the Chicago sun.

For a romantic date, book your seats on the Evening River Cruise and have a few cocktails.

If you’re planning a wedding or a private event, Chicago’s First Lady Cruise could be a perfect option for you.

  • Tours: Architecture, evening & private
  • Prices: from $50 USD adults
  • Departure Address: Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Wacker Drive.

Official site

4. Chicago Line Cruises

At Chicago Line Cruises, their most popular tours are the 90-minute Architectural Cruise and Historical Cruise.

Onboard, you’ll be provided with a booklet so you can learn about Chicago’s story.

A complimentary Starbucks coffee, Twinings tea, or soft drink are included with the ticket.

On Saturday nights, the Architectural Cruise is even more spectacular as it includes fireworks.

For live Jazz, you can join the cruise on Sundas 6:30pm.

After the tour, you can stop by Pinstripes and get a complimentary antipasto taster by showing the cruise ticket.

  • Tours: Architecture, historical & jazz
  • Prices: from $45 USD adults
  • Departure Address: 465 N McClurg Ct, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

Official site

5. Mercury Cruises

See the skyline views on Mercury Cruises most popular tour – the 90-minute Urban Adventure Cruise. 

You’ll see landmarks including Willis Tower, Aon Center, and John Hancock Building.

Although, what really sets them apart, are their Canine Cruises.

Its the only cruise in Chicago where passengers are allowed to bring their pet dogs!

Water bowls and a newspaper-lined restroom are available onboard for your dog.

If you prefer evenings, there are two available.

Chicago by Night Cruise or 3D Fireworks Cruise.

Both offer different experiences, as you’re provided with complimentary neon light wands or 3D glasses for the tour.

  • Tours: Sightseeing, night & fireworks
  • Prices: from $37 USD adults
  • Departure Address: Southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Wacker Drive

Official site

6. Shoreline Sightseeing

This company features the largest fleet which includes 11 touring vessels and 6 water taxis.

Join an Architecture Tour from either Michigan Avenue or Navy Pier that will take you to see over 40 Chicago landmarks during a 75-minute ride.

For a shorter boat ride, there is a 40-minute Skyline Lake Tour.

Sit back and enjoy the breathtaking views of the dramatic skyscrapers from your waterfront seat throughout the journey.

At night, they also offer a Fireworks Tour.

You can kick off your evening with their Architecture River or Skyline Lake Tour before the magical fireworks show.

We recommend you to check their Event Cruises if you’re celebrating an occasion.

Look for the Orchestra Cruise, Summer Brew Cruise, or Wine Tasting Cruise.

A private charter can be arranged with the various packages of food, beverage, and onboard DJ.

  • Tours: Architecture, skyline & fireworks
  • Prices: from $25 USD adults
  • Departure Address 1: Polk Bros Park/Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States
  • Departure Address 2: Michigan Ave, 401 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States

Official site

7. Tall Ship Windy

If you’re planning a trip to Chicago during holiday periods, you should check out Tall Ship Windy special event sails first.

They often have extra services onboard to celebrate Fourth of July, Chicago Air & Water Show, and other events.

On normal days, you can explore the city with the classic Skyline Sail tour.

They operate at least three 75 minute tours a day from 1pm, departing from Navy Pier.

Some light snacks and drinks are available onboard.

Alternatively, reserve a seat for the Fireworks Cruise at night which also has a bar service.

For private charters, you’ll have a bar, buffet-style or picnic-style meals, and live entertainment.

  • Tours: Skyline & Fireworks
  • Prices: from $37 USD adults
  • Departure Address: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States

Official site

8. Wendella Boats

Lastly, you can see Chicago from the water with a 90-minute Architecture Tour on Wendella Boats.

Their guide will share all the history of the most popular landmarks along the Chicago River.

Onboard, you’ll find a full-service bar, a restroom, and a climate-controlled lounge.

A shorter 45-minute Architecture Tour is also available.

For the best photos of the Chicago skyline, join their Sunset Cruise in the late afternoon.

Or catch a 2-hour Fireworks Cruise to make your night in Chicago more special.

On specific holidays, they offer a variety of event cruises for visitors.

These include Beer and BBQ Cruise, Wine & Cheese Cruise, Whiskey Tasting Cruise, and much more.

  • Tours: Architecture, drinks tours & special events
  • Prices: from $23 USD adults
  • Departure Address: 400 N Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611

Official site

Chicago River Cruise Docks Map

If you’re looking for the perfect hotel, check out these articles:

For more activities in Chicago, check the following guides:

Find more Chicago Cruises & Tours


What’s the best Chicago cruise for dining?

City Cruises (by Hornblower) offers fine dining for brunch and dinner.

They have a huge range of packages that include dining onboard while touring Lake Michigan or the Chicago River.

The best deals are generally for special occasions like Fathers Day, 4th of July, or New Year’s Eve.

Which Chicago river cruise has the best sunset tours?

Get on board an actual piece of Chicago history, and admire the sunset on Chicago Fireboat Tours.

They offer the most unique experience since their cruises are practically floating museums

Grab some drink and enjoy a 1.30-hour ride along Lake Michigan.

Which Chicago river cruise has the best architecture tours?

Although most companies offer Architecture Tours, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is our top pick for an architect lover.

They have a partnership with Chicago Architecture Center and offer tour guides in town as well.

You can get an upgraded ticket that includes a visit to the Chicago Architecture Center.

Which Chicago river cruise has the best sightseeing tours?

There are a number of options for sightseeing tours in Chicago.

If you’re craving for more fun and exciting, Chicago Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride from City Cruises (by Hornblower) is an excellent option.

For something more relaxing, you should try a Historical Cruise from Chicago Line Cruises.

They have tours showcasing past photos of the city so you can compare it with the Chicago scenery of today.


Chicago River CruisesPrices from
City Cruises (by Hornblower)$28
Chicago Fireboat Tours$37
Chicago’s First Lady Cruises$50
Chicago Line Cruises$45
Mercury Cruises$37
Shoreline Sightseeing$25
Tall Ship Windy$37
Wendella Boats$23
For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!