The Chicago River, Chicago
A great way to learn more about the city is to go on one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's river cruises. These cruises depart from the southeastern corner of Michigan Avenue Bridge (just follow the blue signs that lead down the stairs). Reservations are highly recommended, or you should at least buy your ticket early in the day for an afternoon cruise. There are two 90-minute cruise options: one goes along the Chicago River and out on Lake Michigan, while the other one does a longer circuit along the Chicago River - I chose the latter option because I was mostly interested in learning more about all the fabulous buildings of downtown Chicago. A volunteer from the CAF narrated the cruise and gave us lots of information as we went down the north branch of the river and then backtracked to go on the south branch, to finally explore the eastern branch right up to Lake Michigan. She was both interesting and funny, and thanks to her great knowledge of architecture, she made even the most seemingly boring post-modern skyscrapers look unique and beautiful in their own way. She also gave us quite a bit of information about the river itself, proudly announcing that it had recently been upgraded from "toxic" to "highly polluted" (!). She also explained how the river actually contributed to the spread of the Great Fire of 1871 instead of stopping it because of all the junk that was in it at the time, and how authorities managed to solve that problem by reversing the flow of the river so that instead of flowing down to Lake Michigan, all that garbage would now float down towards St. Louis!
The river cruises are offered from the beginning of May until the end of November, and tickets cost $30 on the weekend and $28 on weekdays. I thought it was one of the best things to do on a sunny day in Chicago!
Although I had already taken the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Tour a few years ago, Allan had not. He really wanted to tour the Chicago River, and I was more than "game" to take this incredible tour once again.
bOne of the finest activities that you can experience while visiting Chicago during the late spring, summer, or fall (end of April through late November), is to take this tour.
Do not wait to purchase tickets on the day you are touring because your chances of getting a ticket are slim. You may buy tickets at Ticketmaster (312-902-1500 or online), the Chicago ArchiCenter at 224 Michigan, Chicago Water Works Visitor Center at Pearson St. and Michigan Ave.
Seat location is based on "first come, first serve" so we made sure that we were there about 20 minutes in advance. We wanted to take photographs; thus, we made sure to be outside rather than inside. A docent who is trained will be your host. You will see more than 50 historic and architecturally significant sites on this wonderful tour.
As the Chicago Architecture Foundation literature states, "The Chicago River is the heart of its city...and the buildings along the banks of the Chicago River reveal stories of the city's growth and its architectural legacy." That is not hype but rather the truth.
This tour takes about one and a half hours, the best one and a half hours you'll ever spend!
#1 Marina City Towers were designed in the mid 1960s and were, and still are, quite innovative. Each tower is 60 stories high and have smicircular balconies. Within the structures are residences, parking, a marina, restaurants, shops, and a hotel.
#2 From the Michigan Avenue Bridge, I took a photo of the Architectural Tour Boat and the people standing in line to board it.
#3 The Merchandise Mart, which was originally conveived as a distribution center for Marshall Field & Company is MASSIVE, taking up two city blocks. It is an Art Deco style with pyramidal towers, set-backs, and bands of chevrons. There are pedestals along the riverfron with busts of famous merchants. At one time, the Kennedy family owned this building, but sold it about 20 years ago.
#4 Our guide said that 333 West Wacker Drive is an example of CONTEXTUALISM with its curved and shimmering green-tinted facade that follows the color of the river and the bend in the river at this location.
#5 The famed Sears Tower [which was the world's tallest building for 24 years] is most famous in architectural circles for its introduction to the innovative engineering concept known as "bundled tube construction".
We took the $25 Chicago Sunset Tour with Wendella Boats, this tour set off at 19:45 and lasted for about 2 hours. We bought tickets about 3 hours before the start. The boat was not overloaded, with sufficient space to walk around for better views. The boat also has a bar.
The boat set off from it's dock at Michigan Avenue Bridge, on the corner of Michigan and Wacker, and headed down the river towards Lake Michigan. This route afforded fabulous views of the river's neighbouring skyscrapers, most notably the new Trump Tower which is set to become the highest building in Chicago. The boat then passed through the lock and past Navy Pier out into the lake.
Our boat settled in a few locations for a few mintues before touring up and adown the coast of Chicago, during the trip the beautifully lit cityscape of chicago glistened in the crimson azure of the sunset.
Our boat then proceeded through the marina and past the Buckingham fountain, before returning through the lock and back up the river. This time the boat carried on up as far as River Bend.
All the time there was commentary from a tour guide, providing some local history and information on the more spectacular buildings. On this occasion the tour guide spoke clearly and was easily audible through the boat's speakers, but I have colleagues who complained on other occasions about the tour guide speaking too fast for them to understand.
A great tour, with beautiful views, but you do need luck with the weather.
The Chicago River has had an interesting history since the arrival of 'civilization'! As Chicago grew in size, the volume of pollutants and sewage dumped into it mounted and was continuousy emptied into Lake Michigan by the river. The problem was, Chicago had tunnelled out beneath the lake for two miles in order to secure fresh drinking water - and there was a concern that this would soon be mixed with sewage from the river. By 1900, civil engineers had solved the problem by completing the largest earth moving project in North America to that time. They had dug a shipping and water control canal through the ridge of land not far west of the city that separated the Great Lakes basin from the Mississippi River basin - allowing them to divert the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan and instead end up in the Gulf of Mexico!
Since then, the river has been significantly cleaned up and is now a major tourist draw in Chicago. Along with its many bridges, such as the 1930-built Wabush Avenue Bridge undergoing testing (Intro and 2nd photos), there are tourist cruises on low-profile boats that don't require the bridges to be raised. The 3rd photo shows a few of these at rest in front of the famous old Wrigley and Tribune Tower buildings. Late-April was too early in the season for these tours so I was content to just take in the activity along both sides of the river. The glass and concrete building undergoing construction at the right side of the Intro photo is the new Trump International Hotel and Tower, scheduled for completion in 2009 as the second tallest building in Chicago.
Here is an excellent chance to see and learn about this fascinating city--its architecture, history, and anything else that may interest you. The most remarkable thing about this river is that engineers reversed its course. It used to flow into Lake Michigan, but now it goes in the opposite direction. Hard to believe, but that's one of the things I learned on this tour.
Whether you like the river, boats, or history of the buildings, this tour has something for everyone. You will find out about architects, their style, and the challenge they were faced with to build better, higher, faster, and grander. You will learn how they devised a structure and why. Did you know that the Boeing building actually is hanging in its frame and not mounted from the ground up? How about the story about the city of Chicago trying to reverse the flow of the river (yes, the river no longer flows into Lake Michigan)?
This tour was entertaining as well as informative, and our tour guide was happy to answer questions. If you are in the Windy City, make the time to add this tour to your schedule. You'll love it!
Tours run from June 2 through the end of September.
The Chicago River Architecture tour runs about 1 hour and costs $19 per person for adults, $17 for seniors, and $10 for children. There is a daily schedule on their website so you can plan your trip. A word about morning tours - they often are filled with school groups on field trips. So try the afternoon!
Small, tower like museum telling the Chicago river story in pictures and plaques from the beginning of the 19th century.
It was quite interesting and educating.
Museum has 5 or so floors, each floor has 1 small room covered with posters and photos.
PRICE: $3 per person.
For the past 20 years I've been taking the Mercury Cruise Lines many different types of cruises. They are a family run business and we always get a dependable ride with a kind staff. They also run the Architecture Cruise on the beautiful, "Chicago's First Lady". Their location is the southeast corner of Michigan and Wacker. The Architecture Cruise is great for a detailed view of the Chicago River, but the smaller boats are fine for a ride on both the river and the lake and the captain does talk. The main difference is on the smaller Mercury boats that go on the river and lake, you can't walk around like you can on "Chicago's First Lady" for the architecture cruises. All of them have bathrooms....something that is very important to me!
Every Saturday before Saint Patrick's day, the city dyes the Chicago river an irish shade of green. People will line the bridges in anticipation of the boats unloading their dye in the river. The dye is also funtional as I am told it kills off certain algea and bacteria. Come early as the good spots fill up quickly. The dyeing starts at 10:45 a.m.
If you're here during the warm weather, I'd recommend a river cruise up the Chicago River. Chicago has some of the prettiest architecture of any city in the US, and nowhere is that more apparent than along the Chicago River. Many ships leave from Navy Pier and can be booked day of. It's a beautiful sight at any time, but my personal favorite is the view at night when colored lights are used to highlight the exterior of the buildings in shades of blue and purple.
Looking for another option? Try it during the day shortly after St. Patrick's Day. You will never see a river so green. (It's dyed green March 17th in honor of Mayor Daley's Irish heritage)
Wendella Boats have been operating tours on the Chicago River and the harbor area since 1935. They offer two different tours. One tour covers the River and concentrates on Architecure and the other covers park of the River with a lap around the harbor (including passing through the lock on the Chicago River into Lake Michigan.) Both are priced at $20 for adults ($18 for seniors $10 for children.) Tours start every 30-45 minutes, I hopped on the next boat.
Chicago was my favourite place in America. I definitely plan to go back some day. You have to take a walk around this gorgeous city. Whilst walking around we came across the Chicago River – just look how beautiful it is and how well it compliments the landscape.
Spend some time along the river where the space opens up and you can get a perspective of the towering buildings on either side. Probably the most interesting building is the Chicago Tribune which is more "Empire State Bldg", if you will. However there are many architectural details to be observed here. I would have enjoyed a boat ride, but it was still pretty cold when we visited. Yes, that is me standing there with long brown hair. Little different from my home page pic. The years do tick past us.
If your affriad of boats, dont worry, they will only tell you about one of the worse boat disasters in history while you are leaving the dock. With that aside, if there is one tour you have to do while in Chicago, this is it! Well this and the double deckor bus tour, but lets just stick to this one first.
I found this tour to be entertaining and very interesting. You will be able to impress your friends with fun facts about Chicago after this tour, like "did you know that Chicagos river water has been upgraded from toxic, to polluted" Its true! Learn all the facts and history of the city, and find out the truth about the famous Chicago fire. Did the cow really start it? Take the boat tour to solve the mistery..
The Chicago River Runs right through the center of town, so what better way to see it other than by a kayaking tour. Sure you could take one of those boring boat tours like the one Julia Roberts rode with Dermot Mulroney in “My Best Friends Wedding”. You can sit on the top deck and listen to the tour guide over the speaker, just hope that Dave Mathews isn’t in town that day (e-mail me if you don’t know the story).
I preferred to take my out of town friends on a 2-3 hour kayak tour of Chicago, run by Charlie Portis’ company Wateriders. We learned about architecture and gangsters, it was great! Our guide also took us to the site of the S.S. Eastland Tragedy which caused the most deaths from 1 accident in Chicago’s history (in 1915, 844 people died in the Chicago River in minutes). Needless to say the surrounding buildings in the area are supposedly haunted by their ghosts.
We learned about the great architects that designed the buildings that towered around us, and about the gangsters and speakeasy’s that lived below them. We learned about many sordid characters along with Mickey Finn, who invented a drink to knock out unsuspecting strangers that would later wake up naked and robbed in the alley. By the way, the Chicago Library now occupies the site.
Prices are $55 per person. All the equipment and drinking water are provided.
Times for tours are 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through autumn , but call for exact times & reservations.