The Navy Pier is a long concrete pier that extends into Lake Michigan. Along the pier are a number of restaurants and embarkation points for some of the lake cruises. There are also some carnival style attractions: a ferris wheel, miniature golf course, etc. All of this sounds okay, but the pier is usually crowded, the restaurants are overpriced and underwhelming, and the other attractions are fairly lame. Feel free to skip.
Unique Suggestions: If you do go to the pier, be sure to check out the Smith Stained Glass Museum. And be sure to check out the sculpture (statue?) of Chicago native Bob Newhart near the entrance to the pier.
I want to start with the notion that I absolutely understand why tourists would visit Navy Pier, Chicago's #1 tourist draw, but I am sticking under tourist traps for three reasons:
1) 90% of the people you encounter here are tourists
2) Restaurants and shops are overpriced and not the best in the city
3) Parking is obnoxiously priced, currently a flat rate of $20 on weekdays, $24 on weekends
A little history:
Opened in 1916 as an entertainment venue, it was originally known as Municipal Pier, converted the following year to house WWI soldiers, turned back into an entertainment venue after the war.
In 1927 it was renamed Navy Pier in honor of the Navy personnel that served there in WWI. In 1942, it was used as a training facility for WWII pilots. After several more uses of the Pier, it was opened as the current entertainment complex in 1995.
Unique Suggestions: But there are reasons that you might want to visit:
1) the Smith stained glass museum is awesome and it's out in the open so it's FREE
2) the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is terrific
3) many of the boat cruises leave from here and that is a nice way to see the Chicago skyline
4) Saturday night fireworks in the summer
5) Although the Ferris wheel didn't overly excite me in the daytime I hear that it's quite nice on a clear evening
6) Summer performances of Cirque Shanghai at the Skyline stage
If you do find yourself heading toward Navy Pier, you might consider eating before you get there to avoid the long waits and oftern mediocre food
And don't park here if you don't have to, there are free trolleys that run to and from Navy Pier.
Coming from a native Chicagoan much of what is said about Navy Pier is true that it's a huge tourist attraction where it's overpriced and endless crowds during the tourist season that starts from March until Labor Day. What you want to keep in mind is that everything at Navy Pier is priced higher than most places outside of the facility.
For example if something costs $1.25-1.50 outside of Navy Pier it will cost $2.50-3.00 there and that's just for a regular 20 oz. bottled soda. Basically most tourists who are not experienced travelers would do their research on places worth spending money on. Experienced travelers to Chicago know where and where not to eat and spend a lot of money because if you know someone who lives in Chicago or you've been a frequent visitor you know where to go and where not to go and what's worth spending money at and what's a waste of time and money to see and do.
Unique Suggestions: If you're planning to visit Navy Pier DO NOT drive because parking ridiculously high and they charge by the hour so driving is not worth the change you'll be shelling out for parking. If at all possible either walk, get the bus, or catch a cab from your hotel. It's worth a one time visit, but many Chicagoans usually see it once and then they don't really go anymore. You could see Navy Pier in about an hour without doing much since you can see it all by walking inside or outside and walk right back the way you came in. Don't really waste your money eating at Navy Pier save your money and go someplace outside the area since there's more of a choice than you would have at Navy Pier and you would get sick of McDonalds since that's the anchor restaurant there(side note-McDonalds isnt exactly the healthiest of food to eat anyway). Plus there's more places in the city that has good food besides greasy food from a fast food joint. I would suggest one day at the Pier, but after that go see something else.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to check out museums and other attractions since Chicago's neighborhoods have a lot of interesting street fairs that are worth seeing.
The food was bland and bad. The prices were surprisingly cheap but then you get what you pay for. I am a seafood freak and this seafood was REAL bad. Then they have a question and answer segment from Forrest Gump movie that is very annoying after a while because the server kept going on and on while we were trying to eat after having to wait 30mins to get a table and another 30 mins to get the food because it is always packed.
Its one of those places that you just HAVE to go to located on the Navy Pier.
Its just one of those things you have to do since you're there to say you've been.
Fun Alternatives: Right outside of Bubba Gump shrimp spot, there are cruise boats that offer a dinner cruise right off the Navy Pier. I would have rather done that since I love dinners on boats. Very elegant affair so take your dress up clothes. There's a grand buffet, music, dancing etc for 3-4 hours and then it returns. I didnt find out about it until we had already gotten to Bubba Gumps, but I will be doing this the next time I go back to Chi-town. They also do lunch cruises.
Its not that its a horrible spot, but really... the restaurants are mediocre and overpriced, the shopping is shlocky and this place could be dropped into any major American city without modification and no one would know the difference. It reminds me of Fishermans Wharf in SF, or maybe the Atlanta Underground (does that still exist?) or anyplace that caters to tourists. See it, but dont blow too much time, effort and money here. Catch a water taxi to the Shedd Aquarium, take a boat ride from here, but dont stay and eat and do the IMAX, unless you reallly like touristy attractions. Walk to the end of the pier for a nice view and cool breeze in the summer heat.
Unique Suggestions: Water taxis - cheap commuter taxis that go to the train stations on the river. Not really known among tourists too much, but a nice cheap way to get around downtown. Take the free trolleys here - the free tourist trolley system is really, really excellent. I use it as a local when I can - and its great to use if with kids.
Great place to go if you want to be ripped off. Its a typical tourist spot. The only interesting thing l found in this part of Chicago was the Ferris Wheel and only because you have a great view of Lake Michigan. The restaurants are over priced as are the shops. However saying that it is a lovely place to stroll, people watch and have a beer and look at the luxury/boats ships which you can take a cruise on. At the moment January 2006 they have a fantastic stained glass exhibition which is free.
Unique Suggestions: Take a ride on the Ferris Wheel!
Navy Pier is like an amusement park without the amusement.
Fun Alternatives: Save your cash for a relaxing evening at a tapas bar, or save your cash all together and go visit Millenium Park.
Everything is soooo expensive here and it is creepy. The ferris wheel was kind of neat because you get to see a good view. If you go to the top of any other building, skip it. We got gelato at one of the stands and it was grainy and gross. I believe it was $5.00 per scoop too. Skip this and admire the ferris wheel from a distance. If you go, the free trolley will drop you off and pick you up, however, beware of the wait. The line was so long we took a cab back to our hotel. The good news is that you can get almost anywhere in Chicago for about $10 in a cab. Otherwise we may have waited hours to get the trolley.
Unique Suggestions: Ferris wheel, people watch, listen to the free music, watch the sailboats go by.
Fun Alternatives: Go to Second City. It is about $18 per ticket for a great show. There is also free improv on certain nights after the main show.
We only went to Navy Pier to catch a good glimpse of the airshow that was going on. We had lunch at one of the restaurants there and sure enough, the planes went right over us - until the whole thing was cancelled due to a part falling off one of them!
The place reminded me of Faneuil Hall in Boston. Tourists flock to it, and it's full of chain restaurants, junk food and tacky sourvenirs. I have no use for this kind of place, but you've got to check it out at least once, huh?
Unique Suggestions: Check out the skyline view it offers.
Fun Alternatives: In Chicago, I'm sure there are a hundred alternatives!
Chicagoans only go to Navy Pier for conventions and black tie events. This is not representative of Chicago at all. 90% of the people you will encounter will be tourists. The parking is expensive, as are the restaurants.
Unique Suggestions: Some of the redeaming features to check out at Navy Pier include:
- The beer garden which has live music (May through Sept.)
- The Shakespeare Theater which puts on plays year round
- The Children's Museum ($7 admission, open M-Sat 10am-8pm)
- A a new ice rink
- An IMAX theater with a 6-story flat movie screen featuring 2D and 3D films
Fun Alternatives: If you truly want to experience Chicago, take a walk along the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to North Avenue.
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