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.
Navy Pier is the number one tourist destination in the state of Illinois. My place of employment happens to be located on the pier, so I find myself fighting through the crowds to get to work every day. "McPier," (it is mostly owned by the McDonald corp.) has only become the tourist Mecca of Chicago in the last several years. Before, it was a quiet old pier with nothing on it but the old mile long building dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Now it is horribly overdone, and the price for parking is killer. As a matter of fact, all of the prices for any thing you buy at the pier are ridiculously marked up. There are some decent places to eat, but bring your plastic. Riva's is probably the best restaurant on the pier.
Unique Suggestions: However, if you go very early in the morning, like before 8am, before the music is blaring over the speakers, before everything is chaos........ it is quiet, and is a nice place to go for a jog, bike ride, or go fishing (?!?!?.....I see folks out there, but I would be afraid to eat anything pulled out of Lake Michigan!). So, you can actually enjoy Navy Pier without spending a dime (even when the crowds are there), but I would avoid going during peak times.
Fun Alternatives: If you want to be out in the middle of the lake, for a quiet moment with your sweetheart or some time alone, there is a spiral pier just out always near North Avenue beach. Coming from the north go past all of the volleyball players and the restaurant that looks like a tugboat on land, and take the path that veers east. From the south, when you see the chess players, follow the lake path that goes sharp right....the path that hugs the lake....keep going and follow the spiral to the end. Then, be Zen to your heart's content.
What a waste of time! Unless you have to go there for an expo or meeting, or are traveling with small children, don't bother going at all. On many days it is crowded, loaded with screaming kids, and has nothing really interesting to most adults. It gets boring quick. You can walk through it once and say "that's enough, lets go."
There are shops, a food court, IMAX theatre, children's museum, entertainers walking around the pier, and the famous ferris wheel. In the summer, there is usually live music outside. Its like a circus.
The event space is great, especially if an event is taking place at the ballroom at the end of the pier, but spending time at the rest of it, no thanks. I honestly think the city opened up Navy Pier to lower congestion at other tourist areas of the city.
Unique Suggestions: If you have small children, they will probably love it here, and it is overall a good family place. The ferris wheel is good.
If you must eat here, Charlie's Ale House isn't bad, but try Chicago legend Billy Goat Tavern for a "cheezborger".
Some sightseeing and dinner cruises leave from here. The sightseeing cruises are decent (haven't been on a dinner cruise, don't plan on it).
Also, go to the end of the pier and enjoy Lake Michigan. You do get some great views of the city from here.
Fun Alternatives: Walk through just to say you went, but go to one of the museums - you will enjoy it more and will have a better experience.
Too many fudge shops. Navy Pier has a remarkable location overlooking one of the most dramatic skylines in the world. It's disappointing that the city of Chicago and the developers weren't able to make better use of the Navy Pier space once it became open for redevelopment. Basically, this is the same "Festive Waterfront Reused Old Buildings Tourist Tat" that has become an urban cliche very quickly in the last 20 years.
Fun Alternatives: Go to one of Chicago's many authentic ethnic neighborhoods and have an inexpensive dinner in a 1950s-era restaurant with surly waitresses and home-made pies in the display case out front.
Navy Pier is a tourist trap, but very family-oriented. It's the home of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, as well as an IMAX and the Chicago Children's Museum. It features indoor shopping and dining as well as a small botanical gardens. There are "street vendors" outside when the weather is nice and most of the city's boat tours of the river and lake launch here. Navy Pier has an open air beer garden and offers concerts and other events throughout the Summer. The main attraction might be the large Ferris Wheel which offers an excellent view of the city from the top. Everything is overpriced on Navy Pier - so buyer beware. Parking on the pier is very expensive so I would recommend walking down or taking one of the free trolleys.
Unique Suggestions: They decorate the Pier seasonally and even feature special attractions, like a haunted house around Halloween. It's not nearly as exciting or fun as it claims to be, but it's worth checking out briefly if you're bored or want to see some of the boats up close.
Fun Alternatives: For Boat Tours - I suggest taking the ones offered on NORTH Pier (see my tip about these).
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is a great venue to see a show.
The view from the John Hancock is just as good as the one from the Ferris Wheel and can be had for free.
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!
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!
The tourists always seem to be having fun, I just get bored.
Navy Pier is a fun destination for families. It has the Chicago Children's Museum, a hands-on facility for kids to play in, a lot of restaurants, an imax theater, a ferris wheel an carousel in the summer and fall, ice skating in the winter.
Many harbor tour boats launch from here. Other than that it is easy to get consumed in the over-ratedness of this locale.
Unique Suggestions: Ride the Ferris wheel.
If you have kids go to the Children's museum
See the crystal gardens
Go for fireworks in the summer. Wed and Sat nights at 9, (arrive around 8:30)
Fun Alternatives: I mean it is something to be seen in the city so you should at least check it out if you want to.
Museum of Science and Industry (57th and Lake Shore Drive)
Millenium Park (Monroe and Michigan Avenue)
Lincoln Park Zoo - Fullerton Parkway and Cannon Drive
Peggy Notebart Museum - Lincoln Park, Chicago
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.
I don't know, either. I've been to Navy Pier twice, and had no idea what to do when I got there. I wasn't about to go eat in an mediocre/over-priced restaurant, and it was to late to take one of those boat tours. So I went to see an IMAX movie, which was nothing special. On the other hand-- the OMNIMAX at the Museum of Science and Industry is great (kids like it too). Families seem to frequent the Pier, anyway.
Unique Suggestions: Sometimes there are good musical acts that perform there-- I wanted to see Weird Al and Patti Smith play there.
And don't drive there. Do you really want to pay that exorbitant parking fee?
Fun Alternatives: If you want to amuse your tykes, take them 1.5 hours north of Chicago to the Six Flags Great America amusement park (closes at the end of October), reopens in May. There's many ethnic festivals in Chicago, depending on the time of year. WWW.CITYOFCHICAGO.ORG (check the Special Events)
Navy Pier is one of the biggest tourist traps in Chicago. Stay away from this place if you hate huge crowds of tourists. Navy Pier feature a McDonalds (like everyother place on the planet), but if you walk all the way to the end of the Pier, there is a reward in the form of a Beer Garden!!!!
Unique Suggestions: Walk to the end and order yourself a beer.
Fun Alternatives: An alternative to Navy pier would be to save the money you would have spent there and buy a ticket to a cubs game, then buy yourself a beer.
We though Navy Pier was basically a waste of time and money. The Children's Museum was fun, but I would prefer any of the other Chicago museums to this one, even with kids. Food looked horribly overpriced and was standard food court cuisine. The money spent on this food and parking would have been better spent finding a neat, out of the way place out of crowds. My son thought the free balloon from the clown was the best part!!! (see picture)
Unique Suggestions: The Children's Museum or the IMAX theatre. Either would make it worth the visit, and would get you out of the throngs of people.
Fun Alternatives: If you want to see the lake, take a stroll around Montrose Harbor. If you like shopping, stay on MI avenue.
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.
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.
NAVY PIER -- I can't overstate this enough... NAVY PIER IS A TOURIST TRAP. The only redeeming value on Navy Pier is the Shakespearean Theatre, and possibly Bubba Gump's and the IMAX Theatre. The ballroom has also been known to host worthwhile events from time to time, but those events are generally not open to the public. Everything else on Navy Pier sells knicknacks and trinkets that really have no value, not even as souveniers. And the ferris wheel is definitely for tourists only; Chicago natives know of far better ways to see the city.