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Chicago architecture tours – tickets, cost, hours, duration, departure address

The skyscrapers and buildings of Chicago have helped shape American architecture.

Legendary architects from different periods have contributed to building the iconic skyline of the Windy City.

There are many ways to explore and learn about the architecture of Chicago.

This article covers everything you must know about buying tickets for the Chicago Architecture Tours.

What to Expect

Take a dive deep into the modern architectural and cultural marvel that is the city of Chicago by opting for a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour, a Chicago River Cruise, a Speedboat cruise, or a Walking tour.

Sail down all three branches of Chicago on a cruise equipped with a bar and see the legendary landmarks of Chicago such as the Wills Tower, John Hancock Building, Tribune Tower, Buckingham Fountain, and more.

Step on the outer deck and feel the cool river breeze while you explore the beautiful city without the hassle of traffic or congestion.

Opt for a speedboat ride and see the city views with a thrilling ride that tears through the water, throwing water sprays all around.

Take the walking Art Deco tour and be led up close to mesmerizing Chicago buildings and their architecture, reading their motifs arising from a union of Cubism and the ancient architecture of the Middle East.

Visit Chicago’s most beautiful attractions, such as Millennium Park, and enjoy classic Chicago specialties like deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches.

Be led by an expert guide on all tours who will entertain you with stories and insights about Chicago and the attractions you come across.

Use the evergreen Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour of Chicago to explore the best of Chicago from the unique vantage point of a big bus, getting on and off at the many convenient stops throughout the city.

Tours Ticket Price
Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip-the-Ticket-Office US$51
Chicago: 45-Minute Family-Friendly Architecture River Cruise US$28
Chicago: Art Deco Skyscrapers Walking Tour US$30
Chicago: 75-Minute Architecture Cruise by Speedboat US$60
Chicago: Favorite Foods Guided Walking Tour US$80
Chicago: Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour by Open-top Bus US$49

Where to book tickets

Tickets for the Chicago Architectural Tour are available online and at the attraction.

Online ticket prices tend to be cheaper than tickets at the attraction.

When you buy online, you can avoid the long queues at the ticket counters. 

Because Chicago Architectural Cruises sells limited tickets, they may sell out during peak days.

Booking early helps avoid last-minute disappointments.

How do online tickets work

Visit the ticket booking page for Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip-the-Ticket-Office, select the preferred date, time slot, and number of tickets, and buy the tickets immediately.

Once you purchase tickets, they get delivered to your email address.

There is no need to get printouts of the ticket. 

Show the e-ticket on your smartphone at the entrance and walk in. Please carry a valid ID with you.

Chicago Architectural Cruises ticket prices

For Chicago River Architecture Cruise: Skip-the-Ticket-Office, the general ticket for all ages above 13 costs US$51

Kids between three and 12 can gain access at US$29

Infants under three are not charged anything.

For Chicago: 45-Minute Family-Friendly Architecture River Cruise, the general ticket for all ages above 13 costs US$28

Kids between four and 12 can gain access at US$13

Infants under four are not charged anything.

For Chicago: 75-Minute Architecture Cruise by Speedboat, the general ticket for all ages above 13 costs US$60

Kids between 3 and 12 can gain access at US$48

Infants under three are not charged anything.

For Chicago: Art Deco Skyscrapers Walking Tour, a ticket for all ages costs US$30.

For Chicago: Favorite Foods Guided Walking Tour, the general ticket for all ages above 13 costs US$80

Kids between four and 12 can gain access to US$70

Infants under four are not charged US$10 for participation.

For Chicago: Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour by Open-top Bus, the general ticket for all ages above 13 costs US$49

Kids between three and 12 can gain access at US$36

Infants under three are not charged anything.

Chicago architecture tickets

Depending on your tastes and preferences, you have the option of booking a Chicago architecture tour on a boat, bus, speedboat, Segway, etc.

Or if you love walking, you can explore the city on foot as well.

We explain all the different types of Chicago Architecture tours available –

Architecture tours by boat

Tourists can choose from two types of Chicago Architecture boat tours.

You can book a scenic boat trip along the Chicago River or book a Lake Michigan tour.

Chicago River Architecture tour

This is a 75-minute boat tour best for those who want to understand the city’s architecture.

You will cruise along the Chicago River to discover architectural gems among the city’s renowned landmarks.

A local guide shares stories and anecdotes, keeping the atmosphere lively.

The boat passes more than forty buildings and sails under historic bridges.

The tour is available in English and Spanish.

Ticket Prices

Adults ticket (13+ years): US$51
Child ticket (3 to 12 years): US$29

Infants under three are not charged any fee.

Chicago Architecture tour on Michigan Lake

If you want more of a joy ride with a little bit of Chicago’s architecture thrown in, you must book this tour.

During this 40-minute classic tour of Michigan Lake, you get to see Chicago’s shoreline and its iconic landmarks.

Ticket Prices

Adults ticket (13+ years): US$13
Child ticket (4 to 12 years): US$28

Infants under four are not charged any fee.

Walking tours

Many tourists prefer a Chicago Architecture walking tour to understand the architectural marvel of Chicago.

We have identified two of the best walking tours in Chicago.

Chicago Architecture Center’s walking tour

During this 90-minute tour, you will explore the lobbies of five opulent Art Deco skyscrapers on the banks of the Chicago River.

Chicago Architecture Center, the city’s best authority on architecture, trains these guides.

This tour is wheelchair friendly.

This ticket also gets you access to the Chicago Architecture Center exhibits.

Ticket Price (All ages): US$30

Chicago Favorite Foods Guided Walking Tour

This comprehensive three-hour tour allows you to see some of the most iconic sites, such as the Millennium Park, Magnificent Mile, Wrigley Building, and more.

You will get to sample some of Chicago’s most famous dishes, including the deep dish pizza, the beef sandwich, and the Chicago Hotdog, and can also opt for a craft beer.

You will be led by an expert guide.

This tour is wheelchair friendly.

Ticket Prices

Adult ticket (12+ years): US$80
Child ticket (4 to 11 years): US$70
Infant ticket (up to three years): US$10

Speedboat architecture tour

If you want to cruise on both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan and explore the architectural marvel of Chicago, look no further than the Chicago Architecture tour by speedboat.

Besides the buildings, you will also pass through the historic Chicago Locks and sail under numerous bridges on the Chicago River during this tour.

Seadog Speedboat is an open-air vehicle.

Ticket Prices

Adults ticket (13+ years): US$60
Child ticket (3 to 12 years): US$48

Infants under three are not charged any fee.

Chicago Architecture Center’s bus tour

Chicago Architecture Center, the city’s leading authority on architecture, offers the Chicago Architecture tour by bus.

During this three-and-a-half-hour tour, you will cover approximately 48 km (30 miles) of the city.

Being an extraordinary architecture tour, it is available only on Saturdays.

This tour also includes access to the Chicago Architecture Center.

Ticket Prices

Adults ticket (13+ years): US$49
Child ticket (3 to 11 years): US$36

Infants under three are not charged any fee.

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Best Chicago architecture tour companies

Some tourists prefer to know about the architectural tour operator before booking their trip.

They have heard or read positive reviews about a tour operator and want to book their tour.

This section details the top five Chicago Architecture boat tour providers – Shoreline SightseeingChicago Line CruisesWendella SightseeingChicago Architecture Foundation, and Seadog Cruises.

Shoreline Sightseeing

Shoreline Sightseeing has the city’s largest fleet – 11 boats and six water taxis, and dozens of architectural guides, making it one of the most popular tour operators.

According to TripAdvisor, Shoreline Sightseeing’s architectural boat tours are usually the most booked in the whole of America.

With their state-of-the-art tour boats and well-trained guides, Shoreline Sightseeing presents the story of Chicago’s architecture in the best possible way.

If you are traveling with your family or want a laid-back excursion, look no further than Shoreline.

Shoreline Sightseeing’s tour timings

Shoreline Sightseeing’s tours start from Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue, and both have the same timings.

The first tour sets sail by 10 am, and the last tour sets off at 5.45 pm.

There are eight other timings you can choose from – each 90 minutes apart in between these two slots.

If you want a tour with a Spanish guide, you have only one option – the 9.30 am tour starting from Michigan Avenue.

Shoreline Sightseeing departures

Shoreline Sightseeing’s boats depart from two places – the Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue.

While booking your ticket, you can decide where you want to start their architecture tour.

Navy Pier: Shoreline’s boat boarding line is at Navy Pier’s Polk Bros Park. Their Navy Pier’s address is 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611.

Watch out for greeters in bright orange.

Michigan Avenue: This boarding line is by the Chicago River at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago IL 60611. Head towards the East of du Sable Bridge (Michigan Ave. Bridge) and on the North Shore of the Chicago River.

Look out for tour operator’s folks in bright orange.

Review of Shoreline Sightseeing

Shoreline Sightseeing has a high rating of almost 5 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and 4.8 out of 5 on GetYourGuide.

Even though Shoreline Sightseeing offers a family-friendly atmosphere, a good chunk of reviews come from couples suggesting that the tour works out best for families and couples.

Most of the reviewers felt the tour offered was either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good.’

Many of the reviews contained the terms ‘great tour’ and ‘highly recommend this tour’ to describe their experience.

Note: If you want to save money on Shoreline Sightseeing’s architectural tour of Chicago and other City attractions, check out Chicago Go Card

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Wendella Sightseeing

Wendella Sightseeing was the pioneer of Chicago’s architectural tours.

Wendella Sightseeing offers two flavors of architecture tours – the river-only tour and the river & lake tour.

This operator takes you through the heart of the city on all three branches of the Chicago River, even as the expert local guide enthralls you with stories on 130 years of design innovation.

Their ships are all climate-controlled boats, and you won’t have to worry about rain or wind.

The best part is the full-service bar, which serves snacks and a selection of beers, wines, cocktails, and soft drinks.

Wendella boat tour timings

Wendella Sightseeing’s river tours start as early as 10 am and go on till 9 pm during peak seasons.

The most popular Wendella boat tour is the one at 12.15 pm. Because both indoor and outdoor seating is available, tourists don’t mind the overhead sun.

The other favorite time slots are 3 pm, 4 pm, and 5.45 pm.

If you want to book a Wendella Sightseeing boat tour on both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, your options are 10.15 am (most popular), 1 pm, 2 pm, and 4.45 pm. Book Chicago River & Michigan Lake tour

Wendella Sightseeing’s departures

Wendella Sightseeing boats set sail from their Michigan Avenue Docks located in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

They have two docks (look at your voucher to know where your boat will take off from).

Main Dock: The Main Dock is located at 400 North Michigan Avenue at the NorthWest corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which is now called the DuSable Bridge.

This dock is on the Chicago River, at the base of the Wrigley Building, made of white marble. It is also known as the East Dock. Directions

Trump Dock: Trump Dock is at 401 N Wabash Avenue, on the west side of the Wrigley building on the Chicago River. It is also known as the West Dock. Directions

Review of Wendella Sightseeing

On Tripadvisor, Wendella Sightseeing has a high rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Even though the tour operator doesn’t differentiate, more couples seem to be booking this tour, followed by families and groups of friends.

Many of the reviewers used the terms ‘great tour,’ ‘great boat,’ and ‘guide was very knowledgeable’ to describe their experience.

The guides also came in for praise for the interesting facts they shared about the Chicago buildings.

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Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) was earlier known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF).

This is why the architecture tours offered by Chicago Architecture Center are also often referred to as ‘CAF tours.’

The CAC provides beautiful Art Deco walking tours of Chicago.

Chicago Architecture Center’s tour timings

The CAC Art Deco tours start at 10 am or 2 pm, depending on the day selected.

The tour lasts for 90 minutes

CAC tour departures

Chicago Architecture Center’s tours instruct you to arrive 10 minutes before departure at 30 N LaSalle Street and have your confirmation at hand.

The docent will check your name off a list of attendees. Get Directions

Watch out for the blue awning marking the stairway entrance.

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Seadog Cruises

Since Seadog Cruises specializes in thrill rides, their architectural tours in Chicago come with a twist – they happen on speedboats.

The speedboats make it an exciting learning experience for all age groups.

However, if you are elderly with back or neck problems or pregnant, this tour isn’t for you.

Seadog architectural tour timings

The Seadog Speedboat architectural tour has morning and afternoon options.

If you prefer a pre-lunch tour, you can book the 11.15 am or the 1.15 pm architectural tours.

If you prefer afternoons or evenings, there are three times you can opt for: 3.15 pm, 5.15 pm, or 7.15 pm.

Seadog speedboat departures

SeaDog boat tours sail from Navy Pier’s Dock Street, located at 600 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago IL, 60611.

You can’t miss Seadog’s speedboats just below the Ferris Wheel and across from the Grand Staircase. Get Directions

Review of Seadog Cruises

Seadog Cruises is rated 4.5 out of 5 on Tripadvisor.

Families, couples, and groups of friends reviewed the Seadog River and Lake architectural tours highly.

Many of the reviewers used the terms ‘extreme thrill ride,’ ‘a lot of fun,’ and ‘super fun’ to describe their experience.

If you would prefer a quiet and informative architectural tour, this isn’t for you.

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How long do the Chicago architecture tours last

Most popular Chicago architecture boat tours last around 60-90 minutes, and walking architectural tours usually last around two hours.

The duration of Chicago architecture tours depends on many factors, such as – the mode of transport (regular boat, speedboat, walking, etc.), the route to be followed, the number of buildings in the itinerary, stoppages, is it the river cruise or lake cruise or both, etc.

The minimum duration of any architectural trip is usually one hour.

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Boat tours during rain

Usually, tours depart rain or shine.

Some boats are covered, and some aren’t.

You may have to brave it and continue with the tour if it’s a drizzle.

However, the captain’s word is final in severe weather.

If he/she says that it is unsafe to continue and cancels the tour, all guests are refunded.

TripAdvisor is full of reviews of tourists who enjoyed their architectural boat ride (or walking tour) even though it was raining.

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Boat tours in winter

Chicago river in winter
The frozen Chicago river is not suitable for architecture tours. Image: Jonathan Lurie

Even though winter is a great time to travel in Chicago (no crowd, lower prices, etc.), it is not the best time for architecture boat tours of Chicago.

The river freezes over every winter with a sheet of ice on it, making it dangerous for the boats to venture out.

This is why most tour boats get parked in the dry docks by Thanksgiving.

A few boats are listed as all-season tours, but we don’t recommend that because the weather won’t be conducive to being on the water.

If you are in Chicago during winter, the best option is the Chicago Food walking tour.

Our second best will be the three-and-a-half-hour Chicago architectural highlights by bus.

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Chicago Explorer Pass architecture tour

Did you know that with the Chicago Explorer Pass, you can book a Chicago architecture tour for free?

Chicago Explorer Pass is a discount card that can get you around 40% discount on top Chicago attractions, including Shoreline Architecture River Cruise, 360 CHICAGO, Skydeck Chicago, Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, and 20 other attractions.

Since the card is valid for 30 days, you can pace your sightseeing.

You can skip the ticketing lines in all the attractions and thus save yourself a lot of time.

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Museum of Illusions Chicago Seadog Speedboat
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This article was researched & written by

Edited by Rekha Rajan & fact checked by Jamshed V Rajan

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