25+ Best Navy Pier Chicago Things to Do & to Eat
It’s REALLY hard to visit Chicago without checking out the inspiring Navy Pier. Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan, the massive indoor/outdoor space has long been one of the Midwest’s top destinations. Recent renovations have transformed its reputation from loveable tourist mecca to a local foodie and entertainment hotspot.
With over 50 acres of pure entertainment awaiting, you want to make the most of it, right?
Though Navy Pier can feel like a city within a city, it doesn’t have to feel quite as big as it looks. We’re going to help you navigate all the best insider activities, tours and events so you spend your time and money wisely. Today, we’re going to deliver 25+ Navy Pier tours, events, watering holes, restaurants, activities and much more that visitors and families absolutely should not skip.
Let’s get started!
Explore Chicago’s Thriving Food Scene
We may be known as the City of the Big Shoulders, but it wouldn’t be too far off to say that we’re also the City of Big Appetites. As Chicago has rightfully been named as one of the best food cities by USA Today, Bon Appetit and Conde Nast Traveler, visitors to the city are understandably hungry to discover the best bites we have to offer.
The best part?
Navy Pier, laid out over 50 acres of indoor and outdoor space, is home to arguably the best Chicago restaurants, bars, food artisans and specialty food shops to help give you an authentic, local taste of our iconic “Chicago-style” cuisine.
1. Dig into the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Debate at Giordano’s
Photo Source: Chicago Food & City Tours
Pizza or casserole?
Whatever it is, Chicago deep-dish pizza is delicious — and Giordano’s serves up one of the best slices in the city. Better yet, they have a location right on Navy Pier, so grab a fork and find out for yourself. Try to get a reservation in advance as lines and waiting times get incredibly long.
2. Cool Off with a Sweet Treat from Chicago Institution The Original Rainbow Cone
If you have trouble choosing one flavor at ice cream shops, then The Original Rainbow Cone is perfect for you! They’ve been serving up their iconic five-flavor ice cream cone since 1926, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their highly Instagram-able signature treat. If five flavors seem overwhelming, don’t worry, they have plenty of other flavors to choose from.
3. Try Farm-to-Table Comfort Food from Celebrity Chef Art Smith
Photo Source: Reunion
James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef Art Smith brings his famous down-home cooking to Navy Pier with Reunion. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, stop in to sample Chef Smith’s take on unpretentious Southern cuisine with a distinctly Midwestern twist using only the freshest locally sourced ingredients.
4. Get a Great View of the Game at Harry Caray’s
Photo Source: The Magnificent Mile
Come pay homage to the eponymous local legend and sports announcer at this waterfront BBQ tavern. Sports fans will love the delicious smoked meats, craft beers, and collection of sports memorabilia found at Harry Caray’s Tavern.
The best part?
The patio is outfitted with HDTVs, making it the perfect summertime spot to watch Caray’s beloved Cubs or take in the beauty of Lake Michigan.
Unleash Your Inner Thrill-Seeker
Chicago is blessed to have an amusement park right in the middle of the city.
Why does that matter?
Navy Pier’s rides and attractions can give you a little of everything: from a quick rush of adrenaline to memorable experiences that will take your breath away.
5. Soar to New Heights on the (Ferris) Centennial Wheel
Photo Source: Wikipedia
It’s only appropriate that Chicago, the birthplace of the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair, has one to call its own. Dotting the city’s skyline at nearly 200 feet, the Centennial Wheel is considered by many the crown jewel of Navy Pier.
It gets better:
The enclosed gondolas offer 360-degree views of the city and the Lake. Also, they can be enjoyed both in the summer and the winter because they feature air conditioning and heating systems.
Navy Pier tickets to the Centennial Wheel can be purchased on the spot at Navy Pier Park’s box office or online. There are special discounts for Illinois residents, military members, and children. Kids under three get to ride for free.
More of a high roller or celebrating something major?
The Centennial Wheel also offers a premium VIP gondola experience. It includes admission to up to four guests, plush seating, a trademark glass bottom and other perks that you’ll have to see to believe—or ride to describe.
6. Get Lost in Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze
Photo Source: CertifiKID
If you like to squeeze, stomp, and squeal your way through tunnels, mirrored hallways and light sequences, then this experience is for you. More fun than scary, and more challenging than you’d expect, the Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze is the kind of place you can roam for hours.
Plus — it’s sure to entertain adults and families with children visiting Navy Pier.
7. Ride Back in Time on a Historic Carousel
Photo Credit: Navy Pier
Navy Pier’s carousel is a whimsical recreation of a 1920s carousel that delighted another generation of visitors to the Pier. The carousel created exclusively for Navy Pier and its 36 hand-painted animals represent different carousel styles throughout history. Horses, chariots and a playful frog are just a few of the featured creatures ready to delight children of all ages! The hand-painted rounding boards at the top of the 44-foot carousel depict scenes of Navy Pier’s history.
Looking for something a little more thrilling?
Soar to great heights and then drop it low on the Pier’s Light Tower.
Take a spin (or a drop) on both for just $9!
Discover Why Holidays in Chicago Totally Rock
Photo Source: Facebook
Celebrate the happiest time of the Year at Navy Pier!
Don’t worry: if there’s a white Christmas in Chicago, there’s plenty of indoor activities to help you stay warm and toasty while getting in the holiday spirit.
Here are a couple we highly recommend:
8. Celebrate Chicago Christmas with Odyssey Cruises
Photo Source: Odyssey Cruises
Feast this holiday season aboard one of Odyssey’s Lakefront Holiday Dinner Cruises. The boat sails on Lake Michigan for over two hours, giving you ample time to take in the nighttime views of the city. Guests feast on a three-course plated holiday menu before dancing the night away onboard.
9. Take in the Holiday Lights at Chicago’s Largest Indoor Light Show
Photo Source: Navy Pier
Get ready for a truly illuminating time at Navy Pier’s Light Up the Lake. Wander through the Winter Wonderfest Forest, explore interactive light displays, and even lace up those skates for a glide on a whimsical skating rink.
You’ll even get a chance to visit the man of the season himself, Santa!
10. Ring in the New Year at Navy Pier
Chicago New Year’s Eve is one of Navy Pier’s major events, with celebrations going on throughout the day and ending with a splashy display of fireworks at midnight. Visitors can choose to party on the rooftop at Offshore, the AON Grand Ballroom, select Lake Michigan and riverboat cruises, or in one of the many restaurants on the waterfront.
Want to end with a bang?
Stake out a spot and be dazzled by one of Chicago’s best fireworks shows.
See Why Chicago Summers are the Best!
Photo Source: PxHere
What gets us through Chicago winters?
The promise of Chicago spring and summers, of course. Navy Pier really comes alive during the warm months and has even more to make your visit unforgettable.
Check out these awesome Chicago summer activities and things to do:
11. Cruise Around Lake Michigan on Navy Pier Boat Tours
Photo Source: Mystic Blue Cruises
Grab your flippie-floppies and get ready for you best Titanic impressions. If Lake Michigan beckons, there’s no better way to heed its calling than by going on a Chicago boat tour. Or several. Or all your sea legs can possibly muster.
Here’s the thing:
Navy Pier offers dozens of sightseeing, food-centric, fireworks-specific, thrilling, specialty and holiday boat cruises to keep your inner captain satisfied. Architecture buffs should set their anchors on Shoreline’s award-winning Chicago River tours of the city’s major landmarks.
Brunch bros, ladies who lunch, and couples eager to be wined and dined will want to set sail with City Cruises. They offer scrumptious Chicago dining cruises in an upscale environment.
Not afraid to get a little wet or a little wild?
Then Seadog’s extreme thrill rides and lakefront speedboat tours are just what you’re looking for. Not only will you take a spin around the city but you will literally experience 360° spins.
All of Navy Pier’s river and boat cruise partners, including Tall Ship Windy, also offer firework cruises during the summer months. There’s no better way to get on board with summer than this.
12. Merrily Roll Along the Lake on a Chicago Bike Tour
Photo Source: Pixabay
One of the perks of living in Chicago is that you don’t need a car to explore some of our greatest sights.
The best part:
Bike and Roll offers several bike tours that start off in Navy Pier and make their way through the city’s architectural wonders. Feeling zany? Then try their Segway tours for some giggles.
More of a DIY-er?
You can always rent a Divvy bike through Chicago’s awesome, affordable bike-share program, to glide through Chicago at your own pace with various bike stations located throughout the entire city.
13. Forget Lollapalooza: Come Jam at Navy Pier Music Concerts
Photo Source: Facebook
Live music can be heard everywhere on Navy Pier. You’ll hear all genres at play, from classic Dad rock to thumping house music to lively Latin beats. There’s something for everybody, no matter how eclectic your music tastes.
The Tangled Roots Beer Garden features the delightful Live on the Lake! in their outdoors space. During the summer months in Chicago, you can find guests grooving to the sweet sounds of local musicians and bands. On Saturdays, Sundays, and some Mondays, a wide variety of genres show up to play so get there early and dance the day all day!
But wait, there’s more:
Polk Bros Performance Lawns hold two venues for live music, the Lake Stage and the City Stage. Several of Chicago’s special events are held here, like the World Music Festival.
If you’re looking to unwind at the end of the work week, then sashay over to the Wave Wall Performance Platform for the Summer Skyline Sessions. This summer series brings some of the city’s best live music to the Pier every Thursday and Friday evening in the summer letting you unwind at the end of a busy work week.
14. Celebrate the 4th of July in All Its Glory
Photo Source: Facebook
Come early to snag a spot in what is by far Navy Pier’s biggest annual celebration. The 4th of July Summer Fireworks is truly a must-see spectacle that Chicago looks forward to every year.
If you can’t make it, fear not. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Navy Pier holds fireworks shows at 9:00 p.m. every Wednesday and 10:00 p.m. every Saturday.
Insider Tip: Get there early, the Pier gets very busy for fireworks. So do the restaurants and bars, so you definitely want to make a reservation ahead of time.
15. Watch a Movie Under the Stars
One of our favorite things to do during the summer is Water Flicks, the free outdoor movie series at Navy Pier. In partnership with the Chicago International Film Festival, Navy Pier carefully curates a lineup of eight films that fall under a certain theme. Past themes have included “Sing Along Summer” and “Super Hero Summer.”
This summer’s theme?
Animals! Sounds like a roaring good time! Be sure to follow them on Instagram to vote for the last movie in the series. Will you choose ‘Ratatouille,’ ‘Turning Red,’ or ‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile?’
Bring a blanket, some lawn chairs, your favorite snacks, and catch a family-friendly film. That’s if you can take your eyes off the gorgeous lakefront.
16. Get Artsy with Public Art Exhibits
Photo Source: nARCHITECTS
Navy Pier is proud to present an ever-revolving array of public art and cultural installations — offering you multiple opportunities to capture a photo to remember.
Take the perfect selfie at the Wave Wall Stairs. Then head to some of the temporary exhibits like legendary Chicago photographer Barry Butler’s Flow-Water Brings Life to Chicago and get your culture on.
Who knew you could seek thrills and the arts all in one place?
17. Brunch and Sip on the World’s Largest (Guiness Certified!) Rooftop Bar
Photo Source: Offshore
The world’s largest rooftop bar? You’d better see it to believe it! Enjoy sweeping views of Lake Michigan while sipping on mimosas and eating delicious, coastal-inspired food.
Weather a little chilly? No worries! Pull up a chair to one of their seven firepits or head to their all-weather areas. They even have entertainment and gaming areas, just in case you get tired of the view (we know, we know, impossible!).
Have Family Fun with the Kids at Navy Pier
Photo Source: Facebook
Have children in tow at Navy Pier?
Navy Pier is overwhelmingly geared towards family friendly activities and is tailor-made for even the youngest of kids — not to mention, those who remain young at heart.
18. Pretend You’re Pirates on Tall Ship Windy Cruises
Photo Source: Tall Ship Windy
Climb aboard Tall Ship Windy’s schooner for a trip around Lake Michigan that’s more buccaneer than bougie. Though they offer architecture tours and seasonal firework cruises, Tall Ship Windy really shines in their themed sails. Adventurous kids will love the “Tales of Real Pirates of the Inland Seas,” where they’ll hear famous pirate stories set against the city’s beautiful skyline.
19. Get a Sugar Rush at Navy Pier’s Food Court
Photo Source: Garrett Popcorn
Have you ever wanted to see how a kid would behave in an actual candy store?
Now’s your chance! The food court provides all sorts of sweets, desserts, and sugar goodies for the well-behaved kids in your life. Surprise them with the Dippin Dots’ burst of flavor, or give them a taste of some old-fashioned kettle corn at Garrett Popcorn. And don’t forget- kids of all ages love to eat delicious, Chicago-style foods.
20. Learn and Play at Chicago Children’s Museum
Photo Source: Urban Matter
If the word “museum” brings back memories of boring field trips and indoor voices, the Chicago Children’s Museum flips that all on its head. Any institution that believes in the power of play is guaranteed to offer its visitors a good time.
Here’s the kicker:
Children are encouraged to run, explore, create, touch, and play in its many halls. Some of their most popular exhibits are the Dinosaur Expedition, Water City, and the Pritzker Playspace.
21. Splash into Summer at Polk Bros Park
Photo Source: Navy Pier
In the summer months, the Polk Bros Park has the feel of a neighborhood block party. Its signature fountain is one of Navy Pier’s most famous water attractions and forms a dramatic backdrop to any family picture. If your kids need to cool off, they can run through the park’s more than 150 programmable jets. Bring a picnic and relax to the sounds of live bands on one of the park’s many lawns.
Make a Chicago Evening or Night of It
Long after the sun has set, Navy Pier still has plenty to offer in the evening.
If you’re seeking a fun night on the town, look no further then these ideas!
22. Toast to a Great Day at Navy Pier Bars
Photo Source: Navy Pier
Relax after a long day with your beverage of choice.
Keeping it casual?
The Tangled Roots Beer Garden has a large selection of beers, cocktails and frozen drinks. Jake’s on the Lake also offers pub grub to help you soak up the surroundings in a lively atmosphere.
Craving something more upscale?
Beat Kitchen’s Bar Sol offers vibrant, Latin-inspired cocktails and cuisine.
23. Have a Romantic Dinner on the Waterfront
Photo Source: 10Best
Whether you’re out with a special someone or simply looking to give yourself a well-deserved treat, Navy Pier is the perfect setting for an intimate dinner at a special restaurant. One of our top choices is Lirica, a hip Spanish/Iberian restaurant with an innovative open kitchen.
24. See World Class Theater with the Immortal Bard
Photo Source: The Magnificent Mile
Catch world-class entertainment at the Tony-award winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Whether it’s a fresh take on a classic Shakespearean tale, a brand-new musical, or a family-friendly show, you’re sure to be entertained in CST’s state-of-the-art facilities.
You might catch a celebrity as many come to perform with Chicago Shakes.
25. Have a Slumber Party at Navy Pier’s Newest Hotel
Photo Source: KOO Architecture
Navy Pier has a new hotel! That’s right, tourists can now stay right on the Pier at the Sable Hotel. Every one of the 222 luxurious rooms has amazing lake and skyline views. The Sable Hotel was even voted one of the top hotels in Chicago by the 2022 Condé Nast Reader’s Choice Awards!
Be sure to book your stay so you can make the most of your time on Navy Pier!