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Chicago River Tours – Best Boat/Architecture Tour On Chicago River

Architecture Tour On Chicago

Fast Facts:

CostDepends on the tour and the tour company. I chose Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour which costs $35.50 for adults.
Credit Card AcceptedYes
Handicapped AccessibleWendella vessels are accessible. Docks may vary.
Parking AvailablePaid parking available near by
Changing RoomN/A
Lockers AvailableNo
Food AvailableDrinks and snacks available on the boat


  1. Wendella Boat tours depart from two different docks: Main Dock (Wrigley Building Dock) and Trump Dock. Though both the docks are located very close to each other, check on your tickets to avoid any last minute confusion.
  2. If taking the tour in nice and warm weather, I recommend sitting on the upper deck on the boat which offers panoramic views of the Chicago skyline.
  3. If sitting on the upper deck, don’t forget to keep a hat, sunscreen and water.
  4. Paid parking is available near by. I was lucky to find cheap parking within walking distance from main dock on SpotHero.
  5. While using SpotHero, use promo code WENDELLA at checkout for an additional $5 off.


Chicago, also known as Windy City or Chi town, is a city like no other in the world. It is unarguably one of my favorite cities in the world. Thanks to its awesome people, breathtaking downtown and fun activities to do in and around Chicago. My love affair with Chicago began way back in 2008 when I started pursuing MS from Illinois State University in Normal,  located just 120 miles south of Chicago. Illinois State University’s close proximity to Chicago allowed me to travel to this amazing city almost every other weekend in quest of its delicious food and fun activities to do. Yes, traveling to and from Chicago downtown may suck because of insane traffic. But, every city has its own problems and downtown traffic seem to be the common problem among all the major cities in United States.

Boat tours on Chicago river:

When it comes to choosing the best tour on Chicago river, you have plenty of options to choose from. Some of the major tour companies offering boat tour on Chicago river are as follows:

Wendella Boats

Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

Shoreline Sightseeing

and many more..

Each of the above tours have something unique to offer to its customers. Since I have toured only with Wendella Boat tours, in this blog post you will find details about just Wendella Boat tours as I cannot comment much on other tour companies.

Wendella Boat Tours:

I chose to go on Chicago’s architecture tour on Wendella Boats after going through their amazing reviews online. When it comes to going on architecture tour with Wendella Boat tours, you have a couple of options to choose from:

Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour

Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour

Having done both the above tours, I can easily recommend going for Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour. Here are the main reasons to prefer this tour over the original architecture tour:

  • Both Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour and Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour cost $35.50 for adults. However, Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour lasts 90 minutes while Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour lasts only 75 minutes. Therefore, more value for your money by going on Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour if time is not a concern of course.
  • Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour takes you to Lake Michigan which offers expansive views of Chicago skyline. On the other hand, Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour doesn’t venture into Lake Michigan and navigates just on the different branches of Chicago river.
  • Since Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour takes you to Lake Michigan you can see the locking system between Chicago river and Lake Michigan from up close. It’s pretty cool.

Our time on the boat:

Wendella Boats docking station is located at 400 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611. On Michigan Avenue, you will notice signs for Wendella Boat tours. Take stairs down to the docking station. We didn’t have any trouble locating the dock.

Stairs to the Wendella Boats Dock 

Once you take the stairs down, you will notice a ticket window for any last minute bookings. If you booked your tickets online, you can either bring a printout or show your tickets on your phone. There will be a person to with a scanning device to scan the tickets.

There is little shade and chairs once you’re in the line. Make sure you keep sun screen, hat and water if traveling in hot weather. Though water, snacks and booze is available on the boat, it’s priced a bit on the higher side.

Once the boat arrived, we chose to sit on the upper deck of the boat. Usually, Wendella boats have 2 decks: upper and lower. Upper deck has no shade but that’s where the guide sits. Lower deck is air conditioned and you can still listen to your guide since there are speakers all over the boat. We chose the upper deck to enjoy the panoramic views of Chicago downtown.

Now (in) famous Trump Tower 😉

Once on the boat, our captain chose to take the vessel to Lake Michigan first, which means we had to go through the Chicago Harbor Lock between Chicago river and Lake Michigan. On our way to the lock, guide gave us a lot of interesting and fun information about Chicago downtown and Chicago river. Like did you know the flow of Chicago river was reversed in 1990 and since then it has been flowing in reverse? I bet you didn’t know this. Even we didn’t and that’s why we were just stunned hearing about the rich history of Chicago from our very knowledgeable guide.

As for the lock, it was very interesting to see its functioning from the boat. Typically, the water level difference between Chicago river and Lake Michigan is between two to five feet. Since Lake Michigan water level is higher than water level of Chicago river, the lock is controlled by gravity. It was a good learning experience to see the lock in action.

Chicago Harbor Lock as viewed from Lake Michigan side

Chicago downtown as viewed from Lake Michigan

Sears tower (now called Willis tower) as seen from the boat!

You will come across many beautiful buildings while your time on the boat. One such building..

One of my favorite buildings I came across while  going down the river on this tour..


I would highly recommend taking a boat tour on Chicago river on your next trip to Chicago. Though there are plenty of tour companies to choose from, I cannot comment on those tours as I’ve toured just on Wendella boats. I found Wendella Boat tour guide very informative who gave us a lot of information about history of Chicago downtown/river, different architectural styles and great fun facts. I recommend Wendella’s Signature Lake & River Tour because Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan is just incredible.

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