Full Guide To Navy Pier Activities & Attractions, Places to Go

Navy Pier Chicago [Full Guide]

Last Updated February 04, 2019

If you’re reading this, you’re probably overwhelmed by the mass amount of things to do at Navy Pier and want to know exactly what you shouldn’t miss on your trip there. Are we spot on?

Well, you’ve arrived to the right place. We know Chicago’s neighborhoods and major attractions like the back of our hands. We spend our days exploring the city and discovering the incredible food, history and culture that our amazing city offers. Even for those of us at Chicago Food Plant that have lived in Chicago our entire lives, every day brings new found appreciation for the never ending opportunities there are in Chicago.
So, without further explanation, let’s talk about Navy Pier. If you need to know a quick history of Navy Pier, the low down on Navy Pier attractions, the skinny on boat tours and what the heck to do with kids at the pier; we have got you covered.

Parking, Hours & Directions

Navy Pier Address: 630 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL

Hours: 10am – 10pm Friday-Sunday
10am-8pm Monday-Thursday

Getting to Navy Pier is rather easy on a wide variety of transportation methods. There are too many ways to list here, check out our Navy Pier Parking & Directions Guide for more info.

History of Navy Pier:

Navy Pier was opened in 1916, but its history dates back before then.  Chicago had been abuzz with possibility ever since the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, when the city proved to the world it was a top-class destination, and a city to be reckoned with on the global stage. The architect of that World’s Fair was Daniel Burnham, who had realized his vision of a glistening white city to the wonder of 27 million fair visitors. Riding high from that success, he and his colleagues at the Commercial Club of Chicago wanted to permanently transform Chicago from a city of endless potential into a city of tangible marvels with, what they called The Plan of Chicago.

So in 1914 construction began on Municipal Pier #2, which is what Navy Pier was called at first. The Pier is 5/8 of a mile long, and it extends more than 3000 ft. into Lake Michigan.  Picture it as a horizontal skyscraper. At the time it was built, it was the world’s largest pier. The Pier cost $4.5 million to construct, which in today’s dollars would be 2.3 bajillion.  It officially opened in 1916.

In the Pier’s early years, the shipping side of things did solidly, but the leisure side did spectacularly.  A streetcar, a theater and restaurants were added. Chicagoans came to the Pier to enjoy the view of the water, take in a show, and stroll away a leisurely afternoon.  In 1917…just one year after Municipal Pier #2 opened, the United States entered World War 1. And so, Navy Pier adapted. The Navy and Army set up recruitment stations on the pier.  Barracks were constructed to house troops. Municipal Pier changed its name officially in 1927 to Navy Pier in order to honor the people who served in World War 1.

Fun trivia fact: In 1946 the University of Illinois at Navy Pier was opened.  It was designed as a 2-year undergraduate degree program. The Navy Pier campus was in operation all the way up until 1965.

There has been a lot more that has happened at the pier since then, but we can’t give away all its secrets. Join us on a food & history tour to learn the full history of the People’s Pier.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US entered WW2, and the country immediately scrambled to get the nation ready for war.  The Navy realized they needed somewhere to train their naval pilots. Given the risk of German U-boat attacks along the Atlantic and attacks from the Japanese along the Pacific, the US needed a body of water big enough, but secure enough to safely train their pilots on, so they came to Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.  Two passenger steamers, the Wolverine and Sable, were converted into makeshift aircraft carriers and put into port off the pier.

A brand new Ferris wheel began giving rides in Summer 2016, with the former 150-foot high wheel, modeled after the Chicago’s 1893 World Colombian Exposition wheel, gave its last ride on September 27th, 2015.

Enter engineer George Ferris.  Ferris worked for the Pittsburgh company who was in charge of inspecting the steel used at the fair.  He got to thinking…and came up with the idea of a giant, revolving steel wheel, one that would take people higher than even the top of the Statue of Liberty, which had been recently opened.  The finished product measured 250 feet in diameter, held 36 cars, which each held 60 people (so imagine a train car size), totaling 2,160 people at a time. To honor the 100th Birthday of Navy Pier, they built the wheel you see now, the Centennial Wheel, in 2016.  This one is 196 feet tall. It’s a bit more modern than its predecessor – holding more people and working more efficiently.

Where to Eat at Navy Pier

In our opinion, Chicago is the greatest food city in the world. From award winning chefs to mom and pop restaurants we have it all. But when you’re a visitor for the first time, there are a handful of staples that MUST be tried on your visit to Chicago. These include the Chicago Style Deep Dish, Chicago Style Hot Dog, and Chicago Style Popcorn. When the name of a menu item has “Chicago Style” in it, you have to try it!

Check out our must visit list of  Navy Pier restaurants and Chicago foods for when you visit. Small plug: we provide Chicago Food Tours and our Signature Food Tour at Navy Pier allows you to try 5 restaurants for just $45. You get a full slice of Cheese Deep Dish from Giordano’s, the Garrett’s Mix Popcorn, a Chicago Style Hot Dog, a cupcake and famous Midwestern Cheese Curds. You get to eat more food, spend less money AND learn the full history of Navy Pier! Buy Navy Pier Food Tour tickets.

Tours & Activities at Navy Pier

Do you like to get an expert’s advice and knowledge about a city when you arrive? It’s a great way to get the lay of the land (or sea) in order to get your bearings of a city. We highly recommend taking tours in any city you visit on your first day, then you can feel at home during the rest of your stay.
When it comes to Chicago tours & activities there are MANY. From boat tours to Chicago Food Tours it can be tough to choose where to spend your time and money. We’ve created this Chicago Tour & Activity Guide to help you make your decision.
Specifically looking to do a boat tour in Chicago? There are several that are recommended, however don’t overlook the Water Taxi. It’s our favorite way to see the city by boat. Get our full list of Chicago boat tour recommendations here.
Want to get the history, architecture and cultural components of the city but also taste its food? We hope you consider us when you think about Chicago Food Tours.


Need any other guidance regarding Navy Pier? Send us an email at support@chicagofoodplanet.com and we’ll get back to ya! Or send us a message on our Facebook page.

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