Chicago: The Architecture River Cruise

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago is the Architecture River Cruise. This is largely because the architecture in Chicago has the biggest influence to the modern American cities and the world in general.

Chicago is home of the first skyscraper in the world. In the 1880’s, the world’s first steel frame construction building was erected.


Before I went on the Architecture River Cruise I visited the Chicago Architecture Foundation on South Michigan Avenue. This is the best place to start getting some background on the history of Chicago to gain some context. It is also here that one could book a river cruise.



I thought earlier this is just a small place and I would just need 10 minutes here. It turned out that I spent 45 minutes here … totally engrossed with so many aspects of the history of Chicago that I was not aware of. What really fascinated me was that part where I learned that the city of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River! What an engineering feat. The Chicago River used to empty (sewage and stuff) to Lake Michigan and they reversed the river flow so that all the waste does not flow into the lake.


There is an interesting model of the city of Chicago in the center of the exhibition area in the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). This place is all about Chicago.

However, there is only one other model that is not of Chicago. While we all know of the technological marvel of the construction of the Bird Nest stadium in Beijing, this model does stick out. There were no signs about this model. So I thought it was kind of strange.


I think there are several river cruises in Chicago. The only one that really matters is the one from the CAF. The cruise was $28.


It was quite a number of blocks from the CAF to the boarding area. Because I took so much time at the exhibits, I had to rush to the  place with barely enough time to spare. And I had a backpack with lens (and I brought along the tripod too which I did not use even once on this trip!).


If only I knew earlier. I could have bought the tickets here too. That way I would have not need to rush all the way to keep to the time of my ticket.


Don’t you find the Chicago River beautiful? It is also very clean.


The cruise started off from the very point where Fort Dearborn is. This is about the center where Chicago grew to what it is today.

Across the river is a stately building located in one of the primest of prime spots in the city. Believe it or not, this is the headquarters of a chewing gum company.

This is the HQ of … Wrigley’s!


The Marina Building is also called the “corn cobs”. When I saw this I really thought that this building could have inspired the design of the Petronas Twin which also looked like corn cobs.

Take a look at the lower section of the building. It is a car park. Isn’t it kind of dangerous with hardly any barrier at the edge? I wondered if anyone had accidentally driven off the edge before. Moreover, I was also thinking that I would not want to park at the higher levels. It must be dizzy driving up and down the spiral ramp.



The cruise was interesting and well narrated. The entire cruise took 90 minutes.

The part that everyone got excited the most was this …


… the Sears Tower which is now known as Willis Tower. Everyone got up from their seats and started taking pictures. I was quite happy my pictures turned out quite nice.


At that time, I was debating whether to go to the Sears Tower or to the Hancock Tower. I just had to visit one of the skyscrapers.


This building above has an illustrious past. This is the HQ of Montgomery Ward which was a huge mail order company. Their heydays were the days before the internet. Thousands of people worked in this building which even has a freight trains running directly into it.


The Merchandise Mart building is the largest building by volume in the world when it was built in the 1920s. It remained the worlds largest building until the Pentagon was completed. This building houses wholesale and retail businesses.


The Lake Point Tower is one of the more famous buildings. It commands a grand unmatched view of the Lake Michigan and the surrounding areas.

See the cranes there? Well, this is the spot where the next tallest building in the US was to be built …


… the Chicago Spire. The construction of this 150 story building is currently on hold because of financial difficulties. If this is built, this will be the 2nd tallest building in the world behind Burj Khalifa.


It was an enjoyable cruise. The guide was entertaining and kept everyone captivated.


I was glad it was a very nice day that day. After half of day of walking, it was a welcome rest too.

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  1. Chris

    Wow! Thanks. It looks like an awesome way to spend a few hours.

  2. Jonnek

    I really enjoy your travel posts. Your narratives and pictures are great. They make me feel like I am there too. Thanks for the posts.

  3. zoi

    we were there last year but did not take the river cruise (will do this next time!). nice post again! we went for brunch at the Hancock Tower Signature Room. It was good! It was at the 95th floor. (i’m hoping you had your lunch or dinner there.)

  4. etranger

    Speaking as someone who does have a lot of formal architecture training, the statement “the architecture in Chicago has the biggest influence to the modern American cities and the world in general” is an opinion but not a fact!

    Prepare for fistfights with people from Italy, New York City, Greece and many others if you ever make this statement in a group of architects who are not all from Chicago…

    That said, it is a very influential city. Louis Sullivan who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, was the father of the Prairie School of architects. It is a uniquely American architectural style. Daniel Burnham of Burnham and Root also established a style seen all over America.

    The Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893, championed by Burnham, put Chicago on the map of world architecture. You can read about it in the book “Devil in the White City” by Eric Larson. The book also tells the story of one of America’s first known serial killers, who operated in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair. Makes a pretty good read.

    Looks like a great boat ride!

    Regarding the car park, parking attendants are now being trained to look for unusual behavior to help thwart terrorists:

    Also, a couple drove off the seventh floor of a parking garage (that’s “parkade” to you, right?) in Pittsburgh recently. Here’s an article with a photo. If you enlarge the photo, you will see a bent piece of ductwork in the middle — the car bent the duct on its way out. So it certainly could happen.

    1. Ben

      Hi etranger: He he he … I was brainwashed by the Chicago Architecture Foundation people on the tour. They were pointing out all the modern architectural innovations that originated from that city. 🙂 Are you an architect by profession?

  5. koji

    The river cruise is awesome. did you notice that when going under the bridge that you can see the cars above you through the grille? a few years back a bus unloaded it’s sewage through the grille and it just happened that a tour was going underneath.

    1. Ben

      Hi Koji:
      Oh yeah, now that you mentioned it, I think I remember the bridge (particularly the one on Michigan Ave) was made of steel and could be raised.

  6. Shmoo

    We accidentally cheated with our skyscraper visit. We went up the Hancock tower at sunset, with the intention of having dinner. We found out at the top that we were not dressed appropriately for their dress code. (We were civilized, mind you, just some technicality.) So we ended up having a legitimate excuse to check out the view and then head back down to street level. Oops.

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