In Photos: Chicago Architecture River Cruise

It was our first day in Chicago and we were burning up as the temperature pushed 100 degrees, but there was no turning back now.

We walked the Chicago Riverwalk towards Michigan Avenue, in search of our next adventure. With such a tight itinerary for our 3 days in Chicago, we had to keep things moving!

We were on our way to the First Lady Cruises dock for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. I’d heard it was one of the best in the city, and really wanted to experience it for ourselves. Even though we’d rather have been in the water at this point than on it.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas
Along the Riverwalk, with the Wrigley Building clocktower and neo-Gothic Tribune Tower on the horizon.

We boarded the boat with a few minutes to spare and it became increasingly clear there was no way we could keep Evelyn in the sun for much of the 90 minute ride. Matt, knowing how much I’d wanted to do the architecture cruise, graciously offered to watch Evelyn downstairs where there was plenty of air conditioning and water. He really is the best. 🙂

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas
Chicago’s Little Lady; a smaller version of the boat we took.

The tour starts at the First Lady Cruises dock just east of the DuSable/Michigan Avenue Bridge. It’s a little pricey, and if you’re flexible with time I’d recommend buying tickets on-site rather than online (which will cost you an extra $8 or so per ticket!). We had to buy a child’s ticket for Evelyn too, which was a bit annoying. Especially since neither Matt nor Evelyn got to enjoy the boat ride anyway. 🙁

But I digress. I did enjoy it myself and would definitely still recommend it to anyone visiting Chicago. It’s a great way to see the city from a unique vantage point and admire the many different styles of Chicago architecture.

And with that, we were off!

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas
Some of the more notable buildings along Wacker Drive: the London Guarantee Building (360 N Michigan Ave), Mather Tower (75 East Wacker), and The Jewelers Building (35 East Wacker).

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, at one point the largest architectural firm in the country, helped shape much of Chicago’s present-day skyline.

77 West Wacker, in its classical Greek style, stands out among the skyline.

On the north branch of the Chicago river, new trendy lofts and high rise condos fill the Fulton River District. These nautical-themed river cottages are a rare sight (though still worth a couple million bucks).

25 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Chicago

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

And on the opposite side, in River North, more lofts, condos and renovated office buildings border the river. New building guidelines require that any new construction include public riverwalk space.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

The massive Merchandise Mart (far left above) encompasses nearly as much square footage as the entire Sears (er, Willis) Tower. 4,000,000 square feet on just 18 floors! (25 in the tower).

It’s also at this point that the north and south branches meet the main stem of the Chicago River under the Lake Street Bridge.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

On the south branch, more greenery overtakes the riverbanks.

And we have our first look at the Willis Tower up close.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

What I never realized about the Sears/Willis Tower is that it’s actually comprised of 9 buildings (or “tubes”) that are “bundled” together. This allows the tower to withhold its structural integrity in spite of its astounding height. The higher the floor, the more tubes that “fall off”, leaving only 2 of the 9 standing at the very top on the 108th. (And sorry, I’m a 90’s kid…like Chicagoans, it’ll always be the Sears Tower to me).

At 5 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, the masses head home from work.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

Back on the main stem of the river: Marina City, or the “corn-cob” Wilco towers as some might know them by, are hard to miss.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

And at the source of the main stem on Lake Michigan, the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Station stands alone, almost looking out of place.

A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

Out in the harbor, our boat makes one final look back at Chicago and Lake Shore Drive. The sun is setting on the city, and not too long after we will be back at the dock and on to our next adventure.

We look forward to trying the tour again, preferably when it’s not so warm, so we can all enjoy it together. It’s definitely worth at least one trip, if not two. 😉

25 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Chicago

What city do you think has the best architecture? Share in the comments!

Read Next: Walking Food Tour of Bucktown & Wicker Park, Chicago

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A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas
A trip aboard First Lady Cruises' architecture river cruise on the Chicago River. // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Chicago Trip Ideas

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