Old Chicago Navy Pier

A ferris wheel, shopping, restaurants and more can be found in this waterfront  entertainment district.

Navy Pier draws more than 8.6 million visitors each year. It has rides, restaurants, shops, parks and boat tours, all within a 50-acre pier on Lake Michigan. Open year-round, it’s busiest in the summer months when there are open-air stalls selling souvenirs and weekly firework displays.

The pier was built in 1916 as a docking and storage facility for passenger and freight ships. Back then, it was mostly filled with industrial warehouses, but there was also a theatre, dance hall and dining rooms that catered to visitors. The Navy took over the pier during World War II and it was closed to the public until 1995, when it was remodeled and reopened as an entertainment district.

Today, the centerpiece of the Pier is the 15-story high ferris wheel that provides views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline. The seven-minute ride is spectacular at night when both the wheel and the city are lit up. There’s plenty of family fun with a musical carousel, old-fashion swing ride, 18-hole miniature golf course and remote control boats. Check out the Chicago Children’s Museum for several floors of games and experiments.

Navy Pier is a major entertainment hub in the city, home to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a 440-seat IMAX Theater, and numerous stages. Watch a circus performance at the Pepsi Skyline Stage, or visit with Santa during the holiday season at the Family Pavilion Stage.

It’s easy to get around on foot, or rent a bike or roller skates. When you want to hit the lake, there are a host of boat tours to choose from, including dinner cruises and private charters, and an architectural tour of downtown Chicago.

There’s no shortage of lunch and dinner options within the area, from steaks and seafood in upscale restaurants on and near the Pier, to a food court in the Family Pavilion. Pick up souvenirs, toys, and treats at a number of kiosks and specialty shops.

As the sun sets, relax with a drink at the Landshark Beer Garden overlooking the lake. Families are welcome and it’s a good place to catch the fireworks, which light up the sky above the Pier on Wednesday and Saturday nights Memorial Day through Labor Day.