What you'll see on the tour — Photo courtesy of Philip Larson
Chicago is famous for a lot of things. It has a great culinary scene and some of North America’s best-known and loved professional baseball, football and basketball teams. But it’s also one of the world’s most fascinating cities for fans of architecture.
If you’re only in Chicago for a short visit and want to take in as many of the city’s incredible buildings as possible, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise is a must-do. From seats on the open-air deck on one of Chicago First Lady Cruises yachts, passengers are treated to a 90-minute trip along Chicago’s famous river system, while guides from the foundation share their knowledge of buildings old and new.
They’ll explain how the great fire of 1871 wiped out much of Chicago’s original buildings – most of which were made of wood – and how the blank slate of the “second city” has drawn generations of architects to Chicago to create towers that not only rise above the streets, but also make people stop and admire their unique details.
The three branches of the Chicago River are lined with an astounding number of skyscrapers, interesting old warehouses and other structures. Even the most attentive passengers will have trouble taking everything in as the boat winds along each branch. But the guides do an amazing job of pointing out many of the oldest, newest and most interesting sites.
Sun reflecting off 333 West Wacker Drive — Photo courtesy of orijinal
Expect to learn about the office tower at 333 West Wacker Drive, which sits where the river splits along its northern and southern branches. The building – one of the favorites among city residents – was constructed in 1983 to curve with the river, and the river-facing side is clad in green-blue glass that mimics the water color.
Tour-goers will also learn about the famous Wrigley Building on North Michigan Avenue. Opened in 1921 to house the headquarters of the Wrigley chewing gum company, its design incorporates influences from the tower of Spain’s Seville Cathedral as well as the French Renaissance. Clad in glazed terracotta and covering more than 450,000 square feet of space, this was Chicago’s first air-conditioned building.
Then there’s Chicago’s Trump International Hotel and Tower, completed in 2009. Upon opening, the 1,389-foot, 92-story tower was the second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere behind another legendary Chicago building, Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). The building’s design incorporates three setback features, each aligned with the height of a different nearby building, to provide visual continuity along the skyline.
This is just a small taste of what those who take the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise will see and learn, with more than 50 structures focused on. Tours are offered from mid-April to mid-November, anywhere from three times daily to thirteen times daily, depending on the season and day of the week. Tours are run by volunteer guides who want to share their love and passion for Chicago’s awe-inspiring architecture with the many tourists who take the journey each year.