Navy Pier is perhaps Chicago’s most historic landmark, with its evolution paralleling that of the city over the past century. Originally designed as a shipping and recreation hub, it transformed into a navy training base in WWII before evolving into modern-day Chicago’s playground. Whether you want to eat, drink or play, the 3,300 ft-long lakeside pier showcases the city’s vibrant energy and lust for shopping and entertainment.

Enjoy a fun-filled family weekend exploring the array of museums and attractions such as the Centennial Ferris Wheel and Amazing Chicago’s FunHouse Maze. Culture enthusiasts will be blown away by the shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and community-driven public art district. And all visitors can't leave without sampling the infamous Chicago foodie staples such as Garrett’s Popcorn and Giordano’s deep-dish pizza. With the perfect blend of rich history and endless entertainment options, it’s no wonder over 9 million people visit Navy Pier annually.

Navy Pier in Chicago - one of the highlights of 13 Things to Do with Your Family in Chicago and 12 Free Things to Do in Chicago (Read all about Chicago here)

What are the highlights of Navy Pier?

The centrepiece of the pier is the towering Centennial Wheel, built in 2016 to mark Chicago’s 200th anniversary. Open year-round, the enclosed gondolas provide riders with unmatched views of the Chicago skyline. After a ride on the wheel, take the kids to the immersive Chicago Children’s Museum located by the pier entrance. With its 3 floors of interactive exhibits such as dinosaur expeditions and a climbing jungle gym, your children will find endless activities to enjoy.

Make sure to take a walk along the southern boardwalk and check out the Chicago-centric shops showcasing local artisans and brands. Continue on, making your way to the east end of the pier where expansive city views await. This is best followed by a big plate of hearty local food before you find a scenic spot to enjoy the fireworks. For a classic Chicago-style dinner, grab a table at Giordano’s and dive into the best deep-dish pizza in the city or chow down on Forrest’s Seafood Feast at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

What are the popular events at Navy Pier?

Being the entertainment centre of Chicago, the Navy Pier hosts a plethora of seasonal events. Swing by in the summertime to catch the Pepsi Tall ship festivals, or sample your way down the boardwalk during Restaurant Week. Visit during the winter to catch the jolly Winter Wonderfest where you can go ice skating and take a ride on the Arctic Express Train.

But the real draw of Navy Pier is its epic fireworks displays. Time your visit on a Wednesday or Saturday to catch the weekly shows, or book a boat cruise for July 4th or New Year’s to experience the biggest fireworks shows in America from Lake Michigan. Popular local cruise operators are well-known Seadog and the Spirit of Chicago.

What's good to know about Navy Pier?

Visiting Navy Pier is completely free – it’s open year-round from dawn to dusk. Partner an exploration of the pier with a visit to iconic Grant Park, located within a 10-minute walk south. Meander through the beautiful rose gardens, take a picture of ‘The Bean’, and grab a drink at Cindy’s atop the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel to wrap up your stay in the Windy City.

Parking is challenging around the pier, so avoid the hassle and use the city's convenient public transport. The Chicago hop-on-hop-off bus is the best bang for your buck and drops you off right at the pier. A shoreline taxi is also available if you want to explore the Field Museum of Natural History area. Make sure to book tickets for the seasonal events in advance, especially the fireworks displays as they book up quickly.

Navy Pier in Chicago

Location: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

Open: Daily from 8 am to 10 pm

Phone: +1 312-595-7437

Ryan Thomas McNutt | Contributing Writer