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Navy Pier Chicago: An Entertainment Mecca Along the Lake

What do fine dining, thrill rides and Shakespeare have in common? The answer would be nothing if not for Navy Pier Chicago, a 50-acre lakefront collection of shops, eateries and entertainment that brings in a whopping 8.6 million visitors a year, making it the No. 1 tourist destination in the Midwest.

The 1.5-mile-long Navy Pier currently offers rides, restaurants, exhibitions, boat cruises, theater, shopping and nightlife to entertain tourists and locals alike.  But the historic pier wasn’t always an entertainment mecca. 

Originally completed in 1916 at a cost of $4.5 million, it was designed as a recreational pier with passenger and freight ship docking facilities. During Word War 1 the pier housed regiments of soldiers, recruits and Red Cross workers; in 1927, it was renamed Navy Pier in honor of those who served during the war. 

Over the next 70 years, the pier was used as a pilot training facility (up to 200 WW II planes still lie at the bottom of Lake Michigan as a result of training accidents), a University of Illinois campus, and a convention center. In 1994 the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority allocated $150 million to redevelop the area into a year-round entertainment facility, opening its doors to the public in July 1995.

The pier’s most famous attraction is now the 15-story Ferris wheel, which offers riders breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline and lake. The carousel, miniature golf, fun house, free musical and theatrical performances, and Chicago’s Children’s Museum all keep kids happy, but there’s also loads to do for adults.

There’s also the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, IMAX, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, live concerts and nightlife at the pier, along with dozens of restaurants (from fast-food to fine dining) and shops offering souvenirs and collectibles. If the offerings on the pier aren’t enough, then step aboard one of the many boats docked along it for a harbor tour or dinner cruise.

Since it is a tourist destination, dining, activities and parking can be pretty pricey. But, the pier is one-stop shopping for family amusement, and a romantic destination for those looking for a night out. 

So go for the attractions, stay for the view, and don’t forget the free nighttime firework shows throughout the summer. Now that’s entertaining.

Posted on April 1, 2009 by D.J. Siegel
dining rides nightlife theater free shopping


Navy Pier Chicago
600 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL

(312) 595-PIER


Getting Here
Navy Pier is located along the downtown Chicago lake front between E. Illinois St. and E. Grand Ave.

Garage parking available

Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday/Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
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