Navy Pier

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With year-round entertainment, a load of open space, world class shopping and dining, a children’s museum, and a 15-story Ferris wheel, Chicago’s Navy Pier is one of the premier tourist attractions in a city already full of them. Navy Pier offers visitors an all-day package with diverse options, all in one spot.

History

Located right on the banks of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is a physical pier and park area that spans a total of 50 acres in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood on its North Side. Its official address is 600 Grand Avenue and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

The history of Navy Pier begins with Daniel Burnham’s 1906 Plan of Chicago. Initially, the plan was to build several municipal piers on Lake Michigan, however, only this one was commissioned. Construction of what was then called Municipal Pier #2 began in 1914. Upon its official opening in 1916, Municipal Pier #2 was the largest pier in the world and used for multiple ends including both commercial and entertainment purposes.

Even in its earliest days, the main use of the pier was centered on public gathering since it provided open space as well as an opportunity to cool off before air conditioning was standard. By the 1920s, a theatre and emergency room were added to the area, along with a streetcar line which was placed to help residents easily access the area. In 1927, it was officially granted the name “Navy Pier” to honor the sailors of WWI who served and used the pier as a housing unit and Red Cross station from 1917-1918.

From the start, the pier was seen as a playground of sorts for Chicago city dwellers. It had several picnicking areas as well as pavilions, a dance hall, auditorium, and children’s playground. In addition, the hosting of the 1933 World’s Fair on the lakefront drew even more attention to the area drawing vendors and, eventually, many New Deal businesses.

World War II, unfortunately, changed the tone of Navy Pier for a while as the U.S. Navy needed to use the docks for official purposes. Navy Pier was closed to the public in 1941 and converted into a training center capable of housing 10,000 men. It remained a training facility through the war, but was officially released back to the city of Chicago in the middle of 1946.

Navy Pier Chicago

From then until the mid-1960s, the University of Illinois used the facilities built by the Navy as a classroom for returning veterans. Then, from that time though the 1980s, the pier was generally underused. Finally, a corporation called the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority took over and paved the way for the pier as we know it today. Their major renovations to the area lasted throughout the 1990s and cost well over $200 million. What’s left is the modern pier, featuring 50 acres of space which include parks and gardens alongside retail facilities and entertainment complexes. A 15-story Ferris wheel, IMAX Theatre, and the Chicago Children’s Museum were also added.

Main Attraction

The large physical area that constitutes Navy Pier means that there is a lot choose from when visiting. Seasonal entertainment includes a Shakespeare Theatre in the summer and ice rink in the winter, is complimented by year-round indoor activities such as IMAX and the Chicago Children’s Museum. In addition, the 170,000 square feet of exhibition space at Navy Pier invites travelling shows and rotating exhibits which offer new entertainment each time one visits the Chicago area.

In addition, during the warm months cruises are offered on Lake Michigan as well as fireworks displays over the water in the evening. Entertainment is also featured on a rotational basis from several stages, such as the Landshark Beer Garden, Pepsi Skyline Stage, and the Family Pavilion Stage. Dozens of dining and shopping options are also available year-round.

Why It’s a Must-See

There is always something to do and see at Chicago’s famed Navy Pier. With a rich history and an unlimited pool of permanent and rotational entertainment, a trip to Navy Pier while in Chicago is never a waste and will be and excellent addition to any vacation plan.

Where to Buy It


There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Navy Pier either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Navy Pier is available on the Go Chicago Card.