Chicago’s First Lady Architecture River Cruise Review

Are you thinking about taking a Chicago River cruise but not sure which company to go with? Interested in Chicago’s architecture and the stories behind them? I’ve got a tour for you.

Chicago is one of my favourite cities to visit in the USA. From its many parks and museums to its blues bars and hotdogs, there’s plenty to see, do, and eat in the Windy City. That said, taking a Chicago river cruise with Chicago’s First Lady architecture tour tops my list. Here’s why.

Home of the Skyscraper

When I think of skyscrapers, my mind immediately drifts to views of the New York City skyline. You might do the same however did you know the world’s first skyscraper was actually built in Chicago? With the construction of the Home Insurance Building by William Le Baron Jenney in 1885, Chicago transformed how city planning works. With that, its skyline (and every other skyline around the world) would never be the same.

Chicago Architecture Center

Naturally, there is some incredible history that comes with being the home of the skyscraper. At the Chicago Architecture Centre, visitors can dive deep into Chicago’s historic buildings along with other tall towers from around the world. You can wander its many exhibits including incredible scaled models of Chicago’s famous buildings. Don’t miss the gallery displaying the story on how Chicago became “The City of Architecture.“

Chicago First Lady Architecture River Cruise Review

With the Chicago River running through its downtown core, there’s no better way to experience the city’s incredible buildings and bridges than by boat. There are a few Chicago river cruise operators in town however there is no better operator than Chicago’s First Lady. Why? The Chicago First Lady is partnered with the Chicago Architecture Centre and provides trained tour guides to share interesting tidbits and stories behind the city, its river, and the many towers above.

On top of that, the boat itself is well equipped. There is plenty of outdoor and indoor seats, a bar, and restrooms. I recommend the bow views of for the bridges and city skyline from Lake Michigan near the end of the tour.

Notable Buildings on the Architecture River Cruise

With over 50 buildings along the river, there’s no shortage of interesting stories and structures. Here are some of my favourites from my Chicago River cruise with Chicago’s First Lady:

Tribune tower

Inspired by world-famous structures such as Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Pyramids, Tribune Tower certainly is one of the most unique buildings in town. Interestingly, the design was chosen by the Chicago Tribune newspaper through a competition they ran for their new home in 1922.

The Wrigley Building

Next door to the Tribune Tower is another unique Chicago skyscraper, the Wrigley Building. This complex is actually two towers connected by a walkway on the 14th floor. Built in the 1920s by the Wrigley company, this building was also the first in town with air-conditioning.

Wrigley Building at Night

Willis Tower

Once the world’s tallest building, today, the Willis Tower still dominate Chicago’s impressive skyline. Topping out at 1450 feet, it is the tallest structure in town.

After your Chicago First Lady cruise, I suggest heading up Willis Tower. There is a great observation deck and includes a glass viewing platform some 1,350 feet above the ground.

Merchandise Mart

This massive building spans two city blocks and boasts its own ZIP Code. At 4,000,000 ft.², it was once the biggest building in the world showing that Chicago can do more than build up.

Built in the 1930s to be a centralized marketplace, today much of this history and intention remains. It’s a business hub with tech and Fortune 500 companies taking up office space there. If you take the Chicago First Lady Architecturenight night tour, you can enjoy a part of the Art on the Mart, a video display projected on its façade.

Marina City

Designed as the first city within a city, a concept all to familiar now. This complex has amenities on site including a grocery store and bowling alley. Marina City makes my favourite list for its mesmerizing balconies. How cool is that?


With over 30 moveable bridges crossing the Chicago River, it’s hard to leave them off this list. Although DuSable Bridge is one of the most popular thanks to its Michigan ave location on at the mouth of the river, I enjoyed cruising under all of the bridges and seeing some open for tall ships to pass by.

Chicago First Lady Architecture River Cruise Details

There are, of course, many more interesting buildings and stories behind them in Chicago. For that reason, I highly recommend taking the Chicago’s First Lady Architecture river cruise. I have heard that tours and information really depend on who is running them that day. This means you can learn something new on each visit. I look forward to my return!

  • Daytime Cruise Tickets: $48.18 (plus tax)
  • Evening Cruise Tickets: $52.91 (plus tax)
  • Cruise Add on: $5 gets you access to the CAC
  • Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Dock: Northeast corner of Michigan Ave. & E. Wacker Dr.

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For more reviews from the USA and beyond see HERE.


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