One of the best times to experience summer in Chicago is the Fourth of July. The whole city takes on a festive vibe and it’s the perfect excuse to spend the whole weekend enjoying everything Chicago has to offer. Explore river and lake cruises, waterfront fireworks, music and food festivals, waterfront adventures, and so many more things to do in Chicago during the Fourth of July.

See the spectacular fireworks

NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier

Head to the lake to catch the waterfront fireworks display in Chicago during the Fourth of July weekend. Navy Pier, an iconic Chicago destination, puts on the annual show as part of their beloved free summer fireworks series.

You can catch the display from Navy Pier or along the nearby lakefront, including beaches, rooftop bars, and parks. You can also hop on one of the many boat cruises offering a front-row seat to the action.

Attend the NASCAR Street Race Weekend

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

This Fourth of July weekend, don’t miss an exhilarating racing event coming to Chicago’s scenic lakefront. NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend (July 6 – 7, 2024) brings the sites, sounds, and thrills of NASCAR to the streets of downtown Chicago, with two days of can’t-miss races in a festival-like atmosphere. The event will also include live music from top artists like The Chainsmokers, The Black Keys, Keith Urban, and Lauren Alaina. 

Take a Fourth of July boat cruise

Seadog cruise
Seadog Cruise

Nothing says “holiday weekend” like a leisurely boat cruise. In Chicago, you can gaze up at skyscrapers on the river or admire the skyline from the blue waters of Lake Michigan. Whether you want to learn a little history or drink and dance the night away, there’s a Chicago cruise for you this Fourth of July weekend.

  • City Experiences lake cruises: Dine on the water with these upscale cruises. Choose from premier brunch, lunch, and dinner Fourth of July cruises, all with stunning skyline views.
  • Shoreline Sightseeing lake and river cruises: Learn all about Chicago’s iconic architecture on a classic Shoreline Sightseeing cruise.
  • Chicago Seadog lake and river cruises: Get your adrenaline pumping on an exhilarating lakefront cruise. Seadog offers high-speed boat rides that take you along the gorgeous Chicago skyline.
  • Chicago’s First Lady river cruises: Hear the fascinating stories behind the city’s most famous buildings on these top-rated architecture cruises led by expert Chicago Architecture Center docents.
  • Wendella Boats: Wendella offers a variety of flexible cruise options, including a narrated architecture tour of the lake, river, or both.

Explore more Chicago boat cruises on the lake and river.

Explore the Chicago Riverwalk

Where else can you find an urban canyon filled with delicious food, cocktails, public art, architecture, and stunning views? The Chicago Riverwalk is one of the city’s top destinations, whether you’re looking for an unforgettable meal or a scenic stroll. Check out the waterfront restaurants and bars, and come back after dark for Art on theMART, the world’s largest video art projection.

Go to the beach

Volleyball at North Avenue Beach
Photo by Adam Alexander

It’s a long weekend, so make sure to save some time to kick back and relax on one of Chicago’s scenic beaches. There are more than two dozen free public beaches along the city’s sandy shoreline. Grab some friends and play a round of beach volleyball, get a tropical drink at a waterfront bar, or just hang out in the sand and enjoy the city views.

And there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the vast waters of Lake Michigan. You can rent a variety of equipment right on the beach at 31st Street Harbor, including jet skis, kayaks, and paddleboards. There are also banana boat rides, paddleboard yoga, water jetpacks, and more. Plus, the skyline view from the lake is spectacular.

Catch a baseball game

Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field; photo by Matt Alaniz

There’s no better place to spend a summer afternoon than the ballpark. Chicago’s iconic Chicago Cubs will play home games over the holiday weekend at Wrigley Field from July 3 – 7. Their ballpark is one of the oldest and most iconic stadiums in the country — definitely a bucket list experience for any baseball fan. Afterward, spend some time exploring lively Wrigleyville.

Kayak the river

The Chicago River is buzzing with activity during the summer. Rent a kayak with Urban Kayaks and paddle through the heart of the city, past the bustling Riverwalk and some of the city’s most iconic buildings. You can also join a guided tour that explores the Chicago River and Lake Michigan shoreline.

Explore Navy Pier

Chicago water taxi parked at Navy Pier

One of the city’s most popular attractions is Navy Pier, a lakefront oasis with something for everyone. Check out things to do at Navy Pier:

Visit a patio or rooftop

Aba Rooftop Patio
Photo by Jeff Marini

Chicago’s many patios and rooftops offer acclaimed food and drink with a side of killer views. Enjoy cocktails with sweeping river views at LH Rooftop, fun vibes and table games at Utopian Tailgate, street tacos and pitchers of margaritas at Big Star, and cozy vibes and top-notch cuisine at The Duck Inn. Explore Chicago restaurants with some of the best outdoor seating.

Walk or bike the lakefront

Fullerton Beach Skyline
Photo by Adam Alexander

Chicago’s gorgeous Lakefront Trail stretches almost 20 miles along Lake Michigan, offering stunning skyline views and connecting you to an array of sandy beaches and unique neighborhoods. Go for a scenic stroll, or rent a bike and pedal your way around.

Rent a boat


Be captain for a day with your very own boat rental. Charter a private yacht with Free Spirit Yacht Cruises for a luxurious Fourth of July experience. Island Party Boats offers boat rentals that include a captain, booze, and even a waterslide. Or cruise along the river in an affordable and eco-friendly electric boat from Chicago Electric Boat Company.