One of the best ways to see Chicago is from the water. The city is home to two stunning waterfronts — the Chicago River and Lake Michigan — and each offers plenty of cruise options. Admire the skyline on a lakefront cruise, learn about the city’s iconic architecture on a Chicago River cruise, enjoy dinner and dancing aboard an all-glass vessel, sip cocktails on a tiki-themed boat, paddle your own kayak — the options are truly endless. Here’s your guide to Chicago lake and river cruises, boat tours, dinner cruises, and beyond.

See it all with Shoreline Sightseeing

Shoreline Sightseeing boat cruise on the Chicago River

One of Chicago’s classic cruise options, Shoreline Sightseeing covers all the bases. Their ultra-popular Architecture River Tour takes you on all three branches of the historic Chicago River takes you past dozens of landmark buildings.

They also offer skyline lake tours, plus specialty cruises and holiday events. Hop on a boat at Navy Pier or on Michigan Avenue.

Dine on the water with Odyssey Cruises

Odyssey River Cruise

Odyssey dining cruises are the perfect way to create a memorable moment in Chicago. Choose from a river or lake dining cruise, complete with delicious cuisine, cocktails, and entertainment.

Their glass-enclosed river vessel is particularly stunning. It offers passengers panoramic views of the city’s most iconic buildings as you glide along the Chicago River. They also offer a lakefront dinner cruise option that departs from Navy Pier.

Entertain the family with Wendella Boats

For three generations, Wendella has been cruising the Chicago water waters. With its variety of tour options, cruise times and lengths, and a heated, enclosed cabin, Wendella is a great choice for families looking for flexibility. They offer a variety of cruise options, including lake & river architecture, sunset cruises, and more.

Admire architecture with Chicago’s First Lady

An architecture boat cruise on the Chicago River

Around the world, Chicago is known for its outstanding architecture, and it’s easiest to admire the city’s legacy from the water. By partnering with the Chicago Architecture Center, Chicago’s First Lady offers the most comprehensive tour of the skyline — docents must train 100 hours before they can lead tours.

Speed across Lake Michigan on Seadog Boat Tours

Seadog Boat Tour

Are you up for a thrill? Race across Lake Michigan on SeaDog Cruises, featuring 30 minutes of high speeds and exhilarating twists and turns. Come prepared to get splashed.

SeaDog also offers lakefront speedboat tours and a river/lake architecture tour, featuring views of Chicago’s iconic Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, Museum Campus, and more.

Live it up on an Island Party Boat

Looking for a party? These tiki-themed boats are always a good time, offering drink packages, stellar views, and fun vibes. You can hop on an Island Party Boat at Monroe Harbor or the Chicago Riverwalk, which is also where you’ll find their beach-inspired bar Island Party Hut. Choose from a river cruise, lake cruise, tacky tour guide cruise, or even a dueling pianos cruise.

Chicago Fireboat Tours

Step onto a real, historic fireboat and get ready for a unique experience with Chicago Fireboat Tours. The river tours are given aboard a real piece of Chicago history — a retired fireboat that patrolled the Chicago from from 1937 to 1981. Tours are led by expert docents and include historic and sunset options.

Splurge on a Free Spirit Yacht Cruises
Free Spirit Yachts

Looking to splurge a little? These private yacht charters are the way to go. The spacious yachts comfortably fit up to 49 or 120 people, making them the perfect option for a large celebration or an intimate gathering. Premium bar and catering packages round out the experience.

Explore the Chicago River with Urban Kayaks

Kayaking in Chicago

If you’re ready to ditch the captain and explore the water on your own, then it’s time to grab a paddle at Urban Kayaks. You’ll go through a brief training session before you hit the water, but you’re free to paddle the river or lake at your own pace. Or join in a guided tour to catch the sunset, fireworks, or historic highlights. Rentals are available at the Chicago Riverwalk or Monroe Harbor.

Rent an electric boat

Chicago Electric Boat Company offers fun and unique ways to get out on the water, including donut boats, retro boats, and even a bike boat that your group can pedal down the Chicago River. Rental locations include Marina City, the Chicago Riverwalk, and Rockwell on the River in Avondale.

See the skyline aboard Mercury Cruises

While Chicago’s summer fireworks are already fun to watch, it’s an entirely new experience when you’re on a 3D tour. Before the show, you’ll cruise around the lake and see some of Chicago’s famous landmarks.

Mercury Cruises also offer Urban Adventure, Canine Cruises, and Chicago by Night tours.

Check out Chinatown via Chicago Water Taxi

Chicago Water Taxi Boat Tour
Chicago Water Taxi

Hop on! The Chicago Water Taxi is a fun and cheap way to get around Chicago. The Water Taxi stops at Ogilvie Transportation Center, Chinatown, Goose Island, the Chicago Riverwalk, Michigan Avenue, and River North. Get a one-way ticket for $6 or an all-day pass for $10. Check their daily routes and schedules for more details.

Learn the city’s history with Chicago Line Cruises

Since Chicago was established by Jean DuSable, the Chicago River has played an important role in the city’s development as a whole. On this tour, see exclusive photos from the Chicago History Museum archives, review the history of the Great Chicago Fire, and listen to stories about how the city we know today came into being. Complimentary coffee, tea, and cookies are provided.

Chicago Line Cruises also offers Chicago Architecture, Cocktail, and Architecture and Firework Cruises.