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Taking in the sights and stories of Chicago's famed architecture

Illinois

Chicago’s First Lady Cruises: Touring Illinois’ Architectural Hub

By: Amy Nance

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    Illinois

Take in inspiring views of the city’s renowned architecture.

It’s one thing to gaze at Chicago’s famed skyline, and another altogether to view it on Chicago, Illinois’ popular architecture tour, the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, named by TripAdvisor reviewers as one of the Top 10 Tours in the USA. See the city’s iconic structures from the perspective of the Chicago River, where the skyline unfolds before you as you learn about each building’s architectural features and place in local history.

Close-Ups to the City’s Best Views

The cruise leaves from the Chicago Riverwalk – likely already a designated stop on your sightseeing itinerary and just off The Magnificent Mile. Once you’re on the river, you’ll chart a 90-minute course that cuts right through the interior of Chicago’s downtown, giving you a below-the-street perspective to the city’s towering skyline. From the river, you’re close enough to really appreciate the design of each structure you pass. And you’ll pass many, from historical buildings to new architecture, gaining a sense of scale as you look up at the dwarfing skyscrapers. It’s truly the best way to see the iconic buildings from all angles.

Sightseeing aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises

Sightseeing aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises
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Led By Experts

Don’t call them tour guides; on a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, they are docents. That’s because this is the only tour that partners with the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), who send their highly-trained volunteers to guide each tour. Every docent is an expert on Chicago and a master storyteller (to ensure there are future experts, a portion of each ticket sale goes towards supporting architecture education through CAF). As you float down the Chicago River, you’ll learn about dozens of buildings and come away with a rich experience of not only the city’s changing architecture, but its history, too.

Docents lead the way aboard a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise.

Docents lead the way aboard a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
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Touring in Style

The cruise vessel itself is something to marvel at. With an elegant interior full of seating options and an open-air upper deck that offers unfettered views of the city, it’s no surprise the ship is custom-designed. There’s a classic style and an attention-to-detail to every area of the vessel, from the climate-controlled and mahogany-accented interior salon to the spacious decks with guaranteed seats for everyone on the cruise. The ride is so smooth you’ll hardly notice you’re moving, while the leisurely speed gives you ample time to snap photos of each noteworthy structure.  Visit the full bar to cozy up with a local craft brew or drink a toast to your newfound appreciation for Chicago’s inspiring architecture.

Chicago’s First Lady Cruises navigate the Chicago River right in downtown.

Chicago’s First Lady Cruises navigate the Chicago River right in downtown
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Getting There

Reach the city of Chicago from international destinations via Chicago O’ Hare International Airport (ORD) and Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). Chicago’s First Lady Cruises docks along the Riverwalk, located in the heart of downtown.