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Are you looking for a list of things to do at Navy Pier Chicago?
This article will take a look at the top 10 most exciting and memorable things to do at Navy Pier Chicago!
As one of the most family-friendly cities in the U.S., there are so many things to do in Chicago, especially when visiting Chicago with kids.
Read here to discover Navy Pier hours, what to expect, as well as how to plan your visit when considering what to do at Navy Pier Chicago.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through a link. All photos are courtesy of Choose Chicago unless otherwise noted.
Navy Pier Chicago
Located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Midwest USA, Chicago, Illinois is a glorious city with a population of 3 million people.
As a popular urban vacation destination, Chicago tops most people’s US bucket lists for its widespread appeal and multitude of things to do.
By far, one of the best things to do in Chicago is to visit Navy Pier!
Navy Pier is home to a large outdoor green space, called Polk Bros Park as well as a 3,300-foot pier that stretches out from Chicago’s shoreline into Lake Michigan.
The pier is located at 600 E. Grand Avenue and is easily accessible via walking paths, car, or public transportation.
Attractions at Navy Pier include restaurants, shopping, outdoor carnival rides, a Ferris wheel, Navy Pier events, scenic boat tours, and a Navy Pier hotel.
As the most exciting place that we visited during our Chicago 3-day itinerary, let’s take a look at the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids!
And psst…We LOVE Chicago so much, that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan your trip!
- Our Complete 3-Day Chicago Family Vacation Guide
- What to do in Chicago in Winter (+ 3-Day Itinerary)
- What to Wear in Chicago: A Visitor’s Guide for Every Season!
- Top 5 Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Downtown Chicago
- 25 Things to do in Chicago at Night
- 13 Famous Chicago Foods to Try!
1. Enjoy the Carnival Rides at Pier Park
There is no admission fee to enter Navy Pier Chicago, Illinois. Attractions within Navy Pier may have admission prices and those prices can be obtained from each individual attraction’s box office.
If you’re considering what to do in Chicago, you’ll find plenty and fun and nostalgia at Navy Pier’s Pier Park – a kid-friendly collection of outdoor carnival rides.
In addition, if you’re looking for ideas on what to do at Navy Pier with kids, this is the place!
The Pier Park rides resemble the classic feeling of what a ‘pier’ should look and feel like.
Likewise, the brightly colored rides and carnival music amplify both nostalgia and fun!
Rides include the Pepsi Wave Swinger, Navy Pier Carousel, and Light Tower.
Additional attractions in Pier Park include a climbing wall, Virtual Rush: Chicago, and remote control boats.
Additional planning tips: Please note that Pier Park rides are seasonal and are open from late spring to early fall.
During this time, they occasionally close due to weather-related conditions such as lightning, high winds, and extreme cold. (P.S. It’s important to read about what to wear when visiting Chicago as the weather is always quite unpredictable.)
Tickets for Pier Park can be purchased at the Pier Park box office or online.
In addition, tickets can be purchased individually or bundled in a Play the Park Pass for added convenience and value.
Guests may call 312-594-PIER to inquire about prices and the operational status of Pier Park rides and attractions on the day of your visit.
2. Chicago Children’s Museum
Chicago’s Children’s Museum is one of the most recommended attractions at Navy Pier with kids!
It is an interactive 4-story museum and appeals to a wide variety of ages including toddlers and school-age children.
Plan to spend 1-2 hours here, though many families with small children find that their kids are entertained here for much longer.
Favorite activities include Kids’ Town (a grocery store, a construction zone, car wash, gas station, city bus, etc.), a dinosaur exhibit, and a water play area.
The water play area consists of a large table of running water with a system of pipes that children can manipulate.
Check the Chicago Children’s Museum for their hours of operation which vary per season.
Tickets for children and adults are $19 apiece, and children under 1-year-old are free.
3. Eat a Chicago Hot Dog
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Chicago that the whole family will love, be sure to indulge in Chicago’s most famous foods!
Do so by stopping to eat a Chicago hot dog at America’s Dog & Burger (located in the center food court area) at Navy Pier.
The classic version of the Chicago hot dog is an all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, relish, diced onions, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, sport peppers, a dash of celery salt — and most importantly, no ketchup.
Though it sounds like an interesting (and perhaps surprising) mash-up of ingredients, the flavor combinations of the Chicago hot dog are impeccable and should not be missed!
There’s something about the ambiance of being on a pier that makes the experience of eating a Chicago hot dog all the more special!
4. Ride the Centennial Wheel
Navy Pier’s most visible attraction is the gigantic Centennial Wheel Ferris wheel that stretches over 200 feet up into the Chicago skyline.
As one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids, the Centennial Wheel provides riders with a 360 degrees view of Chicago and Lake Michigan.
Kids love the safe feeling of the completely enclosed gondolas as well as the fact that the 8-passenger gondolas can likely fit all or most of their family.
The Centennial Wheel is open year-round and is one of the best things to do in Chicago in winter!
Its climate-controlled gondolas provide a comfortable ride and an especially beautiful view of the holiday lights during wintertime.
Purchase Navy Pier Ferris wheel tickets online or at the Pier Park box office.
Navy Pier Ferris wheel price options General admission, Fastpass, and VIP buy-outs
Additional planning tip: As one of the best things to do in Chicago at night, consider riding the Centennial Wheel after dark! (The Navy Pier Centennial Wheel is open until 10 PM and 12 AM on certain evenings.)
5. Visit the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze
A less talked about thing to do at Navy Pier Chicago is to visit the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze.
Plan to get lost, feel dizzy, play games, and be surprised throughout this 4,000 sq ft. interactive play area.
The endless mirrors and flashing lights may be scary for little ones, however. (Children under age 5 should not go in the maze.) Likewise, the experience can be too intense for those with sensory sensitivities as it does contain strobe lighting and lasers.
Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze is located halfway down the pier past Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The maze is self-paced and takes approximately 15-25 minutes to complete.
6. Go on a Boat Tour
One of our favorite Navy Pier Chicago attractions is to go on a boat tour!
Several sightseeing cruises depart directly from Navy Pier to get up-close views of Chicago’s unique architecture and famous landmarks.
The Tall Ship Windy, for example, provides daily storytelling adventures Friday night Pirate Pub Sails.
Because kids, boats, and water all go hand-in-hand, embarking on a narrated boat tour is one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago!
“From speed boats to pub sails, and from tall ships to pirate tales”, there is a Navy Pier boat tour designed for everyone.
Visit the Navy Pier Architecture and Sightseeing Cruises homepage to discover options and purchase tickets for these great family-friendly attractions!
7. Watch the Free Fireworks
Another one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago is to watch their free fireworks.
Perfectly synchronized to music over Lake Michigan, the Navy Pier fireworks show takes place every Wednesday at 9:30 PM and every Saturday at 10:15 PM.
The fireworks are seasonal from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
8. Enjoy Mouth-Watering Food
Chicago is well-known for its amazing food and delicious dining options!
It just so happens that many of these local delicacies are located within the shared indoor space of Navy Pier.
The feast of restaurants at Navy Pier includes the iconic Harry Caray’s Tavern and Giordano’s Pizza, as well as Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, just to name a few.
Stop by for cheese curds at Tiny Tavern, award-winning fried chicken at Big City Chicken, Chicago-famous Garrett’s Popcorn, or a custom cupcake at Brown Sugar Bakery.
You are not short on options when it comes to enjoying mouth-watering food at Chicago’s Navy Pier!
Additional planning tip: Check out our list of the top 5 most kid-friendly restaurants in downtown Chicago!
9. Attend a Performance at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Another option for an awesome Navy Pier Chicago attraction is to attend a live theatrical performance!
Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) is a non-profit, professional theater company located in the heart of Navy Pier.
With rave reviews regarding both production value and its exceptional staff service, Chicago Shakespeare Theater is also praised for its physical grandeur.
CST has an entire series of productions specifically designed with family enrichment and entertainment in mind.
The CST Family Series presents a mixture of kid-friendly Shakespeare productions, timeless fables and fairy tales, interactive music concerts, and musical theater.
For these reasons and more, Chicago Shakespeare Theater is consistently rated as one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids.
Click here to discover plays, events, and ticketing information.
10. Visit Navy Pier During the Holidays
Visiting Chicago during the winter holiday season and attending Light Up the Lake is one of the best things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with kids.
Light Up the Lake is a holiday festival that typically runs from late November to early January (check the Navy Pier website for future dates and times).
Enjoy an indoor experience featuring a sprawling light garden of large-scale sculptures, a massive Alpine ice rink, an authentic holiday beer garden, kiddie train rides, Santa’s Merry Main Street and gift market, and other family-friendly activities.
Tickets start at just $13.50, including a ride on the iconic Centennial Wheel.
Additional planning tip: Crowds are exceptionally large on the weekends all throughout December, so do plan accordingly.
There are also special events held for Navy Pier Halloween on Saturdays in October.
Navy Pier Hours
Navy Pier is free and open to the public year-round.
Before you visit Navy Pier in Chicago, be sure to check their general operating hours for specific Navy Pier attractions as hours vary depending on the seasons and may be subject to change.
In general, most merchants, including all retail shops and food court eateries close at 7 PM on weekdays, and 9 PM on weekends.
Guests are encouraged to contact full-service restaurants, boats, and theaters regarding their individual operating hours.
Additional planning tip: If you’re looking for Navy Pier offers, they have recently launched Pier Perks—a new discount program featuring a wide range of deals and discounts on boat cruises, dining, and retail.
In addition, if you’re looking for things to do at Navy Pier this weekend, check out their upcoming events page.
Navy Pier History
An important part of Navy Pier history, it was previously known as Municipal Pier and was renamed Navy Pier in 1927.
This was done to honor the Navy veterans who worked here during the First World War.
What was once a military station and Navy pilot training facility, Navy Pier has since been transformed into an entertainment district that is home to rides, restaurants, shops, and attractions.
Since its transformation, Chicago Navy Pier is now the most popular place to visit in Chicago for visitors of all ages.
If you like our article on what to do in Chicago: Top 10 Things to do at Navy Pier Chicago with Kids, check out our related posts:
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- A Complete Chicago 3-Day Itinerary for Families
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*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts. In addition, book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours here.*
Love Chi town with kiddos – great recs.
Thank you! We can’t wait to go back!
Looks like a fun place to take the kids, so much to do.
Yes! You should definitely check it out sometime 🙂
We loved Navy Pier when we visited years ago, I’d love to go back and see it at Christmas, it looks even more magical!
Yes, Navy Pier at Christmas is amazing. The whole downtown Chicago is actually transformed during the holidays and is absolutely spectacular. I’d highly recommend checking it out!
Those fireworks are spectacular! Looks like a wonderful place to visit!
Yes, the fireworks are amazing! It is definitely one of the family-friendly highlights of a trip to Chicago!
Last time we visited Navy Pier, we didn’t get to do that much, just stroll around. Saving this post for when we return to Chicago with kids.
Awesome! Despite that we did do a lot the first time we were there, I think it is definitely a place that we will return (and do the same…and more!) Have a great day!
Navy Pier sounds amazing! I would love to try the boat tour!
As one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is literally so beautiful! And the kids were thrilled with the boat tour too!
We missed the Navy Pier due to rain during our visit and I’m so bummed! So we’re gonna hit all these fun things to do on our next visit to Chicago!!
Yes, you’ll definitely need to plan a visit here! As you can see, there is literally so much to do! Lots of memories made at Navy Pier!!
Navy Pier is the perfect place for families. This post covers it all and honestly I never realized how many things there are to do right there! As many times as what I’ve been to Chicago, I’ve only been to Navy Pier once!! Great post!
Lori, thanks for the great feedback! Yes, Navy Pier is perfect for families as is a visit to Chicago overall!
These look like such fun things to do on Navy Pier!
Yes! Navy Pier is awesome! Chicago was one of our kids’ favorite family vacations!!!