Navy Pier: The People’s Pier

navy pierNavy Pier is the place for events, free public events, attractions, culture, food, shopping and more in Chicago. Whether you are a visitor or a local person, with family or friends, this is where fun lives.

The People’s Pier, a non-profit organization, offers a wide range of activities and experiences that fuel the imagination and stimulate the senses. Whether you’re driving and parking, traveling on the CTA, riding your bike or renting a Divvy, or taking the Shoreline Water Taxi, there’s no bad way to reach the People’s Pier.

What is there to do at Navy Pier?

Whether you’re just in town for a day or are a lifetime resident, Chicago cruises and tours are a wonderful way to explore the sights, learn something new or enjoy a unique experience.

Lake Michigan and Chicago River cruises leaving Navy Pier offer you a memorable experience for all of you, from laid-back sightseeing cruises and elegant dining cruises to heart pumping thrills to upscale private charters.

A number of tours in Chicago include Chicago Big Bus Tours, helicopter tours and food tours are easily accessible on the Navy Pier. Bicycles can also be rented lakeside for a self-guided tour.


  • America’s Dog & Burger
  • Billy Goat Tavern & Grill
  • Completely Nuts, Inc.
  • FRÍO Gelato®
  • Garrett Popcorn Shops
  • Harry Caray’s Tavern
  • I Dream of Falafel
  • Kilwin’s Chocolates Fudge & Ice Cream
  • The Original Rainbow Cone
  • Xurro


  • Speedboat Tours and Thrill Rides
  • Fireworks Cruises
  • Brunch, Lunch and Dinner Cruises
  • Architecture & Sightseeing Cruises
  • Bike & Roll Chicago
  • Chicago Helicopter Tours


  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • The AMC Navy Pier IMAX Theatre
  • Gift Shops


Two exhibit halls, 36 meeting rooms, Miller Lite Beer Garden, Crystal Gardens, the historic Aon Grand Ballroom and Lakeview Terrace are among our event venues, all overlooking the lakefront with unparalleled views of the beautiful skyline of Chicago. For trade and consumer shows, conferences, business meetings and special occasions of any size, these dramatic and varied event venues are ideal. The flexible, mixed-use meeting space combines all at your fingertips with the Pier’s leisure, dining and entertainment options.

Navy Pier has a dedicated and skilled event team in addition to distinctive space that will assist you every step of the way to ensure flawless coordination, seamless execution and guarantee your event’s success. Navy Pier provides the Festival Hall complex and the Aon Grand Ballroom with a range of amenities, including on-site exhibition and audio visual services, on-site enclosed parking and covered drop-off areas.

History of Navy Pier

Navy Pier is Chicago’s hallmark of adaptive reuse, ranging from the naval base and the university campus to the shipping hub and entertainment destination. The pier has continued to change and accommodate new demands despite several periods of desertion and disuse.

Every year, millions and millions of tons of freight arrived in Chicago through water at the turn of the 20th century. Architect Daniel Burnham’s famous 1909 Plan of Chicago called for two piers along Chicago’s Avenue and Cermak Road, which were in need to accommodate all this activity. He thought that the piers might both serve as shipping docks and as recreational hubs on the lake. City planners liked the idea of Burnham so much that they proposed the construction of 5 piers. A  couple of years after Burnham’s death, architect Charles Sumner Frost was hired to design the first pier, later called Navy Pier. It had two floors of passenger and freight sheds, bookended by a classically designed head house and a large, beautiful ballroom, when it opened its doors in 1916. The wooden board floor and the metal frame of the pier have been built on 20000 wooden piles that were dug into the lakebed. Named Municipal Pier No. 2 for the first decades of its existence, it has become a mix of business and entertainment- with many cargo and hiking ships coming through every day. The pier was a welcome addition to the city, with its picnic areas, playground and road access, and the solution it provided to the congestion on Chicago river docks.


As automobiles became more popular and the Great Depression began, transport slowed and in turn, the pier became less animated. Plans were nixed by the town for the other four piers. Eventually, buildings were being added to the pier so that during both World Wars it could become a military training center.  During WWI, soldier barracks were housed at the pier and a men’s prison for those who tried to avoid the draft. It was a full naval base for the Second World War. The United States Navy in 1941  turned the pier into a training facility that has seen as many as 60,000 service men pass through.

Later Use

The war led to the establishment of a University of Illinois satellite campus on the pier by the influx of veterans enrolling into school under the GI Bill. Between 1946 and 1965 there were approximately 100,000 students. The 3,300-foot structure fell into disuse when the campus moved off the pier. This important activity returned to the jetty only in 1976 to celebrate America’s Biennial. The Grand Ballroom was rebuilt and the jetty was declared a landmark in Chicago. In the end of the 1970s and early 1980s also the launch of ChicagoFest, the annual music festival, was a boost. But there was another decade of withdrawal when the party ceased.

In 1995, the project was completed and redesigned by the VOA and the Benjamin Thompson partners. The Children’s Museum, the Crystal Garden, the Festival Hall and the Ferris Wheel were established. The pier has been used since then exclusively as a place of entertainment. In 1999, the Shakespeare Theater in Chicago moved to the pier, adding a further venue. In 2016, James Corner Field Operations redesigned the pier and added a big step onto the new 200-foot Centennial Wheel and the Polk Bros. The pier recently saw a new upturn. Foundation Park near the entrance with a wide participatory well and two entertainment stages. The Chicago Shakespeare yard is the most recent addition to the ever-developing pier, an innovative theater with nine mobile chair towers. More improvements along the pier and a new boutique hotel are planned for the future.

The Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

A man named George Washington Gale Ferris would alter the world during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago by unveiling a machine that would alter the world as we knew it. Here in Chicago, the first ever Ferris Wheel was created. This legendary structure was intended as a direct response to the Eiffel Tower, which was unveiled in Paris, France at the 1889 Exposition. This revolutionary machinery, 250 feet in diameter, has inspired smaller varieties to pop up around the globe.

This Ferris Wheel was the inspiration for the Ferris Wheel at the Navy Pier. This Ferris wheel opened its doors on July 1, 1995. One complete rotation took 7 minutes with a diameter of 140 feet. 40 gondolas were there, each holding 6 passengers. Clinton Sheperd, the operations manager, set the Guinness world record on this Ferris Wheel for the longest marathon ride of a fairground attraction at 48 hours. Years later, the Ferris Wheel began to demonstrate its age. It was later torn down in 2015, on September 27th.

On May 27, 2015, the Ferris Wheel, which currently resides at the Navy Pier, opened. The Dutch Wheel 60, the only one in the country, is the model for this Ferris Wheel. This structure is in itself a marvel. It is 196 feet tall, 525 tons in weight, and holds more than 414 passengers. The structure is so safe that winds over 100 mph can withstand it. It’s so massive that support beams extend through the pier and into the bedrock.

Navy Pier References

Ford, Dustin. “History of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel.” Concierge Preferred, 17 Aug. 2019,

“Navy Pier.” Navy Pier, 2020,

“—.” Chicago Architecture Center, Accessed 9 Dec. 2020.

Driving Directions

Navy Pier
600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611