Chicago – Day Two – Architecture River Tour

Any other day in November and it would have really been too cold to enjoy a 90-minute boat ride in and around Chicago. However, on this particular day, the stars aligned and it was absolutely beautiful.

Preparing for the Architecture Boat Tour in Chicago
Thanks to Random Esquire for taking this great photo of us on Michigan Avenue, overlooking the Chicago River below…the starting point for our Architecture Boat Tour.

Myself, Sunshine, and Random Esquire were fresh off our morning spent at the Shedd Aquarium and decided to go on one of the many Architecture Boat Tours that Chicago has to offer. This one, in particular, would not only take us up and down the Chicago River, but also out onto Lake Michigan to provide even more incredible views of this incredible city.

View of the Chicago River from the bridge on Michigan Avenue.
View of the Chicago River from the bridge on Michigan Avenue.

The beauty of the tour is that not only are you enjoying fantastic views from a unique vantage-point, but you’re also learning a LOT of really interesting facts about how the city of Chicago rebuilt itself after the devastating fire of 1871 that burned over 3 square miles of the downtown area.

One of the facts I remember is that the Chicago River, at one time, was so polluted from sewage spewed out by the booming Chicago industrial industry that fires would actually start spontaneously on the water. That was one of the reasons (of many) that led to the reversing of the actual flow of the river back in 1900…a spectacular feat that is still impressive today.

A photo of "Marina City" from the Chicago River. Although there are docks under Marina Towers, there are no transient docks available; therefore, you cannot enjoy these restaurants while on your boat. There also used to be a fueling dock but it is no longer operational.
A photo of “Marina City” from the Chicago River. Although there are docks under Marina Towers, there are no transient docks available; therefore, you cannot enjoy these restaurants while on your boat. There also used to be a fueling dock but it is no longer operational.
The unique view of Adams Street in Chicago from the Chicago River.
The unique view of Adams Street in Chicago from the Chicago River.
The Chicago Merchandise Mart...an incredible structure with over four million square feet of floor space.
The Chicago Merchandise Mart…an incredible structure with over four million square feet of floor space.

Some of the buildings we saw were not only beautiful, though. Stories were woven throughout the tour and my interest never waned. Buildings with their own zip codes…buildings considered the ugliest in Chicago…buildings held by a suspension system similar to a bridge…so much history and information that I found utterly fascinating.

Inside the Chicago Lock.

We made our way out to Lake Michigan, stopping in the Chicago Lock (pictured left) to make the transition. Because the lake has a higher elevation than the river (and to continue the whole “flow reversal” thing), the Chicago Lock is an area that encloses a boat and opens slightly to let in the water from the lake so that the water level ends up being the same.

Opening the Chicago Lock
If you look closely at the photo right in the middle, you can see the water level differential between the lake and the river.

Once on Lake Michigan, the views of the city were absolutely spectacular…

The view of Millennium Park and Downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan.
The view of Millennium Park and Downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan.
The Adler Planetarium, a planetarium and astronomy museum.
The Adler Planetarium, a planetarium and astronomy museum.
The Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan
The Chicago Skyline from Lake Michigan
The view of Navy Pier from Lake Michigan.
The view of Navy Pier from Lake Michigan.

We made our way back in from the lake and cruised back to the point of origin, which was right beneath Michigan Avenue. I have to be honest…I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the tour when I was planning to come to Chicago. I can’t tell you how happy I was to be wrong because this, without a doubt, was one of the most fascinating tourist attractions I’ve ever been on. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I thoroughly enjoy architecture…but the history of the city told through the tour made for a unique experience I’m not soon to forget.

One of my favourite shots of Chicago from my architecture boat tour on Lake Michigan.
One of my favourite shots of Chicago from my architecture boat tour on Lake Michigan.
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