You are here :Home > Major City > Chicago > Navy Pier in Chicago

History of the Navy Pier

Opened in 1916, the Navy Pier has served as a shipping and recreational facility, military training site, a venue for concerts and exhibitions and even as a temporary home to the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus. Abandoned through the 70s and 80s, the Navy Pier started to evolve into Chicago’s leading tourist attraction in 1989 thanks to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

Entrance of navy pier in chicago

Entrance of Chicago's Navy Pier

View of Navy Pier in chicago

Activities Galore in Navy Pier

View of Navy Pier in chicago

View of Navy Pier in Chicago

Entrance of navy pier in chicago Entrance of Chicago's Navy Pier
Credit: Choose Chicago View of Navy Pier in chicago Activities Galore in Navy Pier
View of Navy Pier in chicago View of Navy Pier in Chicago

The Navy Pier Attractions, Things to See

Today Navy Pier has not only become Chicago’s premiere entertainment center, but a location for trade shows and exhibits. Take a ride on the 15-story tall Ferris wheel or delight in the computerized fountain found in Gateway Park.

What to Expect at the Navy Pier

Wander the promenades, marvel in parks, gardens and structures, or explore the many shops and eateries during your two and a half hour visit to Navy Pier.  Navy Pier’s 50 acres of entertainment offer an unparalleled experience.


Gateway Park

The 19 acre Gateway Park serves as a west entrance to the Navy Pier. Not only does it enhance the city’s lake front view, but separates vehicles and pedestrians. Unique to the Gateway Park is its computerized fountain. Watch as computerized jet streams of various heights and sizes shoot out of the fountain.


North Dock

Stretching along the entire 3,000 foot pier, the North Dock was built to provide the pier with three on-Pier traffic lanes. The dock facilitates the flow of taxis, buses, delivery vehicles and private automobiles.


Family Pavilion

Main attractions at the Family Pavilion include the Chicago Children’s Museum and Navy Pier’s IMAX Theater. If you’re not interested in museums or films, you can explore the Crystal Gardens, an indoor botanical park, or the many shops and restaurants throughout.


South Arcade

Catch a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater or dine at one of South Arcade’s many restaurants. Situated just east of the Family Pavilion, the South Arcade offers sophisticated shops, restaurants and attractions. 


Navy Pier Park

Navy Pier Park will take you back to your childhood days. East of the Family Pavilion, this permanent outdoor fun fair includes a Ferris wheel, old-fashioned carousel, swing ride and 18-hole miniature golf course. It is also home to the Skyline Stage. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel for breathtaking panoramic views of the city, or enjoy an outdoor performance at the Skyline Stage.


Pepsi Skyline Stage

The only pavilion built directly on the lakefront, the Pepsi Skyline Stage features local and national acts throughout the year.

Dock Street

Designated for bicycles and pedestrians, you can stroll along Dock Street and marvel in jugglers, magicians, musicians and other street performers during the warm months of the year. Special firework shows can also be seen on Dock Street in the summer evenings.


Festival Hall

Carry on further east to Festival Hall. Used as an exposition and special events center, exhibits, trade shows, conferences, receptions and other meetings are regularly held at Festival Hall. Ask your tour guide if there are any events going on that might interest you.


Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

Visit America’s first stain glass window museum. Situated on the lower level terraces of Festival Hall, Diamond Tour customers benefit from free admission into the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Discover 150 Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary stain glass windows that have come from religious and secular settings.


Historic Buildings

Historic East End buildings have been preserved and their structures restored.  From the Terminal Building’s large meeting rooms to the wondrous Grand Ballroom that continues to serve as a banquet, performance and special events hall, you can admire the magnificent buildings that date back to 1916.


East End

Enjoy the best views of the city’s skyline and lakefront at the Navy Pier’s eastern edge. The ideal place for a sunset stroll, traditional lights line the wide, pedestrianized promenades that echo the Pier’s past.



From accessories to souvenirs, Navy Pier offers an abundance of unique shops that you won’t find anywhere else.


Apparel and Accessories

Find the perfect present in Y-Knot, where hundreds of novelty ties are available It will be hard to just pick one. If you’re touring Chicago in the summer, stop by Sun Cooler. With reasonably priced sunglasses for all ages, everyone can find the perfect pair of sunglasses. Discover unique jewelry that captures the beauty of the planet, from bangles to bags; Earthly Elements has it all. At shops like Bang-On and DC’s Mad Hatter create personalized t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.


Gifts and Collectibles

Shop for Chicago and Navy Pier paraphernalia at shops like Navy Pier Signature Store, Ahoy Chicago, Make History and Oh/Yes Chicago/Dog E Works. Treat someone special to luxury, handmade soaps from Abbey Brown Soap Artisan, take home lighthouse and nautical themed clocks, picture frames and other home décor from Chicago Lighthouse, or browse through the many key chains and refrigerator magnets at Magnetic Attraction.



Discover unique imports from around the world. Premium silk and cotton clothing from India can be found in Fashion Bazaar and Sitara, Irish Imports offer crystal, china, jewelry and apparel that are sure to bring you the luck of the Irish and decorative home and fashion accessories from Asia can be found in the Oriental Arts Center.



Have a relaxing meal with friends and family at one of Navy Pier’s restaurants, or grab something on the go in the food court; the variety of cuisines at Navy Pier are sure to satisfy any palate. 


Bubba Gump

Located at the Family Pavilion, Bubba Gump offers entertainment and great food for everyone. Try Bubba Gump specials like Shrimp New Orleans and Shrimp Scampi, fish entrees, southern classics and homemade desserts.


Harry Caray’s Tavern

Harry Caray’s Tavern isn’t just a restaurant, but also boasts a premier sports museum. Enjoy an extensive menu including wraps, sandwiches, pastas, salads and homemade pizzas as you admire the surrounding sports memorabilia.


Riva Crab House/ Riva Café

Marvel in views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan as you indulge in premium steaks, fresh seafood and the chef’s daily specials at this Phil Stefani signature restaurant. While Riva Crab House located on the upper level offers fine dining, a more casual dining experience awaits you on the lower level Riva Café.


Food Court

There is a lot to see at the Navy Pier, so it’s understandable if you want to eat your lunch on the go. Try Carnelli’s gourmet sandwiches, pasta salads and signature chicken noodle soup. If you want to try something different, Greek Delight offers gyros sandwiches, Greek salads and pork and chicken kabobs. King Wah Express, direct from Chinatown, offers all of your oriental favorites.  Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, Ben & Jerry’s, Jamba Juice and Starbucks can be found in the food court and all offer a variety of yummy treats. 

Travel Tips

-Navy Pier is handicapped accessible and offers courtesy wheelchairs to its visitors on a first come, first served basis. Wheelchairs can be rented from the Guest Service Desk located at the main entrance of Navy Pier. Ensure you bring a photo ID as wheelchairs cannot be loaned out to those who do not have one.


-Stretching over 50 acres, there is a lot you can see and do at Navy Pier. Make sure you plan your time accordingly, so that you can get the most out of your time at Navy Pier.