We wrapped up a visit to the Chicago History Museum in the mid-afternoon and pow-wowed about what we should do next. We didn’t have enough time to dive into another museum as they almost all close at 5:00 pm, and it was an beautiful, sunny day, so we decided to head over to the Magnificent Mile and Chicago’s riverwalk to see about doing an Architecture Boat Tour. Several of our friends said the boat tours are something that is not to be missed.
Our cab driver dropped us off just outside the iconic Wrigley building and a kiosk for the Wendella Boat Tours and the Chicago Architectural Tour just happened to be right in front of us, so we fought our urge to follow the incredible smells wafting out of the Ghirardelli store, and went to chat with a tour representative. Rates for the tour weren’t bad and they had one leaving in about 45 minutes, so we grabbed tickets and hopped in line. We always arrive early and get in line early so we’re one of the first people in line. This makes sure we always get our pick of seats!
Because it was a holiday weekend, the tours were running behind and our wait ended up being over an hour instead of 45 minutes. I was hot and thirsty. Thankfully we could purchase drinks on the boat — although maybe that’s their strategy! We snagged our seats, waited for the boat to finish boarding, and soon we were gliding down the river on Chicago’s Original Architecture Tour — it felt like we were in an urban canyon, with tall buildings, one after the other, lining the river to make the canyon walls.
The views from the Architecture Tour boat were stunning and our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.
As we navigated all three branches of the Chicago River, we learned about the history of the buildings and the people/architecture firms that designed and built them, and heard fascinating stories about how the cityscape has changed over the years, how much buildings and even townhouses cost to construct.
Huge thanks to our friends who recommended this family-friendly activity! It was just as amazing as they said it would be.
History of Wendell Boat Tours
In 1934, a private boat was brought to Dock 36 at Navy Pier for major repairs at Chris-Craft Motor Boat Sales And Serve. After determining that the wooden vessel would be too costly to repair, the owner put it up for sale. A 27 year old carpenter working at Chris-Craft, Bo Albert Borgstrom, saw a great opportunity and purchased the yacht named Wendella. He then converted into a 96 passenger vessel and in 1935, Wendella Sightseeing Company began offering 30 minute guided architecture tours along the Chicago Lakefront for 25 cents.
Today, Wendella has nine custom-built vessels and offers a variety of boat tours and cruises, from the Architecture Boat Tour and the Lake and River Tour, to the Chicago Sunset Cruise, the Chicago River Experience, and the Chicago Fireworks Cruise.
Know Before You Go
- Wendella Boat Tours is located below the Wrigley Building along the Chicago River at 400 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611 — the start of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
- The Architecture Tour is promoted as a 75 minute tour, but on weekends and holidays, it may stretch a little longer due to boat traffic on the Chicago River. Our tour ended up being almost 90 minutes.
- Tours are available mid-March through mid-December, with tours leaving every hour in the warm months. All tours are weather permitting and schedule may change daily.
- There is no reserved seating, as seating is first come first served.
- The Wendella boats are BIG, which means there are going to be a TON of people. Arrive at least 45 minutes (but really one hour) before your ticketed tour time so you can get in line early and get the best seats on the boat.
- Before getting in line, stop in the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop and Store for a cold and delicious treat to eat while waiting in line. (Or once you’ve got a spot in line send a family member up!)
- All tickets are non-refundable, however, in the event you are unable to make your scheduled tour date or miss the boat, all tickets are transferrable to another time, date, or tour.