Navy Pier was once the city’s municipal wharf. Today it’s one of Chicago’s top-draw sights, with 8 million people per year promenading along its half-mile length. The shops, chain restaurants and amusements – like the 196-ft Ferris wheel, IMAX theater and giant swing – cost money (typically $6 to $15 per activity). But the fab lakefront views and cool breezes are all free. So are the Pier’s blazing fireworks on Wednesdays (9:30 pm) and Saturdays (10:15 pm) in summer.
Flotillas of sightseeing boats launch from the Pier, but economy-minded folks know the dock’s water taxis get you out on the water for less ($8 to $10 up the river to the Willis Tower, or the same price to the Museum Campus via the lake) from May through Sept.
The Chicago Children’s Museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theater are on the Pier, too. The fountain by the front entrance invites public splashing.
A free trolley runs from the Pier along Grand Ave to the CTA Red Line train on State St. It operates daily from 10 am til the Pier closes at night, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.