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Navy Pier Through the Years: A Century-Old Chicago Landmark

October 6, 2022 By CityPASS

When you want to travel to a place that truly has it all, look no further than Chicago. With a thriving art scene, delicious and iconic food items, and family-friendly waterfront activities, it promises a sense of nostalgia and a uniquely memorable visit. One of the most celebrated places in the city is the Navy Pier, where people from all over the world gather to explore the past and enjoy the present.

Walking Through Navy Pier's Unique History

Navy Pier's history is perfectly representative of the dynamic and industrial waterfront city of Chicago to which it belongs. It has established itself as a destination within the city for year-round entertainment and has stood the test of time for over a century. It's the city's second-most visited spot for good reason.

Navy Pier's Creation, Opening, and Naming

Navy Pier originally opened to the public in 1916 as a shipping and recreational facility under the name Municipal Pier, part of Daniel Burnham's "Master Plan of Chicago." Built by Charles Frost, this incredible 3,300-foot-long pier encompassed nearly 50 acres of land upon its completion. In 1927, it was officially renamed to commemorate the Navy personnel who stayed there during World War I, and over the next fifty years, Navy Pier cemented itself as a gathering place within the city. Its function as a freight dock helped grow the city's economy immensely, public pageants, expositions, and auctions were held there, and it was officially declared a Chicago landmark in 1977.

Redevelopment and Redesigns of Navy Pier

In the summer of 1995, Navy Pier reopened after undergoing a series of renovations — nearly 150 million dollars worth — to redefine it as a hub for a new generation. Since then, it has been host to endless one-of-a-kind special events and unparalleled attractions for all vacationers and visitors to enjoy. Restaurants and cafes with delicious food, fair attractions, cultural events, and eclectic shops are among just some of the activities Navy Pier now has to offer the public. With over nine million visitors annually, there's no sign of its perpetual popularity and status as an ultimate destination slowing down.

What To Expect When Spending Time at Navy Pier Today

When you spend time at Navy Pier, you will feel invigorated by all of the sights, sounds, and smells that Chicago has to offer. Whether it's for a romantic night out, a celebration with friends, or something you and your family have been looking forward to for months, this stretch of the city over the water is perfect for connecting with others and making memories to last a lifetime. The best part about spending time at the Navy Pier today? It's free — so you can decide what you'd like to experience based on your budget.

Take in City Skyline Views From Centennial Wheel

If there's one thing you must do when visiting the Navy Pier in Chicago, it's ride the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel. This incredible metal structure stretches nearly 200 hundred feet above the shores of Lake Michigan, making already stunning city views become even more picturesque. The sparkling skyline creates an unforgettable experience at nighttime, making this one of Chicago's most popular attractions and perfect for a fun first date or the last night out with family.

Attend Cultural or Family-Friendly Events at Navy Pier Venue

Chicago embraces culture, and there is a huge array of popular year-round attractions for people of all different backgrounds to participate in and enjoy. It doesn't matter if you're flying solo or enjoying the city with others: one of the ever-popular dinner cruises or tickets to a waterfront show are both great options to kick off or wrap up your time in the city. Chicago Live!, a free annual two-day performance festival featuring more than 60 of the city’s top musical, theatrical, dance, and cultural organizations, will be back in 2022 for an unforgettable celebration.

Taste Local Cuisine and Partake in a Unique Dining Experience

No matter why you're visiting Chicago or who you're visiting it with, when you visit Navy Pier, be sure to not miss out on a Chicago-themed food experience from morning until evening. Start your day on the water with a gourmet latte from Kisbi Coffee, grab Giordano's deep dish pizza for lunch, and head to Lirica for tapas-style, Latin-inspired cuisine for dinner, spacing out your meals among all of your planned activities. Of course, you could create a day of personal culinary enjoyment at whichever Navy Pier restaurants call to you as you stroll along the water.

Shop Til You Drop Alongside People From All Different Backgrounds

There are endless doors for you to open when you shop at Navy Pier, and you'll do so alongside people from all different backgrounds. Explore local gifts and goods at artisan businesses like The Neighborhood or Sweet Home Chicago, meet a friend for a flavorful boost at a coffee shop, then finish out your day at 77 Chicago Flavors and Art-K-Texture for authentic Chicago architecture souvenirs and tasty local foods to share with your loved ones. Be sure to chat with your cashiers, baristas, and even other customers as you shop til you drop—you never know what knowledge you might be able to put in your bag for free.

Are You Ready For a Classic Chicago Adventure at Historical Navy Pier?

With so many eclectic experiences to enjoy while a cool breeze blows over your face, it's no wonder the Navy Pier in the beautiful city of Chicago still stuns locals and visitors alike. If you're ready for a classic Chicago adventure, there's no better place to start than on this century-old strip of land that juts out into Lake Michigan.

Making the most of your time in a city like Chicago is important because there's so much to see and do, and planning days efficiently is key to fully enjoying your trip. When you purchase Chicago C3® tickets, you can ensure you make the most of your time at Navy Pier without spending valuable time researching other activities or seeking out multiple tickets — maximizing your ability to relax, take it all in, and enjoy.

Chicago Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in Chicago, we recommend finding lodging near Chicago's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header Image Courtesy of Navy Pier

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