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Navy Pier

The University of Chicago Hotel is located just five miles south of Navy Pier along shores of Lake Michigan. Navy Pier has been a Chicago landmark since it first opened in 1916. Originally conceived as a dual-use shipping and recreational facility, the Pier also served as a military training site during both WW1 andWW2,  a venue for concerts and exhibitions, and the temporary home for a once-fledgeling University of Illinois’ Chicago campus.


The Pier fell into disuse and disrepair during much of the 1970′s and 1980′s. To save and enhance this historic landmark the State of Illinois and Chicago embarked on a joint plan in 1989 whereby ownership of the Pier was transferred to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (the same body which oversees Chicago’s McCormick Place). The Authority immediately began to redesign Navy Pier into one of the country’s unique recreation and exposition facilities.

Today, Navy Pier showcases an attractive collection of restaurants and shops in addition to a wide range of recreational and exhibition facilities — in a world-class setting.


The reworked pier was the result of the collaboration between the architectural teams of VOA Associates (Chicago, Illinois) and Benjamin Thompson Associates (Cambridge, Massachusetts). The design they came up with has captured and in many ways enhanced the excitement and ambience of other public waterfront attractions such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Development, Vancouver’s Trade & Convention Center and New York’s South Street Seaport.

The Pier’s design allows it to fill an essential void by accommodating smaller – and medium-sized shows and conferences, which may have outgrown Chicago’s hotels yet are too small to utilize the vast size of the McCormick Place complex.


Approaching the new Navy Pier, visitors encounter the following attractions and buildings (from west to east)

Navy Pier Attractions


Situated immediately west of the Pier, the 19-acre “Gateway Park” has been developed to enhance the city’s lakefront. The park provides visitors both an aesthetic and dramatic entrance to the Pier, as well as a pleasing and safety-enhancing vehicle and pedestrian separation. The attractive state-of-the-art fountain located in Gateway Park near the Pier’s entrance provides interactive fun with computerized water streams of varying heights and designs.


To better accommodate the Pier’s new buildings and provide additional car and truck access, a 50-foot-wide North Dock was built along the entire length of the Pier (some 3,000 feet). The new dock space provides three on-Pier traffic lanes to improve access for taxis, charter buses, private cars and commercial trucks and vans.


Containing the 50,000-square-foot Chicago Children’s Museum and a440- seat large-screen IMAX Theater, the Family Pavilion is home to  over 40,000 square feet of exciting restaurants and retail shops. Close by, visitors can discover the Crystal Gardens, stunning indoor botanical park, which provides a year-round center for family activity and can be reserved for special receptions.


East of Navy Pier’s Family Pavilion visitors will find the South Arcade, home to numerous shops, restaurants, and attractions, including Time Escape, Amazing Chicago, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.


An indoor parking garage designed to accommodate over 1000 cars stretches two-thirds of the Pier’s length, allowing easy access to the buildings located directly above. Further parking for an additional 700 vehicles is also available. If you elect to leave the car behind you can take advantage of two on-Pier drop off points for taxis and buses. The Pier is served by double-decker tour buses and four public transit (bus) lines.


An outdoor landscaped area just to the east of the family pavilion features popular visitor attractions such as a permanent 150 foot high Ferris wheel, a musical carousel, an old-fashioned swing ride and an 18-hole miniature golf course. Also located in Navy Pier Park is a 1,500 seat Skyline Stage outdoor performance pavilion.


Skyline Stage, which opened in May 1994, is the only performance pavilion built directly on Chicago’s lakefront. A vaulted roof structure, visible for miles along the lakeshore, offers a unique atmosphere and spectacular views. The 1,500-seat theater showcases local and national artists in an intimate setting while providing a full range audio system, special effect capabilities and dramatic theatrical lighting. From May to September, Skyline Stage features musical performances ranging from classical to pop, blues and jazz to eclectic, rock and reggae, as well as dance, theater, comedy and film.


Dock Street, which runs the length of the Pier’s South Dock, is reserved for pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers. In season, four performance areas feature entertainment ranging from jugglers, mimes and stilt walkers to comedians, singers and musicians. Chicago’s dinner cruise ships continue to operate from Dock Street. And, on select summer evenings, fireworks entertain the Piers evening visitors.


Further east, Festival Hall has been designed to serve both exposition and special event needs. With more than 170,000 square feet of exhibit space, it is divisible into two areas of 56,700 and 113,400 square feet, respectively. This facility takes maximum advantage of the Pier’s unique lakefront setting, hosting exhibitions, trade shows, scientific conferences, receptions, art shows, and meeting of all kinds. It features ceiling heights of up to 60 feet (30 feet minimum), and provides a full range of electrical, telecommunications, and other needs.

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is an on-going display of 150 stained glass windows housed in an 800-ft.-long series of galleries along the lower level terraces of Festival Hall. Open since February 2000; it is the first museum in America dedicated solely to stained glass windows. It showcases both secular and religious windows and is divided by artistic theme into four categories: Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary.


Perfect for seminars and conferences, Festival Hall includes 36 meeting rooms, totalling more than 48,000 square feet. Many of these are located on a mezzanine overlooking the exhibition floor (with convenient escalator, elevator and stairway access), as well as on the exhibition level itself. The ratio of meeting space to exhibition space provides tremendous flexibility for any show or event.


In addition to these new structures, the Pier’s historic East End buildings have been renovated for meeting and conference use. For example, the Terminal Building’s two large meeting rooms supplement those in the adjacent Festival Hall. Two other historic structures, the 18,000-square-foot Shelter Building and the 12,000-square-foot Recreation Building, provide excellent space for breakouts and receptions. And, the magnificent Grand Ballroom, with its 80-foot domed ceiling, continues to serve banquet, live performance and special exhibit needs as it has since the Pier first opened in 1916.


At the eastern-most edge of the 3,000-foot Pier is the historic East End. Offering the city’s best view of the spectacular skyline and lakefront, the East End also is the perfect place for lunch or a sunset stroll. Period light fixtures, a myriad of flags, picnic benches and wide pedestrian promenades mirror the Pier of the past.

600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 Get Directions