Want to take advantage of the water ways of the Windy City? Read on for our picks for family fun water features in Chicago that will have you saying H2Oh! Chicago! in no time.

Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago


There was a time, not so long ago in Chicago’s history, that some buildings were designed with no windows on the side of the building facing the river, so gritty was the view. The Chicago Riverwalk is one of the latest initiatives that has brought new life to the riverside area. Open seasonally with a mix of vendors, public art, and fresh temporary exhibits, the RiverWalk is a cool spot to spend some time by the water.

Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Navy Pier

Make sure you budget some time for Navy Pier. From the interactive fun at the Children’s Museum to the sweeping views from the top of the Ferris wheel, there is a lot to do at the pier! Throughout the year (particularly during the summer months) Navy Pier is the venue for lots of shows and festivals, and many of them are my favourite price…. free! Don’t miss the Fifth Third Family Pavilion opening this summer.

Water taxi

The celebrated “L” rapid transit system isn’t the only way to get around Chicago. Hop on a water taxi and ride the waves to your next stop. There are water taxis that go along the river, and on a family trip, hitching a ride from Navy Pier to Museum Campus (home of the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium) adds another dimension to a day of fun. Tip: if you plan on visiting the three Museum campus attractions you can save some cash by investing in the Chicago CityPass; all three are included in the pass.

Shedd Aquarium

Peering into a seemingly empty tank, it is confusing why a group of visitors in the Amazon Rising exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium stand in rapt attention. But slowly, a vine–thick as my leg—begins to writhe and I realize, this is not an empty tank…this is the home of a giant anaconda! The Shedd Aquarium is full of interactive learning opportunities and watery surprises, some more delightful than others!

Adam Alexander Photography Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago


No one will blame you if “beaches” is not the first thing to leap to mind when you think of Chicago, but a sandy respite is closer than you think in the Windy City. Grab your towels and buckets and visit local favourites North Avenue Beach or Oak Street Beach.

Image courtesy of Entertainment Cruises

Odyssey River Cruise

New for the summer of 2018 are Odyssey River Cruises. You can choose a 2-3 hour brunch, lunch, or supper cruise and enjoy the views from the glassed in vessel. Kids are allowed on all the cruises, and select sailings offer discounts for guests aged 3-12 (kids 2 and under are free.)

Ranvestel Photographic Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboarding

Take a paddle out on Lake Michigan or on the Chicago River! There are kayaks available to rent for a paddle on the river or at the Lake if you want a different view of the city. If you have really good balance you might want to give yoga on a paddleboard a shot!

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain in Millennium Park was designed as a contemplative piece. It quickly drew visitors in, who may not be finding their Zen as the artist intended, but are definitely finding their cool. Even with a fall chill in the air, kids shriek and splash under the towering faces of the fountain, and an intrepid reporter may have kicked off her shoes for a bit too—strictly in the name of research!

Architecture Cruise

The creativity and grandeur of Chicago architecture is best viewed from (can you guess where I’m going here?) the water! Volunteer docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation share more knowledge than you thought possible on these 90-minute tours with First Lady Cruises. Sit near the front to hear the tour best, the docent has a microphone, but the back of the boat can get a bit chatty and make it tough to hear. Children are welcome, but older children with an interest in history will probably get more out of the tour than the younger set.

Loews Chicago

Hotels can be in on the water game too. The upscale Loews Chicago Hotel is more family-friendly than you might guess from the trendy vibe, with thoughtful touches like an Urban Explorer’s package for kids, stocked with essentials for a stay in the Windy City. Located just a quick walk from Navy Pier, you can request a room with a river view when you book (tip: the higher floors and “corner king” rooms tend to have the best Chicago River views). During the summer months you won’t want to miss the Saturday night Dive-In movie at the pool.

Many thanks to Choose Chicago and CityPass, who hosted my visit to Chicago.