With its stately bridges, historic architecture cruises and requisite greenness at St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago’s namesake river is a linchpin in city lore. But for decades, the river existed as a sort of utilitarian afterthought, rather than a downtown destination in itself.
That is, until now. The expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk has transformed the river into a civic gem. Opened in 2016 as an early phase of the city’s multi-decade river revitalization plan (with a goal of making it swimmable by 2040!), the pedestrian-friendly park runs 1¼ miles along the river from Lake Michigan west to Lake Street. Visitors can stroll freely, no longer needing to climb staircases and cross busy streets to follow the flow. And they’re drawn by new restaurants’ waterfront tables, outfitters’ easy rentals and some of the best people-watching in the city.
Find out about the river’s ecology and identify native plants in the interactive floating islands lining the walkway. There are even piers perfect for fishing (assuming you have an Illinois Department of Natural Resources license).
Wheel fun rentals
Rent single and tandem bikes, kid trailers, family surreys and more by the hour, with helmets included for everyone.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza
Honor those who served by stopping to reflect at the name wall, water feature and sculptures.
McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum
Study the city’s famous movable bridges (they’re engineering marvels), learn how the river was key to Chicago’s development and reserve a spot to watch massive gears lift the Michigan Avenue deck. During museum hours, visit the top of the building for 360-degree city views.
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, docents share the stories behind buildings and the people who designed them.
Hear about the birthplace of the skyscraper during an architecture cruise, or grab a water taxi.
Choose a cruise to fit your group—go out during the day or at night, ride along with your pup, watch fireworks, or see the famous skyline from Lake Michigan.
Explore the city in a water taxi, relax and learn with an architecture tour, or reserve a spot on curated foodie outings.
Chicago Riverwalk Art at the Mart
In 2018, see projected public art illuminating the vast riverfront facade of the Merchandise Mart building.
Lillie’s Park Grill & Cafe
During warm months, get a classic Chicago-style hot dog or Polish sausage.
Tiny Tapp & Cafe
Note Tiny’s big menu: coffee and fresh pastries, sandwiches and snacks, cocktails and craft beers.
Pick from a rotating menu of flavors (think piña colada or sea salt caramel) at this seasonal dockside cart.
Try wines, beer and small plates (including the heavenly Italian burrata) at outdoor tables.
O’Briens Riverwalk Cafe
Order burgers and salads, or try the house-favorite corned beef and cabbage rolls.
Cyrano’s Cafe on the Riverwalk
Say oui to quiche and frites at this French place, also serving a decadent weekend brunch.
Island Party Hut
In season, sip colorful tropical drinks and enjoy games and music by the water, or book an outing aboard a tiki boat.
Planners divided the Riverwalk into distinctive block-long “rooms,” each designed with specific uses in mind. It’s part of a larger trend of turning urban waterways into multiuse areas that engage residents and visitors in new ways.
Enjoy views of the confluence of the Chicago river’s three branches.
See floating gardens and learn river ecology.
Water Plaza Room
Splash in a zero-depth fountain in the riverwalk’s sunniest spot.
River Theatre Room
Find shade and people-watch from the sculptural staircase.
Float up in your human-powered craft (Kayaks and the like).
Dock your personal boat to come ashore and hang out.