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Spend an afternoon at Chicago’s Navy Pier

Published On: April 4, 2023Categories: Shoppings, Theatres, Theme parks, Tourist attractionsTags:

Are you looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon during your stay at Freehand Chicago? Then look no further than Navy Pier!

A true gem of the Windy City, this iconic destination offers a variety of activities that are perfect for a leisurely afternoon out with your friends, and family or even if you’re just going it alone. Whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely stroll along the pier or an adrenaline-pumping ride on the Ferris wheel, there’s something for everyone at this iconic Chicago institution.

In the guide below, we’ll highlight some of the best ways to spend an afternoon at Navy Pier, so you can make the most of your visit. Let’s dive right in!

A brief history

First opened in 1916, Navy Pier was originally known as the ‘Municipal Pier.’ It originally served as a shipping dock for freights and passenger boats, as well as an indoor and outdoor recreational space; events and pageants were also held there.

During World War I, it was used as a naval training center, which saw its name change to ‘Navy Pier.’ In the 1920s and 30s, the pier became a popular spot for entertainment and leisure activities, with attractions such as the Chicago Children’s Museum and a Ferris wheel. During World War II, the pier once again played a vital role in serving the country by being used as a training center for the U.S. Navy.

But after the war, the pier saw a decline in use and was in danger of being demolished. However, in the 90s, a major renovation project transformed it into the vibrant destination it is today, with restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, and more.

Where is the Navy Pier in Chicago?

Navy Pier is nestled along the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Located in the Streeterville neighborhood, this pier stretches out into the lake and boasts stunning views of the Chicago skyline.

The location of Navy Pier also makes it perfect to explore some of Chicago’s other top attractions nearby including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ohio Street Beach and the Chicago Riverwalk.

What is there to do at Navy Pier?

There are plenty of fun activities at Navy Pier that are guaranteed to keep you busy over the course of an afternoon.


In need of some retail therapy? Navy Pier ​​is the perfect destination in Chicago for shopping enthusiasts, offering a variety of options to suit every taste and budget. From unique boutiques to well-known brands, there’s something for everyone here. Some of our favorites are:

  • IT’Sugar
  • ART Now! Faces in Focus
  • Chicago sunglasses store
  • Art-K-Texture
  • Chicago Sports & Novelty
  • Artesanias Zury
  • This SOCKS!

Rides & Games

No trip to Navy Pier would be complete without experiencing some of the amazing rides and games on offer. One of the most iconic is the Centennial Ferris wheel – which is one of the tallest in the world and offers amazing views of the city and Lake Michigan. There are also other classic rides like the Wave Swinger and the Carousel.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Why not spend a couple of hours at the theatre during your visit to Navy Pier? Known for its innovative productions and world-class performances, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a must-visit for stage enthusiasts. With a diverse lineup of shows, from classics like Macbeth to modern hits like Hamilton, there’s always something new and exciting to see.

East End Plaza

East End Plaza at Navy Pier is the furthest public space on the eastern end of the pier. It offers unparalleled stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a photo op. The plaza is also home to a variety of public art, as well as outdoor activities and events. Look out for free outdoor movie screenings and concerts during the summer months.

How far is the Navy Pier from Freehand Chicago?

If you’re planning on spending an afternoon at the Navy Pier during your stay at Freehand Hotel Chicago, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s just a short walk from our hotel. There are a few options you have to reach the theater and pier:

  • Walk (approx 21 mins): Head east on E Ohio St and turn right onto N Wabash Ave. Then turn left onto E Grand Ave and keep walking east until you reach Navy Pier.
  • Taxi (approx 5 minutes)
  • Bus (11 minutes including walking): Catch the number 29 bus from ​​Illinois & State to Navy Pier Terminal