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The Short Version: Chicago’s Navy Pier, a 3,000-foot-long pier on Lake Michigan, has been delighting visitors for over a century. Since 1916, this friendly waterfront destination has lived up to its nickname as “the People’s Pier.” Couples can stop by Navy Pier to see a show, go on a dinner cruise, visit the amusement park, take fitness classes, and have a fun and romantic experience at an iconic venue.
The best date spots take you away from your everyday cares and give you something extraordinary to appreciate, savor, and talk about with a partner. The most memorable dates involve an experience that fills both individuals with childlike wonder and excitement. That’s a tall order for a date night, but it’s doable if you know where to go.
Chicago’s Navy Pier encompasses everything daters could ask for — amazing views, award-winning restaurants, and original entertainment — in a 3,000-foot-long pier on Lake Michigan.
Couples can take it easy and stroll through gardens or local shops on the water, or they can jump on a Ferris wheel and take the date to new heights. Every day at Navy Pier is a new adventure.
Navy Pier began as part of architect Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Following the Great Chicago Fire, this forward-thinking city planner imagined ways to improve and modernize the city, particularly its lakefront property.
“The Lakefront by right belongs to the people,” he wrote in the plan. “Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.”
From this imaginative plan, the People’s Pier was born. It opened to the public in 1916.
Over a century has passed since Daniel Burnham began his plans, yet Navy Pier remains a treasured social hub. Its team has not wavered from the founding principles that turned one man’s vision into an iconic institution on the Chicago shoreline.
“The current Navy Pier team has been built very thoughtfully with the organization’s mission and values foremost in mind,” said Navy Pier Spokesperson Payal Patel. “When people visit the Pier, we want them to feel as though their experiences reflect our core values of excellence, integrity, inclusion, and stewardship, and we understand that it starts from the inside out.”
Throughout its history, Navy Pier has provided a safe harbor for locals and visitors. During World War II, it served as a training facility for U.S. military personnel. It has also been a college campus, a site for Chicago Fest, and a shipping and recreational facility. The versatile pier has been many things to many people, and it has always been at the service of anyone seeking the space to learn and grow.
Daters can explore this welcoming and exciting space for hours and never get bored. There is so much to see and do along the 50 miles of shops, restaurants, gardens, park rides, and waterfront activities. You can start with a cozy spin on the Centennial Wheel, and then head to the Navy Pier IMAX at AMC or the Chicago Shakespeare Theater to see a show. Finally, you can put the cherry on top of your date by exploring Navy Pier’s food scene.
The delectable dining options include everything from casual American fare to upscale seafood dining. We recommend checking out the Riva Crab House, Tiny Tavern, or Giordano’s if you’re hungry for something above the ordinary. These eateries give couples a chance to dig into fresh, seasonal dishes while enjoying waterfront views and a lighthearted, family-friendly atmosphere. You can also book a food tour to sample the best bites at the pier.
“The options for date night at Navy Pier are endless,” Payal told us. “Our team does a great job, day in and day out, to ensure that we deliver quality services and experiences for a diverse community.”
Navy Pier draws nearly 9 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Midwest. Tourists aren’t the only ones who enjoy stopping by this beautiful spot, though. According to the pier’s internal data, 60% of its guests come from the Chicagoland area.
“The Pier resonates very highly among locals and tourists, alike, and we’re very happy to see that,” Payal said. “Navy Pier’s guests come from all backgrounds.”
Navy Pier is a by-the-people, for-the-people sort of place, and it frequently invites guests to enjoy free classes, events, and services on the pier. Its event calendar is positively brimming with opportunities to get involved and have some fun by the water.
“We’ve been so thrilled with the response to our free, year-round public programming,” Payal told us. “Our guests are really resonating with our new offerings — in ways we couldn’t have even imagined.”
Navy Pier opens its doors to the community and invites families to share their special moments in its event halls. Many locals have taken the opportunity to plan proposals or parties in coordination with Navy Pier.
Some heartwarming stories have come out of these events. One Latinx family held a quinceañera celebration at Navy Pier, which offers the space for such parties for free in the summertime, and the mother of the birthday girl told the Navy Pier team that she wouldn’t have been able to afford a celebration for her daughter if not for this program.
Navy Pier also hosts free fitness programs geared toward healthy living. You can take part in yoga, dance, kickboxing, and other activities as a couple and get your heart pumping in a social setting.
These free programs attract people of all backgrounds. Payal told us a homeless man once joined the weekly fitness classes and used them to get himself in shape.
“These stories reinforce that we are fulfilling our mission as the People’s Pier through our new programs and renovated spaces,” Payal said.
Tired of exploring Navy Pier on foot? Then you can jump on board a speedboat, cruise ship, or gondola and gain an entirely new perspective on this destination. Navy Pier’s cruise services take visitors on a sensational journey on the water. The seasonal fireworks tours give couples the best seat in the house for 60-minute and 90-minute firework displays over the water. The pier puts on firework shows every Saturday night in the fall and every Wednesday and Saturday night in the summer.
Couples don’t have to look very far to find romance on Navy Pier. You can join a group excursion or book a private cruise to create a date experience you’ll always remember fondly.
“We highly encourage upgrading to the VIP ride,” Payal said. “It offers a more intimate experience in our special gondola with cushy seats and a glass bottom for a truly unique perspective.”
Entertainment Cruise sweeps people along the water on its fleet of luxurious ships, including the Odyssey, Spirit of Chicago, and Mystic Blue. Its dinner cruises provide an intimate space for conversation and contemplation, and many couples take advantage of these excursions to celebrate life’s milestones.
Every night is a special occasion at Navy Pier, so it’s no wonder so many couples plan date nights, birthday parties, and anniversary celebrations here.
Looking to the future, Navy Pier has more surprises and treats in store for its visitors. The first-ever Navy Pier hotel will open in 2020, immersing guests in the scenic beauty and taking the nightlife to a new level with its rooftop bar. Couples on a romantic getaway will one day be able to book a room at the hotel and spend a lovely night at the bar watching fireworks light up the sky.
A new marina will also soon open at Navy Pier and give the local boating community a place where they can dock and disembark to enjoy a bite to eat and other amusements before getting back on the water.
“There is much more work to be done in regards to redevelopment of the People’s Pier,” Payal said, “and we look to corporations, foundations, and individual donors for support in helping bring our vision to fruition.”
More than 100 years ago, Daniel Burnham set out to make Chicago’s waterways more accessible to the public, and his plan led to the construction of an extensive pier in the Streeterville neighborhood. Today, Navy Pier sees thousands of visitors a day and has the distinction of being on the U.S. Register of Historic Places.
You can see for yourself the beauty of Lake Michigan and the entertaining atmosphere of the pier by taking a trip to Chicago’s lakefront destination. From the amusement park to the shopping center, Navy Pier is anything but boring. Its diverting programs and attractions give couples a chance to spice up their dates and enjoy their time together.
“We work collectively to bring the People’s Pier to life each day,” Payal said, “and help our guests create lasting, cherished memories with every visit.”