Feature: Navy Pier on a Budget


Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel Spring 2017.
Photo By Lauren Yard

By Lauren Yard

I decided to go to Navy Pier to see what I could do with 3 friends and a 20 in my pocket recently to see if it was worth our time to make the trip with so little money. What I found was an abundance of free entertainment, some mildly expensive  food, and overall a fantastic evening especially towards the end of the night.

I had extremely low expectations initially because when I went previously, I found that I was disappointed with the grossly overpriced food,  rides, and souvenirs . However, when I went looking for what I could do for free, I found that the experience was much more enjoyable. I skipped the shops and the rides and focused on less tangible forms of entertainment that did not require spending copious amounts of money. A change in perspective and expectations went a long way in improving the experience. Looking for things to do rather than things to buy also enabled me to get more out of the trip.

Tiny Tavern’s Big Sounds Advertisement
Photo by Lauren Yard

Navy Pier offers a variety of free music options over the course of any given week. In the summer, they even host several free live concerts in the beer garden.  The schedule has yet to be published at this point but free live music is free live music. It is worth considering after Memorial Day. I also found a restaurant, Tiny Tavern that hosts live music  from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Thursday. In addition to these live musical options, Navy Pier also plays a fairly wide range of music ranging from country to hip-hop on their overhead stereo system. All the music definitely is or was mainstream, but it caters to a wide audience with the variety.


There are also several photo opportunities. From posing with the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier Park to snapping some shots in the Crystal Gardens

Crystal Garden at Navy Pier (Photo by Lauren Yard)

which are open year-round, there is plenty to capture. That is beside the number of smaller art exhibits scattered around the pier like the star-spangled-giant tongue found just inside the gates.

In addition to photo opportunities, the pier is also currently host to a few art exhibits. The first of which is honestly a bit underwhelming is the mosaic glass museum. There used to be more panes in the past but the number has been seriously reduced over the years. Fortunately, the pier is also hosting a traveling interactive exhibit which ultimately ended up being the best part of the whole trip.

Impulse interactive exhibit at Polk Bros Park Photo by Lauren Yard

The interactive exhibit created by the Lateral Office and CS Design and produced by Montreal-based performing arts theater Quartier des Spectacles, called Impulse, has been traveling all over the world. Stopping briefly in Polk Bros Park right in front of the pier. Sadly, it will be leaving its temporary home in Chicago at the beginning of May. Some major locations this exhibit has seen thus far include London, Brussels and Montreal.

The exhibit as seen below is an assortment of see-saws in a circle that both light up and make music when in use. Lines of people form around them for a chance to go on with their family and friends. And at least on the day I was there, it was a major attraction for anyone walking by.

Now I will admit that I went for a ride on the Centennial Wheel despite the price because I hadn’t been on it before. However, I feel that it was not worth the price. The glass is dirty so taking decent pictures is hard and ultimately 10 dollars is not worth the 30-minute wait in line with a 5-10-minute ride on an incredibly slow ferris wheel.

Going to Navy Pier does not have to be an expensive trip to be enjoyable. With plenty of opportunities for free art exposure, free music and a few decent dining options (and the ability to just bring your own food and drinks) Navy Pier on even the most extreme budget can find something to do without spending a ton of money.


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