With Chicago in my backyard, I have been getting out and about to see more as a local. So, I visited the Centennial Wheel this week and decided to share my personal experience.
You may be wondering if the Centennial Wheel is worth it. In my opinion you should at least see it in person. This has been my third ride since the wheel was constructed and I’m always in awe of the views.
About the Centennial Wheel
The Chicago Centennial Wheel is a giant Ferris wheel located on Navy Pier along Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois.
Standing at nearly 200 feet (60 meters) tall, it was built in 1995 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original Ferris wheel constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Why You Should Visit
Not only is the Centennial Wheel an iconic status of Chicago, but it also offers some of the best aerial views at an affordable price. You will also be close to many other Chicago attractions with a short walk like:
- The Chicago Shakespeare Theater
- The Chicago Children’s Museum
- The Beer Garden which hosts free live entertainment
- Offshore Rooftop bar
Alternatives at the Pier for Skyline Views
If you don’t care for heights, there are other ways to enjoy the skylines.
Centennial Wheel Review
What to Expect on the Centennial Wheel
You can expect to see gorgeous skies, breathtaking views of Chicago’s skyline, Lake Michigan, iconic landmarks, and famous buildings.
If you’ve been on the wheel before, it has undergone renovations over the years. We took our daughter on the Ferris wheel when she was young, and again when we hosted a Japanese exchange student.
The redesign included heating for the winter weather and air conditioning for the summer. The fully enclosed gondolas make it an attraction that can be enjoyed year-round.
The gondolas are wheelchair accessible so anyone with an electric or manual wheelchair can enter. Each gondola holds a maximum of 8 people, but it was nice to have one all to myself so that I could move around from side to side and take photos.
For this visit, I went at 2:30 in the afternoon on a weekday. There were perhaps 8 people ahead of me, at the most. The wheel rotated 3 times before de-boarding and the line moved, and the entire ride took about 10 minutes.
The line attendant directed me to one of 3 entrances to board the wheel. The gondola paused for several seconds for patrons to exit on the west end while I entered from the east end.
During the first rotation, an audio played to welcome passengers and tell them about Navy Pier as well as some historical facts about Chicago.
Overall, it was an extremely pleasant, but uncommon, experience. There was no one ooh-ing and aah-ing over the views. There was no need to maneuver through additional passengers or worry about random photo bombs.
Being alone in the gondola gave me an unparalleled sense of tranquility, as I had the entire skyline to myself, making each passing moment feel like a personal and intimate connection with the city.
It was a rare opportunity to soak in the beauty of Chicago without any distractions, creating a truly unique and memorable adventure above the cityscape.
How Much Does It Cost
The tickets are about $20 during the non-peak season. The cost is slightly higher if you purchase a fast pass (no waiting).
Everyone must have a ticket except kids under 3; however, there are discounts for military and youth.
If you visit during the peak season and are short on time, purchase your ticket in advance and grab a fast pass.
How Can I Get There
The Centennial Wheel is at Navy Pier, 600 W. Grand Avenue. If you prefer to drive there, onsite parking is available (prices range between $18 to $55). Valet parking is available.
There is also electric vehicle parking in the West Garage (Door 1) and East Garage (Doors 8 and 12). There is a fee and you will need to download the charging app to your smartphone.
The best way to get there is by transit. If you are staying downtown in the Loop neighborhood, catch the #29 CTA Bus going North at State and Madison Streets. Public transportation is the best way to way to travel around Chicago.
Navy Pier is also one of the stops for the Chicago Big Bus tour.
Check discounts for the Chicago Big Bus Tour here.
Things to Know Before You Go
- In general, the wheel operates daily from 11 AM to 8 PM no matter the season.
- Kids under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult after 5 PM on weekends.
- The fastest way to get to the wheel (from the bus station) is to walk on the south end of the pier and ascend the stairs at the Wave Wall. The line to enter will be on the right side of the wheel.
- Navy Pier hosts free fireworks shows on Wednesdays and Weekends during the summer. If you time it right, you can get some spectacular views from the wheel during a sunset, too.
Final Thoughts on the Centennial Wheel
What I appreciate most about the Centennial Wheel is the historic nod to the World’s Fair in 1893.
The fair was our way of showing the city’s resilience after the Chicago Fire.
It originally stood in the Hyde Park neighborhood, moved to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, then relocated to St. Louis before its final home at Navy Pier.
I enjoyed seeing the city from the Centennial Wheel again.