How to Navigate Chicago´s Annual River Dyeing like a Pro

Chicago River dying

Picture an emerald green river, a traditional parade complete with Irish bagpipes, and of course plenty of green beer. What’s not to love? If you’re ready to check St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago off your bucket list, chances are you won’t be the only one. This holiday celebration brings over 400,000 spectators to downtown Chicago each year, which one could imagine may be hard to navigate. Whether you just want to catch ten minutes of the historic river dyeing event or hang around all day long and party with the Irish (or Irish for a day), check out our tips and tricks for navigating the bustling city.

About the river dyeing event

The event takes place on March 17th. Thousands will line the 1.3 miles of river walk in Chicago very early in the day to catch the Local Union, Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 130, use a special recipe to dye the river green. This tradition began by accident back in the early 1960s when the sewage industry used a solution to detect illegal dumping in the river. Upon Mayor Daley noticing a vibrant green color on the workers’ white jumpsuits, he then thought to himself, “If they could streak the river green, why not turn it all green?”…and the tradition was born. Learn more on the dyeing process here.

Dying Chicago river green

Photo by John O’Neill Photography

Tips for viewing the river dyeing and parade

The river dyeing begins at 9:00am. The river only remains dyed/colored for around 5 hours, so get there early! It can be best viewed from the East side of the bridge at Columbus Drive or Upper and Lower Wacker Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drive. Arrive early, crowds tens to start gathering around 8:00 am. Tip: Grab breakfast beforehand, as you will be there for a while. Filini Chicago will offer a great Irish breakfast beforehand.

Once the dyeing is done, make your way over to the Downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade which takes place at 12:00 noon on March 17th between Balbo and Columbus Drive. The parade proceeds North on Columbus Drive and the best place to view it is in front of the Buckingham Fountain where stands are erected for parade-goers.

Chicago river dying boat

Packing considerations

Spring weather in Chicago can be variable, so pack for all conditions and temperatures. If you plan to be by the river and watching the dyeing, be sure to bring clothes that you don’t mind getting a little color on. Good walking shoes are a must, as it is one of the most efficient ways to navigate the city during the festivities. Many of the Union workers that dye the river love to meet and greet with the locals, so if you happen to see one, don’t be afraid of asking to take a photos with them in their dyed overalls (you may even get a little on you). Don’t worry it’s not toxic…the top secret recipe’s base consists of vegetable oil!

Chicago River dying

Photo by John O’Neill Photography

Navigating the festivities

Public Transit is highly recommended! Parking is already sparse in Chicago, even more so during holidays. If you are coming in from the suburbs of Chicago, use Metra and get off at Union Station. You can either walk seven blocks east to Columbus Drive, or take a cab. Uber is also readily available in the city.

View from Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago

View from the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, by urban photographer Sebastien Nagy.

Stay at the iconic Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago and you'll be within walking distance of the river!

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