While I recently published about my (daytime) experience at 360 Chicago on top of the John Hancock Center, I also visited the likely more well-known attraction, the viewing platform at the Willis Tower (formerly: Sears Tower). This visit, however, was nighttime one, which is always adding challenges to the place, especially regarding reflections by the windows. Here is how I liked to be on top of Chicago’s architectural icon.
Skydeck at Willis Tower – Location & Admission
Willis Tower (or formerly: Sears Tower) is located right in the heart of Chicago. You enter the Skydeck from the South (W Jackson Blvd). The closest metro stations are La Salle and Union Station.
Not too unusual for these locations, there is a variety of tickets. The one-time entrance general admission has an online price of 26 USD. If you want to avoid the queues, the Fast Pass option is a total pay of 75 USD. There are also combo tickets with the Big Bus Company and/or the Art Institute as well as double visit tickets, so that you can enjoy the view at daytime and nighttime. I had a spontaneous evening visit and bought the tickets onsite, which lead to a ten minute waiting time.
Skydeck at Willis Tower – Observation Deck
Before you head up to the tower, you pass an exhibition, which is also a huge waiting line for the elevators. The sixty second ride in the elevator is quite cool, as you are not only shown the floor and the height you are currently at, but as this is also compared to other tall or iconic buildings.
The observation deck is a bit of narrow, but overall nicely done. Displays under the windows introduce you to the sights you see from above, other exhibits illustrate the history of the city and the area.
Finally, the key ting about an observation deck is of course the view of the area. Being there at night of course is a more difficult optical situation, but the combination of light and the characteristics of the glass lead to quite many reflections. Especially when taking pictures, this is bothersome.
Skydeck at Willis Tower – The Glass Ledge
The key feature of the Fast Pass is likely not too much to be up on the observation deck quickly, but to beat the queues for The Glass Ledge. This iconic feature of The Skydeck is like a balcony or winter garden including a glass bottom which goes out of the building. My general admission ticket lead to some 30 minute waiting time here.
The staff at the ledges gives you a very strict timeslot, which you may use at the ledge. Sounds a bit unfriendly, but this is just organization and fairness to the other visitors – overall, the staff is very helpful and also takes pictures with your own camera instead of forcing you to buy the pictures of the on-site photographers. The light and reflection situation here, by the way, is much better. Quite a cool spot and experience, definitely.
Skydeck at Willis Tower – Shops & Services
No matter if you are up on some 400 meters above Chicago or back on the ground – there are of course some opportunities to shop memories for you or your beloved ones. The store had some quite nice items, even though overall it is quaite standard touristic stuff. You may also go for a drink on the observation deck level.
Skydeck at Willis Tower – My View
Even though I definitely would prefer the glass ledge to the TILT!, I overall would prefer 360 Chicago at John Hancock Center to the Skydeck. The key reason is the better glass their are using, it was just more fun to enjoy Chicago and look down. On the other hand, being on the formerly highest building of the world might be higher on your checklist – Willis Tower is definitely somehow the more “stylish” option when exploring Chicago from some 100 meters above the ground. Even though the views are different, doing both locations is likely not necessary.
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