Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Views from Above: Observation Decks in Chicago

Chicago is home to one of the tallest buildings in the world, and because of this, it is a fantastic city to reach for the sky and take in the views at cloud level. The Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center are prime spots to visit, and both offer fear inducing attractions to test your nerves with heights. We have visited both observation decks in Chicago in the past, but it was so long ago that we felt a return trip was necessary as I always love seeing a city from above. Thankfully, with our Chicago CityPASS booklets, we even had VIP entrance to both attractions, which means you can skip the lines! The only downside of the day was the weather–it was not a good day for photos. The skies were cloudy and overcast, but at least we weren’t shrouded in fog, so it could have been worse.

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

The Ledge and Skydeck Chicago at The Willis Tower:

The very top of the Willis Tower (or Sears Tower as we will always call it) stands at 1,729 feet high and the Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor, which is 1,353 feet high. On a clear day, you can see as far as  50 miles and four states from the observation level. Throughout the Skydeck experience, (while you are waiting in line if there is one and on the observation floor) you can find interactive exhibits, fun facts and educational attractions that discuss everything from the building to Chicago’s sports, food, history, people and more.

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

In addition to giant windows that allow you to see Chicago in all directions, you can also step out onto The Ledge, which is basically a clear glass box protruding from the building. You can even see Wacker Drive and all the city action 103 floors below! I love the sprawling views of the city from the glass box—it’s amazing how far you can see, even if you visit on a fairly overcast day like we did.

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Micah, on the other hand, isn’t the biggest fan of heights, so after he stopped crying in the corner, he inched his way to the ledge so we could take a few photos. I always get a kick out of his hesitation to stand on glass floors—it’s definitely understandable, but I can’t help but give him a hard time about it!

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

If standing in a glass box so high off the ground has you worried, don’t fret. The boxes are made of three layers of half-inch thick glass that has been laminated into a seamless piece, and the glass is then fully tempered for durability. In other words…it’s safe even if your brain is telling you otherwise!

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, Willis Tower

360 CHICAGO and TILT! at the John Hancock Center:

 Located a couple of miles down the road from the Willis Tower, you will find another fantastic observatory at the John Hancock Center called 360 CHICAGO. The tallest point of the John Hancock Center is 1,500 feet high, which makes this the fourth tallest building in Chicago. The observatory is located on the 94th floor of the building and sits 1,030 feet above street level. On the 94th floor, you will find wide open floor to ceiling windows with fantastic views of the city, and honestly, I think the views from this location are a bit better than the views from the Willis Tower because you can see the entire skyline and great views of the lake. You will also find an open air SkyWalk, multimedia tours, a café, and the newest attraction TILT! on the observatory level.

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

TILT is another attraction that gives you a unique view of the city and it must have been built to test your fear of heights! This attraction is an additional $7 above and beyond your observatory ticket, but for those who like to get their adrenaline pumping it’s a fun add on to your experience. There was no way I was getting Micah on this one, so I went on my own and had the entire attraction to myself! Basically, TILT consists of several floor to ceiling window blocks with handlebars. You stand on the platform, hold on and the window slowly tilts to a 30º angle outside the building. The window gives you a facedown look of the city below and it will certainly get your heart racing—there’s something that just doesn’t feel quite right about being lowered over a city behind a panel of glass!

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

In addition to the observatory floor, there is also a restaurant located one floor up on the 95th floor. We visited the restaurant on our last trip to Chicago and ordered a couple of appetizers. The restaurant offers great views of the city, as well, and instead of paying a ticket fee you can order drinks and or food—it’s a nice way to see the views and get something in return. Both the observatory and the restaurant are great experiences, so either are good options if you want to see Chicago’s skyline from above!

Observation Decks in Chicago, Illinois, John Hancock Center

Which is better?

We had a great time at the observation decks in Chicago and I can’t quite decide which one I like more. They both offer great views of the city and take testing your fear of heights to new levels! Personally, I didn’t find either the Ledge or TILT all that scary, but Micah certainly did—so do yourself a favor and check them both out to see how you do with heights! We visited both on a cloudy Thursday afternoon and didn’t have any waits. I don’t think this is typical though (our last visits included lengthy waits at both), so be prepared for lines, especially if you visit on a weekend. Either way, you are in for some great views and some sky-high fun!

 

Special thanks to Choose Chicago for providing us with complimentary Chicago CityPASS booklets. As always, all opinions are our own.

22 Comments
  • Natasha
    Posted at 00:34h, 14 May Reply

    Wow!! You are brave. I have seen a couple viral videos about the tilt but I had never heard of the box. Both would scare me senseless but you know what, I really, really want to do it!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:57h, 07 June Reply

      Haha, yeah heights like this don’t really bother me, but I can definitely see why they cause panic for people!! Hope you can give them a try sometime!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Photo Essay: The Galapagos IslandsMy Profile

  • Kavey Favelle
    Posted at 03:07h, 14 May Reply

    Crikey, both the Tilt and the Ledge look terrifying but like MIcah I’m afraid of heights. I still make myself go up such buildings and appreciate the view but the clear floors etc are too much for me. I recently blogged about a place I reckon fearless you would love, in Macau there’s a Sky Tower and you can not only enjoy the view from floor to ceiling windows inside, you can book extra activities such as a walk outside in the open air (attached by a hiker’s style cord for safety but completely out in the open), you can bungee jump from there or you can climb up to the tip of the tower. I wasn’t brave enough to do any of them!!!
    Kavey Favelle recently posted…The Kavey Eats Guide to Icelandic FoodMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:53h, 07 June Reply

      Haha, yeah they aren’t great for people afraid of heights!! He’s never too thrilled about visiting these spots, but thankfully he lets me drag him along most of the time 🙂 And those adventures at the Sky Tower in Macau sound amazing! Thanks for the heads up–I will definitely have to check that spot out sometime although I don’t think I’d convince Micah to join me, haha!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Photo Essay: The Galapagos IslandsMy Profile

  • Les Petits Pas de Juls
    Posted at 13:21h, 14 May Reply

    Fun! I’d be doing these with you while both our husbands would stand back and have a beer at the nearby bar!
    I loved the bar at John Hancock and the views over the city at sunset!
    Les Petits Pas de Juls recently posted…Ushuaia-bound? My Go-to Guide is on Intrepid TravelMy Profile

  • Swati & Sam
    Posted at 17:24h, 14 May Reply

    This reminded me of the time I was in the Skydeck. This place has a lovely view of the city. I didn’t do the TILT thing, I don’t think they had this back then.
    Swati & Sam recently posted…Travel Look KashmirMy Profile

  • Victoria
    Posted at 20:01h, 14 May Reply

    Oh my gosh I need to go to these! The Willis tower one is awesome and I didn’t know there were more!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:48h, 07 June Reply

      The restaurant at the John Hancock Center has been there for a long time, but the observatory and Tilt are fairly new! Both were fun to see with great views of the city!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Photo Essay: The Galapagos IslandsMy Profile

  • Siddhartha Joshi
    Posted at 22:22h, 14 May Reply

    It might have been a cloudy day, but your pictures are brilliant! Loved them all…but maybe my favourite is that of Micah looking down with of fear. Congratulations to you for capturing the moment so well!

    Also, thanks for the tip about skipping the lines with Chicago CityPASS booklets.

  • Jeanette Cheney
    Posted at 07:20h, 15 May Reply

    Despite the cloudy weather this looks amazing. I love the idea of skipping lines with a Chicgao CityPass. It’s the little things like this that always help make a city experience more enjoyable.
    Jeanette Cheney recently posted…To Tour or Not To Tour? A Travellers DilemmaMy Profile

  • Vicki Louise
    Twitter:
    Posted at 00:04h, 16 May Reply

    The views are incredible – and awesome that both attractions were included in your CityPASS booklet. It’s a shame you didn’t have a clearer weather day – but you images are still stunning and feel like they encapsulate what Chicago weather is really like! (or that might be what i’ve been told by the movies!)

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:41h, 07 June Reply

      Yeah, we were happy to find they were both included in the CityPass booklet! And I know, weather is always such a bummer when it doesn’t cooperate, isn’t it?!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Photo Essay: The Galapagos IslandsMy Profile

  • Megan Jerrard
    Twitter:
    Posted at 03:07h, 16 May Reply

    OMGosh the ledge at Wills Tower looks scary! But incredible views! You actually got really great photos despite the crappy weather – thanks for the heads up on the CityPASS booklets including VIP to both – sounds like it’s definitely the way to go – I hate waiting in a queue lol!

  • Nisha
    Twitter:
    Posted at 13:02h, 16 May Reply

    I would like to see if I can stand on the Ledge without screaming 🙂 There are some very nice Aerial shots of great views. I have marked this in my list now. .

  • Cam
    Posted at 14:19h, 16 May Reply

    Incredible views … I think I could tackle the tilt, as I’m not mortified of height like some people are!

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