The United States is no short of skyscrapers that offer visitors spectacular vistas of the cities where they sit: New York City’s Top of the Rock and Empire State Building; Seattle’s Columbia Centre. I went to Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower bearing the cynicism that it is just going to be another sky-high observation deck that almost every metropolitan city has, but in the end was delightfully amazed by the fantastic view of Chicago and its surrounding areas.
The Willis Tower, once named and still commonly referred to as the Sears Tower, is Chicago’s most iconic skyscraper and once the world’s tallest building. The Skydeck stands at 1,353 feet and the 103rd floor of this 1,450 feet and 110 stories tall building. To put that into perspective, the Skydeck is at a height that equals to 8.2 standard swimming pool put vertically!
Lines to the Skydeck can get a bit long, especially during peak season, but we were lucky we arrived early enough that the building wasn’t flooded by tourists yet (Lesson here: go in the morning!). After going past a small exhibit highlighting Chicago’s history and culture and a theatre presentation that shows the story of the skyscraper, we reached the observation deck taking a fast elevator ride and welcoming us is a breath-taking view of the city below.
The observation deck goes around the building and visitors get to have a 360 degree bird-eye view on Chicago. On a fine day, it is said that the views up on the Skydeck can span up to four states! It wasn’t a particular fine day on our visit, but the scenery is still absolutely stunning.
What the Skydeck is the most famous for, however, is the Ledge, three glass boxes/balcony that extend out 4.3 feet from the observation deck. Basically when you look down at your feet, all you see is this:
For the faint of heart, this is certainly terrifying. I am not afraid of heights. If anything I am always up for a thrilling adventure/experience. But my heart did skip a beat when I first stepped out onto the glass panes, considering that the supposing ultra-strong glass panes did crack just months before my visit. But reckoning I wouldn’t make much of a weight difference to the glass anyway, considering the amount of people already standing on the balconies, I braced myself a little and stepped out. Once you get pass the slight panic and irrational fear, you would be fully astonished by the experience of standing mid-air with Chicago just under your trembling feet. By the end of our two-hour stay there, we were just standing on the glass panes as if they are hard ground, trying to pinpoint famous Chicago landmarks such as the Cloud Gate, the Wrigley Field, the Millennium Park and the North Avenue Beach.
The Willis Tower may be the 2nd tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (recently surpassed by One World Trade Center in NYC), but there are dozens of famous observation decks around the world which also provide unobstructed views of miniature-looking people, vehicles and buildings in the metropolitan cities below, such as Skywalk at the Sydney Tower Eye, which we reviewed a while ago. The Skydeck is not even the only observation deck in Chicago – another observation deck 360 Chicago sits in the heart of the city just a 9-minute drive away, or 20 minutes by Chicago’s convenient public transport. What’s so special about the Skydeck? Well, for one the Skydeck is way taller than 1000-feet-above-ground 360 Chicago. 360 Chicago also has its own special little feature called the Tilt, which basically is a glass viewing platform that tilts outward and downward by 30 degrees, but in my opinion, stepping outside and standing on glass platforms without wearing any protective harness, is way cooler than just tilting forward. And hey, you get to stand on glass panels with breath-taking views just under your feet without paying an extra cost!
Up there on the Skydeck, anyone, even the worst photographer, can get a good shot. If you don’t believe me, just look at the pictures I took with my amateur skills and camera!
The Skydeck is open throughout the year, but do check the weather broadcast before visiting. (We went there the first time and found that it had suddenly turned super foggy. The staff at the entrance just showed us a photo taken on the Ledge – we could see nothing but fog and of course we would not be so stupid as to go up anyway.) Tickets are US$19.50 for adults aged 12 and up, which can be purchased online or at the ticket window at the ground floor. However, my advice would be to just buy your tickets when you are there: you still have to go through the ticket line anyway and buying the tickets ahead of time/online won’t save you time. Of course you can save even more if you are will to pay for a Chicago CityPass, which allows you to visit 5 of Chicago’s top attractions including the Skydeck at US$94).
So if you are visiting Chicago, consider a trip to the Skydeck. If views of the amazing skyline of Chicago do not impress you, at least you can get a cool picture of you sitting/jumping/ posing on a glass balcony with a city at your feet for your latest Facebook profile picture.
Also check out this video I shot when I was in Chicago last Thanksgiving, showing other attractions I visited and the general vibe of the Windy City.
Blogger: Frances Sit