Chicago is an amazing city with some incredible skyscrapers to boot. So chances are if you are visiting Chicago you are going to want to get some height and see the city from above. The two main observation towers in the city are the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Observation deck. But which one is better? Well luckily we did both to help you decide which one to visit.
Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)
Located on Wacker Drive, the Willis Tower has to be one of Chicago’s most iconic high rises. It was built as the Sears Tower and it still commonly referred to by this name. Construction was finished in 1973 and it is the second tallest building in the US, with the tallest being the New World Trade Centre in New York. The observation deck known as the Skydeck Chicago is located on the 103rd floor, and is open 365 days of the year.
Basic admission is $23.00, however you can also opt for a Fast Pass for $65.00. This enables you the pass the exhibits and gives you priority access to the elevators.
The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the building, and as per the name provides a spectacular view over Chicago. There is also a gift shop where you can buy all your Willis Tower souvenirs.
The coolest thing about visiting has to be the glass panels. Located on the side of the building, at no extra charge, you can step out onto these panels if you dare. We got in early, but be warned you do need to queue to get your picture taken here. One thing I did like was that you could get a professional photo taken, which we then purchased because I needed as much proof as I could get that I was able to do it! Staff will also take your picture with your own camera, which is also great.
- Visit early in the morning. We visited in October, so the tower didn’t officially open until 10am. We arrived just before half past 9 and while we had to wait for the admissions stands etc to open once they did we flew through. This also meant that we could spend some extra time in the glass boxes before the crowds arrived.
John Hancock Centre
The John Hancock Centre is located on N Michigan Avenue, and has some amazing views over Lake Michigan. It is a 100 storey skyscraper, built in 1968 it is the 4th tallest building in Chicago and the 8th tallest in the United States. The observation deck is located on the 94th floor and is know as 360 Chicago.
There are a number of ticket options you can purchase, but starting with the basics general admission is $20.50. You can opt for the ‘sun and stars’ package which allows you to visit twice (day and night) in 48 hours, for $25.00. Or you can do what we did and go for the drinks package for $25.00, which allows you entry to 360 Chicago as well as an alcoholic beverage once you are at the top.
360 Chicago is located on the 94th floor of the building. You get some amazing views over the city, and especially over Lake Michigan. One of our favourite features was the bar. It was really nice just to sit and relax with a drink whilst taking in the spectacular views. There is quite a bit of seating in this building which was much appreciated after a long day of traipsing around the city.
Another cool feature is the TILT. This is an enclosed platform that moves and literally tilts you out over Michigan Avenue. It is worth noting that this is an additional $7.00, if you are looking for that extra thrill.
- If you can visit around sunset. It makes for a great view while sipping cocktails. You also then get to see the view both in the daylight and in the night.
Even though the Willis Tower Skydeck is higher don’t let this put you off, the John Hancock still has a great view. Plus at that height 9 floors doesn’t make much of a difference. Also something we noticed was that there really isn’t a lot of seating in the Skydeck. It is more of a have a look and go type of place, whereas 360 Chicago has a lot of seating and of course a bar so you are encouraged so sit back and relax.
In terms of the features, the glass boxes in the Willis Tower are free, whereas you do have to pay for the TILT at the John Hancock Centre. Although both are great features and give you a little extra thrill when visiting.
While it was nice having a drink in the John Hancock Centre we would recommend the Willis Tower. The main reason is because of the glass panels. Plus the Willis Tower is one of the most recognised buildings in Chicago.
Looking for other things to do in Chicago, then have a look at what we got up to over our 2 day visit.