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Willis Tower vs John Hancock Centre- (360 Chicago vs Skydeck)

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. We pit the two main observation towers in the city the Willis Tower vs the John Hancock Observation deck. You might have a lot of questions like which one is better. Or the height of the John Hancock Centre vs the height of the Willis Tower?  Or is the John Hancock tower bar worth visiting? Well luckily we did both and answer these questions to help you decide which one to visit. All in all it comes down to a battle between the 360 Chicago vs Skydeck. Who will win?

Willis Tower vs John Hancock Centre

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.

Getting to the Willis Tower

You get get on pretty much any train that will take you downtown to the loop. Jackson Station is the closest station particularly if you are traveling on the Red or Blue Line. The building is about a 10 minute walk away and the entrance to the Skydeck is on Jackson between Wacker and Franklin. Once in the building you need to follow the signs and head downstairs in order to buy tickets and wait for the elevator to take you up.

Cost

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. We opted for basic entry as we got there pretty early and were able to meet most of the queues anyway.

Features

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.

Luckily for us though as we were one of the first elevator loads to get here we had the glass panels all to ourself. Which basically meant we could take several pictures before the crowds arrived. It also gave me time to pluck up the courage to step out onto the glass.

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.

Tips

  • 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. How high is the John Hancock Centre? Well 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.

Getting to the John Hancock Centre

If you are getting the subway you will need to get the red line to Chicago station. It is about an 8 minute walk from the station to the John Hancock Centre. When you come out of the station head up E Chicago Avenue past the McDonalds and Chick-fil-A. You then take a left onto Michigan Avenue until you see the entrance to the observation deck.

Cost

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.

Features

360 Chicago is located on the 94th floor of the building. You get some amazing views over the city, and especially over Lake Michigan. The only downside for us was that it was raining when we visited. Tickets are not discounted and considering we only had 2 days in Chicago we decided to do it anyway. After all the John Hancock Tower bar sort of made up for it for us.

The bar was one of our favourite features. 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. The other thing is because there is so much seating and because of the bar you really don’t feel rushed here. You could sit all day and take in the views. Yes even in the rain.

John Hancock tower bar

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. We watched a few people do it and I’m not going to lie it looked terrifying. If I didn’t have such a fear of heights though it is a great novelty especially because how often can you say I was tilted out of the John Hancock Centre?

hancock tower height

Tips

  • 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.

360 Chicago vs Skydeck

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. The Willis Tower made you feel like you were supposed to go get your photos and leave. At least in our opinion.

In terms of the novelty, 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. Obviously the glass boxes at the Willis Tower mean you can get more photos as you can only get professional photos taken on the TILT.

The Verdict

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. It is a great place to get a photo and for us it was certainly more memorable. You might have to line up but it is part of the entrance fee. Plus the Willis Tower is one of the most recognised buildings in Chicago.

That being said if you have the time and money then do both. There was something so beautiful about sitting and relaxing with a cocktail at the John Hancock Centre bar. The experience was far less rushed and how often do you get to say you sipped cocktails on the 94th floor of a building?

Looking for other things to do in Chicago, then have a look at what we got up to over our 2 day visit. 

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  • Lori
    December 17, 2017 at 9:19 am

    I heard so many good things about the Willis Tower and the famous glass pannels! I hope to be able to go there soon – and to defeat my fear of heights and enjoy that view! I’d try the John Hancock too:)