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Visiting Skydeck Chicago: Everything You Need to Know
December 22, 2021 By CityPASS
The most dominant building in the Chicago skyline, Willis Tower is home to The Skydeck, a thrilling tourist attraction that offers 360-degree views of The Windy City. The skyscraper (formerly known as the Sears Tower) has been a highlight for visitors to Chicago for many years. The Skydeck played a role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , where the main characters famously leaned their foreheads against the windows to peer down on the city below. The addition of The Ledge in 2009 allows today’s fearless visitors to go even farther, stepping out into glass boxes with transparent floors to appreciate an unimpeded view of the buildings and streets beneath them. On a clear day, you can see for 50 miles in every direction, with views extending across four states: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The Skydeck at a Glance: Fun Facts
- Willis Tower is 1,450 feet high, but when you add the twin antennae it clocks in at 1,730 feet. This makes it the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
- The Skydeck on the 103rd floor is the highest observation deck in the U.S., at 1,353 feet off the ground. Extra fun fact: the bathrooms on this floor are also the highest bathrooms in the Western Hemisphere.
- The glass boxes of the Ledge extend out 4.5 feet from the Skydeck.
- It took 2,000 workers three years to build Willis Tower, which opened in 1973.
- The windows in Willis Tower are washed by six roof-mounted robotic window washers.
- Willis Tower sways in the wind. It was designed to sway up to 3 feet from the center, but the average sway is only about 6 inches.
- Approximately 1.5 million tourists visit the Skydeck every year.
Plan Your Visit to Skydeck Chicago: Things to Know Before You Go
For current hours of operation, please refer to the attraction's website.
Early in the morning, about an hour after opening seems to be a quiet time to visit, especially during weekdays. If you want to see all three views—daylight, twilight, and the nighttime city lights—timing your visit so that you'll be getting to the Skydeck an hour before sunset is probably your best bet (though this is a peak time, so it may be crowded). If the weather is right, the sunsets are spectacular.
The Skydeck is ADA-compliant and completely accessible, including The Ledge. Wheelchairs, scooters and strollers are welcome and accommodated by ramps, and a limited number of complimentary wheelchairs are available to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis. Licensed guide dogs are welcome.
If you attend the "Reaching for the Sky" theatre presentation, you can request hearing assistance receivers at the Skydeck cashier before entering. The presentation is also subtitled.
Kids and Babies:
It’s not just parents who love Skydeck – kids do, too ! Children of all ages are welcome and strollers are permitted on the elevators and the Skydeck. The Skydeck website offers a range of downloadable coloring sheets, activities and a Teacher’s Guide for kids who would like to learn more before or after their visit.
Cameras are allowed and encouraged, but tripods aren’t so leave those at home (monopods and selfie sticks are OK). Skydeck employees are available to help you take your best photo, with your camera or theirs. If using yours, use the "backlight" feature on your camera when shooting towards the windows, and turn off your flash and use a polarizing filter if you want the view behind you to be visible in your photo (which, of course you do!).
If you will be driving to the Skydeck and want directions from Google Maps, enter the address to the main entrance:
232 S. Franklin St.
Chicago, IL 60606
Skydeck Chicago's website also offers detailed driving directions from all directions:
Convenient parking for Willis Tower is located at Tower Self Park, operated by InterPark.
Chicago, IL 60606
Open 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week
You can pre-purchase discounted parking online before visiting at iparkit.com .
The L's Brown, Orange, Pink, and Purple lines all have stops near Willis Tower. Get off at the Quincy stop, which is a block from Franklin Street. It is also close to Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station and several bus lines. RTA Chicago offers an online trip planner .
Chicago's bike-sharing program, Divvy Bikes has several bike stations very close to Willis Tower, including on Franklin Street south of Jackson Boulevard, and just east of Franklin Street on Quincy Street. Visit www.divvybikes.com for more details.
Enjoy the Interactive Exhibits and Movies
The lobby, elevators and the Skydeck itself are enhanced with fun and fascinating information about the building’s history and construction. You’ll find touch-screen exhibits and activities that highlight the city of Chicago, comparisons of iconic skyscrapers across the globe, and screens which simulate stepping out onto The Ledge over famous Chicago landmarks.
The Main Event: Up to the Skydeck!
The elevator ride is a thrilling part of the Skydeck experience. These elevators are some of the fastest in the world, getting you to the Skydeck in 60 seconds and letting you feel the air pressure change as you rise: be prepared for your ears to pop!
Once on the Skydeck, floor-to-ceiling windows let you see Chicago in all its glory from 103 stories up and, when the sun is shining, you can actually catch glimpses of four different states and a wide range of other top Chicago sights . There are telescopes available, so be sure to bring some change with you to take a closer look.
Here are the highlights and landmarks to look out for in each direction:
East: Lake Michigan is the superstar here, and clear weather might allow you to see the shore of Michigan all the way across the water. You can also see the Shedd Aquarium , the Adler Planetarium , and Millennium and Grant Parks .
North: You can catch sight of many of Chicago’s other famous skyscrapers such as the John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place, as well as the Chicago River, Wrigley Field , and the Lincoln Park Zoo . Towards the horizon, Chicago’s edges begin to meet with southern Wisconsin.
West: From this direction and at this height, the air traffic from O'Hare and Midway airports might not seem so far away. You’ll see Oprah’s Harpo Studios building, The United Center, Little Italy and Greektown. This is also where the four glass boxes of The Ledge are located. For romantics and photographers, the true attraction of the west side of the Skydeck is really the incredible sunsets.
If you want to take a break from the dizzying views, you’ll find restrooms and a gift shop on this level.
The Ledge: Stepping Out into Thin Air
On the west side of the Skydeck, four glass boxes beckon the brave to step out beyond the edge of the building and stare at the city with a clear view from every angle...and 1,353 feet straight down to the streets below. The glass boxes are made of three layers of half-inch thick glass that has been seamlessly laminated together, which means that there’s just an inch and a half of glass between your feet and city below. It can be a bit scary, but it’s perfectly safe: the boxes can hold up to 10,000 pounds and are built to withstand four tons of pressure. Each box weighs 7500 pounds and can retract into the building for cleaning and maintenance.
If it's a busy day, there can be lines to experience The Ledge, and you are unlikely to have the boxes to yourself. Some have found that the "official" photo box may be less chaotic, as there are attendants there to help with crowd control. This box is the furthest to the left as you enter, and features lighting for nighttime and a Canon camera mounted on the ceiling for "official" photos. These photos are available to purchase, but you can also ask one of the attendants to take a photo with your phone or camera.
Snacking and Shopping
The restaurants in Willis Tower operate Monday through Friday. There is a Starbucks on the Main Level and a Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins on Lower Level One. You can also visit the Market Creations cafe and buffet on the Restaurant Level.
There are multiple gift shops at Willis Tower, including one on the Skydeck Level and one as you exit so you can preserve your memory with a souvenir.
Special Occasion? Ask About the Welcome Wall!
If someone in your party is celebrating a birthday, anniversary, engagement or other special occasion, Skydeck offers a free message service on their "Welcome Wall" in the ticket area. To get your message on the wall, email it and your estimated arrival time to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two days before you visit. Your message must be 60 characters or less and is subject to availability and management approval. Skydeck staff will also help you plan a special occasion, from an intimate proposal to group celebrations!
To get the most out of your stay in Chicago, we recommend finding lodging near Chicago's top attractions like Skydeck Chicago. Use this map to find the right lodging for you: