Once the world’s tallest building when it opened in 1973 as Sears Tower, Willis Tower is still way up in the clouds. The 1,454-foot (443-meter) skyscraper reigns as the tallest building in the Midwest and the second-tallest building in all of North America with its spires just 325 feet (99 meters) shorter than Manhattan’s One World Trade Center. Though it functions as an office tower, the skyscraper’s 103rd-floor Skydeck Chicago draws 1.7 million annual visitors for a trip out onto The Ledge, an enclosed glass balcony extending four feet (1.2 meters) outside the 103rd floor, and for panoramic views that, on clear days, extend as far as Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Willis Tower can be seen from around the Windy City and is a highlight on most sightseeing tours and Chicago River cruises. Those looking to head to the top should book admission tickets in advance to avoid waiting in long ticket lines. The journey to Skydeck Chicago starts with interactive exhibits and the “Reaching for the Sky” film presentation, which covers the tower’s history and plays during the 70-second elevator ride up to the 103rd floor. At the Skydeck, you can admire the city from above and take a turn on the glass-bottomed Ledge, set 1,353 feet (412 meters) above the streets. For a unique Chicago dining experience, book lunch or dinner at Willis Tower, where you can eat Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza on either the 99th floor or at the Skydeck. Early risers can opt for an early-access breakfast experience at the Skydeck, 90 minutes before it opens to the public.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Allow at least an hour for a trip to the top.
- It’s best to book tickets in advance to avoid waiting in admission lines.
- The building offers free public WiFi.
- Gift shops and a café—serving popular Chicago fare from Connie’s Pizza and Vienna Hot Dogs—are located at the Skydeck.
How to Get There
Willis Tower is located on the west side of the Loop, not far from the Chicago River and several popular Chicago attractions such as the Art Institute and Millennium Park. It’s serviced by several bus lines and is near the blue, brown, orange, pink, purple, and red lines on the L train. The Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station are both under a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) west of Willis Tower. The entrance to the Skydeck experience is off of Jackson Boulevard.
When to Get There
Willis Tower is open 365 days a year, with the Skydeck and The Ledge open October through February from 10am to 8pm and March through September from 9am to 10pm. Last entry to the Skydeck is 30 minutes prior to closing. Views are equally good on sunny days year-round, but Chicago winters are notoriously snowy. To beat the crowds, it’s best to visit just after the building opens. Sunset is a popular time to visit, while the midday sun can create shadows and glares on the viewing windows and Ledge platform.