So you’re in Chicago, yay! What better way to see the city than from a bird’s eye view from up one of the two observation decks!? (If you’ve flown into Chicago O’Hare over Lake Michigan, you’ll probably agree it’s a pretty impressive approach!) You may be a little pushed for time and only want to go up one, but which observation deck is better? 360 Chicago or Skydeck? I’ve now been to both and hopefully can provide you with a little insight which may help you in your decision making!
360 Chicago vs Skydeck?
Chicago are on point with their observation decks, both have equally cool features. Unlike New York City where I have an obvious favourite (Rockefeller Centre is better than the Empire State Building), with Chicago, I’m really not so sure!
Skydeck at the Willis Tower
Location: 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606 (entrance on S Franklin St)
Nearest CTA train stop: Quincy (Brown, orange, pink and purple line)
Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), making it the tallest observation deck, not only out of the two in Chicago, but it’s the highest in the whole of the USA at 1353ft. The Elevators have a fun video that tells you the current height as you’re going up and what world landmarks you’d be overtaking!
For me, what makes Skydeck ridiculously cool, is The Ledge. These are 4 glass boxes that stick out the side of the building and by glass, yes I mean even the floor is glass, giving thrill seekers the chance to stand on a see-through floor and see 1353ft down to the miniature cars and people travelling the streets below! It doesn’t feel natural in the slightest, but I’ve been on it twice now and I’m still living to tell the tale!
If you’re in Chicago because you’re starting Route 66, it’s quite cool because the Willis Tower is partly on Adams Street, where the Route 66 begin sign is located. You can stand on The Ledge and literally look out in the direction of Route 66. On a good visibility day, you can see in a 50 mile radius…a minuscule distance in reality when you think that the length of Route 66 is 2451 miles! It feels like an epic challenge!
Crazy Fact: The building can sway 6 inches in the wind but is designed to be able to sway 3 FEET, WHAT?!
Tips for visiting Skydeck
If you are planning on visiting Skydeck, here are my tips. The first time I went was July 2011 in the height of the summer season. We bought our tickets online in advance and started lining up before it opened. We were told that the visibility at the top was 0% but as we were in Chicago for only a day, we took the chance and by the time we got to the top it was clear…and we had the place to ourselves as a couple of people in the line around us bailed out. We were first up the elevator so meant we were first on The Ledge and were able to take several photos in the various boxes, with absolutely no one else in them.
My 2nd visit was in March 2014, it was cold, we hadn’t planned on visiting, so rocked up in the middle of the day and had to wait over an hour to buy tickets and go up in the elevator, IN WINTER. There was definitely no chance of getting The Ledge to yourself.
- Buy tickets in advance
- Start lining up before opening time
They now offer early bird tickets for $65 on weekends where you can go up early before the doors open for general admission. In my opinion this is a little steep and so if you can, visit on a week day, pay the regular price but just get there early.
If you really want a photo in an ’empty box’ you can pay for a professional photo. I really like the one that we had taken…it’s certainly better than the tacky fake green screen photos!
Bucket List Photos to get at Skydeck The Ledge
- Looking down at your feet
- Sitting on the floor with the huge drop below you!
- A photo taken from another box which shows the Ledge sticking outside the building
(Correct at time of writing Sept 2018)
General Admission – Adult $24/Child $16
If purchased online, they are valid for 6 months from the date selected…worth bearing in mind if it really is a 0% visibility day.
Fastpass – $49 starting from 11am…staggered entry allowing you to skip the lines. Tickets are valid for the certain time brackets only.
Early Bird – $65 (Oct – Feb early entrance at 9am Saturdays and 9.30am Sundays)
Sky Deck Opening Hours
Open 365 days a year
March to September: 9am – 10pm
October to February: 10am – 8pm
For more information, visit the Skydeck Chicago website.
John Hancock 360 Chicago
Nearest CTA train stop: Chicago (red line)
The John Hancock Tower is home to the 2nd of Chicago’s public observation towers! It’s slightly ‘lower’ than Skydeck, with the observation deck being on the 94th floor at a height of 1030ft. It does however have an elevator speed of 20mph, making it one of the fastest elevators in the USA! Previously known as the John Hancock Observatory, it has now been renamed as 360 Chicago. For me, I preferred the views that 360 Chicago offers. It’s closer to Lake Michigan so you can see more of the shoreline and Navy Pier, as well as the typical city views.
Related Reading: Visiting Lincoln Park Zoo, a Free Attraction in Chicago!
Tips for visiting 360 Chicago and the BEST way to SAVE MONEY!
Now Skydeck charges $65 for its early bird weekend ticket which is obviously a lot more than the regular general admission price. What if I told you that at 360 Chicago, will give you early access to the observation deck AND an hour long YOGA CLASS for $15 (plus tax)?!?! $15 is cheaper than the regular admission and you’re getting a class chucked in for the price! It’s a really fun way to experience the city.
Yoga tickets are limited to 30 and they do SELL OUT. I booked a week in advance (for the 2nd weekend in September). Classes run every Saturday, I ordered my tickets on the Sunday and 4 places had been filled, by Wednesday they were all gone. There are limited yoga mats available (roughly 15?). We arrived the recommended 20 minutes early and there were still a few left, there were people that took their own and some people just had to use the floor, I packed a microfibre travel towel just in case so I would have had something without having to lug my mat around the city with me.
The class focused on relaxation, balancing and breathing so nothing too strenuous. The instructor does a great job of talking you through the positions too, making it easy if you (STILL) don’t know the names. She’ll also include taking in the views as part of the relaxation techniques and the building rooftops make great ‘stationary’ objects to focus on during balancing poses!
Related Reading: Practicing Goga (Goat Yoga)! Coco’s Ranch, IA
After the class you are free to enjoy the observation deck with interactive information screens, Bar 94 where you can grab a drink or pay $8 extra to then experience Tilt! Tilt is 360 Chicago’s answer to Skydeck’s The Ledge. Essentially 8 people stand in a window with hand rails and then the window tilts 30 degrees out of the side of the building.
It’s over quite quickly but then you are expected to hold your body weight up (a bit like a push up), after an hour of planking and downward facing dogs, I know that my arms were starting to feel the burn half way through the experience! As you are expected to hold on at all times, you therefore can’t take any photos, you have to pay $25 for the professional ones. You do however get a free sticker to say you completed it (yay free stuff!).
By 11am when we had finished up on the 94th floor, there was still no line for ticket desk or the elevator and this was on a Saturday only just outside of peak season.
(Peak season end of May until beginning of September)
Adult: Peak $23/Non peak $21 (Chicago residents receive 50% off)
Child: Peak $16/Non peak $14
360 Yoga including 94th floor entry: $15 (plus tax)
Fast Pass: $44 (in my opinion, probably not necessary)
Drink Package: $26.50 (beer, wine or cocktail from package menu)
360 Chicago Opening Hours
Open 365 days a year
9am – 11pm
For more information visit the 360 Chicago website.
Conclusion: Which is better? Chicago 360 vs Skydeck?
If you want better views – 360 CHICAGO.
If you don’t want to spend all time waiting in a line – 360 CHICAGO.
THE LEDGE at the Willis Tower Skydeck is BETTER than Tilt at the John Hancock 360 Chicago and possibly the reason that I would pick Skydeck over 360 Chicago…so if you are a thrill seeker, I’d pick Skydeck for the adrenaline.
If you aren’t worried about doing Tilt, 360 Chicago is better value for money. With 360 Yoga giving you the best value in terms of experiences.
Peak 360 Chicago admission with Tilt – $31 ($23 without)
360 Yoga with Tilt – $25 ($17 without)
Skydeck with The Ledge experience – $24
Which Chicago observation deck would you pick? Chicago 360 or Skydeck?
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