Willis Tower coins a new meaning to the phrase, “I’m on top of the world.”  You really do feel like you’re on top of the world. With nothing but a glass box between you and the ground about 1,350 feet below your feet, it provides a new perspective about the world around you.  

Willis Tower - Sears Tower Chicago

Willis Tower – Sears Tower, Chicago

This summer, we had the opportunity to stand on the Ledge and succumb to our curiosity.  Honestly, it was frightening the first time we stepped out but it was breathtaking and incredible at the same time. (The second time was not as disorienting or scary!)   Chicago is full of historic and memorable buildings but I think this building was one of my favorites!  Willis Tower, formerly known as Chicago’s famous Sears Tower, is the tallest skyscraper- with the most floors in North America.  With 110 stories, this 1451-foot building is DEFINITELY a highlight of Chicago!  The notorious Skydeck ledge is located on the 103rd floor.  On a clear day, you can stand on the Skydeck and see more than 50 miles in any direction and four states.  

On the way to the Skydeck you’ll travel through a long and extensive queue.  The day we were there the line was short and we had no wait.  We spoke with workers and they have seen lines in excess of four hours long.  If it’ s a busy time of year, start early.  The queue includes a theater room with a <5 minute video about the building of the tower.  It goes into details including the amount of concrete, wire, and glass it takes to make such a massive structure.  Don’t miss the video.  Throughout the queue they have informational tidbits on the walls and graphics comparing this tower to other tall structures world-wide.

The elevator ride takes about a minute.  The elevators are spacious and can accommodate strollers, scooters and wheelchairs.  There is wheelchair access throughout the 103rd floor.  The day we were there the crowds were minimal.  We took our time and spent more than an hour looking around the exhibits, having our picture taken on the Skydeck, using the restrooms, and picking out a souvenir.

We weren’t rushed and felt like we could have stayed as long as we liked walking the 103rd floor. Be aware, however, that your time on the ledge itself might feel a bit rushed.  If there’s any line at all; everyone wants their turn.  You won’t have a lot of time to take photos on the ledge.  The best picture moments might be while walking around and looking at the 360 degree vista that surrounds the 103rd floor.  There are actually four “decks” for the Skydeck.  With four lines this helps on more busy days.  When we first arrived we went straight for the line to go out onto the glass Skydeck ledge (about a 10 minute wait for us that day).  The weather was clear but after an hour a massive cloud rolled in and it was fun to see the kiddo’s reactions when you couldn’t even see the ground.  The Cloud moved and Skydeck line was almost nonexistent.    We decided to test our fears a second time.  Better pictures this time.  Your mileage may vary.

Our kids were thoroughly entertained while we were walking about on the Skydeck and Ledge.  They were interested in the schematics of the building and those around it.  It was fun watching the kids point out things from tiny cars to the large air conditioning units on the top of shorter skyscrapers.  There are some gift shops on the Skydeck but no food (except with a special ticket and only during parts of the day), so keep that in mind. There are scavenger hunts, quizzes, coloring sheets, fact sheets and more for kids. Look on the Willis Tower website for more information.  The bathrooms were spacious. Brian, the engineer, was excited to explain how difficult it is to transport water this high up into a skyscraper.  Apparently it’s quite the ordeal.  He also pointed out that the Skyscraper was invented here in Chicago.  After the great fire the city rebuilt, this time with strict and revolutionary building codes unlike any in the US.  This allowed the city to grow UP instead of out like most places.

Imagine a private breakfast on the ledge overlooking the city.  Make it a date for two or bring the family and enjoy Chicago-style pizza 103 floors up.  We follow many travel blogs.  Our friends over at Travel with Bender have a great article about their breakfast experience.  If feeling a bit rushed on the glass ledge isn’t something for you, then a breakfast plan will give you more time to take photos and enjoy the views. Even though it wasn’t busy and even though we were a tiny bit rushed… it was PLENTY of time standing on a glass ledge.  Trust me.  We had our lifetime supply of glass ledges.  For the rest of us, there are restaurants on the main level, lower level 1, and restaurant level, ranging in variety of food and price.

Admission for adults (12 and up) are around $20.00, and admission for children (11-3) is around $13.00.  If you would like to bypass the line and video and go straight to the elevator, there is a higher fee.  For more information on the Willis Tower, pricing, and events, check out their website at www.theskydeck.com.  Make sure you take a minute to look at the link on a visitor’s inside tips for taking pictures.  Also, for more information on the Chicago CityPASS or pricing, visit their website at www.citypass.com/chicago.    

Discounts?  There’s so much to do and see in Chicago.  The city offers a coupon booklet called the Chicago CityPASS.  It gives you options to visit five of the best attractions in Chicago (including our favorites). There are coupons with discounts for admission to the Skydeck.  Most of the coupons allow you to skip the line with their “VIP Status”.  This might help if you’re a bit busy.  It’s a little pricy if you have a large family like us, but it’s a MUST!  Other discounts?  If you have a membership to a local science museum and they are members of the ASTC Passport program then you might be able to enjoy some of Chicago’s attractions for free.  This is how Wesley Adventures enjoyed Chicago! Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Willis Tower was not part of the ASTC pass (because it’s not a museum).  The pass does change from year to year.

Getting around Chicago?  If you can, WALK.  Sure, it’s a long way but there are few cities that have such an amazing feel as Chicago.  Make sure you have a good map (available from most hotels).  Don’t trust your GPS because your phone will need to “see” three or more GPS satellites to know your position and the tall buildings will cause havoc.  The first time Brian visited downtown Chicago his GPS was acting up and was the source of much frustration.

Take the bus!  Chicago has a great tap-on and tap-off bus pass.  If you walk a couple of miles and need to get back to your hotel or to another part of the city use the bus pass.  The passes can be acquired at local stores including Walgreens (double check b/c this changes from year to year).  You can buy a Day Pass for around $10 (give or take) which allows you unlimited rides.  Don’t forget to take the raised lightrail!

Sure, we left our Heart in San Francisco, but a piece of our heart will always belong to Chicago.  Be sure to check out our other Chicago adventures!