Willis Tower, Chicago

Continuing with my tradition of visiting (and going up whenever possible) notable skyscrapers and supertalls of the cities that I am in, I dropped by and went up the observation deck of Willis Tower in Chicago.

The 108-story supertall, previously known as the Sears Tower, used to be the tallest building in the world. Now in 7th place, it is still the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (well at least before the One World Trade Center in New York is completed). As it is 442 meters high, it is also the one of the best places to get a stunning 360-degree view of the Windy City, the surrounding counties, and Lake Michigan beyond it. On a clear day you can even see as far as Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Chicago skyline

Willis Tower was the last landmark that I visited in Chicago, after spending time in the Field Museum, Grant Park, and Cloud Gate in the Millenium Park. Located at the western edge of the Chicago Loop, the city's commercial center, it is just a few blocks away from the afformentioned park. I walked going there, braving the wintry weather accentuated by the chilly wind. It was on a late afternoon on a Saturday, so traffic was almost nonexistent in downtown. 

I purchased my ticket online in advance, so I went straight to the line going up the observation deck, called Sky Deck. Like in many popular places in the US, security is tight. For a second I thought that I was in an airport being frisked by the TSA. We have to pass through a metal detector, and all hand-carried stuff has to go inside the X-ray machine. 

Chicago skyline. The black building in the middle is John Hancock Center
We were then shepherded into a small theater where a short documentary about Chicago's skyscrapers and the construction of the building was shown. Then it was a 15-minute wait in the elevator that would take us to the 103rd floor, where the Sky Deck - 412 meters above ground - is located. I purposely went there late afternoon as I wanted to see Chicago in daylight and at night time. 

Stepping on the Skydeck Ledge
The elevator ride to the top was zippy enough, and I actually was able to feel my ear pop when we went past 80th floor. I was complaining silently just after landing in Midway because I was not able to equalize during the flight because of a stuffy nose, but the elevator ride took care of it. 

There was still light outside when I entered the observation deck, so I was able to see downtown and the rest of the city in daylight. The deck was crowded; I think they have the same idea as I had, to wait out until dusk.

Willis Tower is on the extreme left
The main attraction of the observation deck is the Skydeck Ledge, which are glass boxes (including the floor!) that extend four feet from the side of the building. The retractable glass balconies enable you to see Wacker Drive, the street below them. I waited for a a few minutes in line to go to one of the balconies, and when my turn comes, I felt a slight case vertigo as I stepped on the transparent glass. And like every other visitor that went inside that box, I had my photo taken as a keepsake, and moved on to see the rest of the view.   

Train yards and skyscrapers on Chicago's western side
Moving from one side to another, admiring the grid-like view of downtown Chicago. I saw Lake Michigan and the coast on one side, and the train yards with rails sprouting like tendrils of vines in the other. When the sun set, the roads got lit by street lights and made the city look like the William Gibson's description of cyberspace in Neuromancer: "Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..."  

The grid-like view of downtown Chicago. You can see the Ledge on the left
I left about half an hour before closing time, contented with the fact that I added another supertall to my list. Braving the chilly weather, I again walked around downtown looking for a place to get some dinner, eventually ending up in a Chinese food joint manned by Filipinos.

How to Get There
Willis Tower is located in 233 South Wacker Drive, at the western edge of The Loop. You have to enter from the south side, at Jackson Boulevard.

Useful Info
Entrance fee costs $18 for adults, $12 for children up to 11 years old. 
Website: theskydeck.com

by Kin Enriquez


  1. wow.i love the skyline shots!

  2. The thing that amazed was the clear elevator plus the scenery when the sun is about to set. Very cool photos. Anyway, as I was reading, I think you doubled the same paragraph before and after the Stepping on the skydeck ledge. :)

  3. Beautiful! Especially like the photo with the city lights at night. That's probably the kind of view that I can only see in my dreams.

  4. Wow breathtaking view at such height! Whew, only the brave tread there! =)


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