Before the Ledge opened at the Skydeck at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) a few years ago, people were faced with a difficult choice for the best views: Willis or Hancock? Now, there’s really no competition. It takes a slightly wobbly 60-second elevator ride to get to the 103rd-floor Skydeck, which actually consists of a series of 4-foot-long, 1.5-inch-thick glass ledges that place you, hovering, 1,353 feet above the city. From your vantage point on the tallest observation deck in the U.S. and the second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, vehicles look like Matchbox cars and the skyline of Chicago looks miniature. That’s the reason 1.5 million people visit this very spot every year, posing for a souvenir photo while floating above the Windy City. In addition to 50 miles of views on a clear day (you can see four states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois), you’ll also get to engage with fun, kid-friendly interactive displays that show you, comparatively, what other Chicago landmarks look like from 1,353 flights. Zoom above Wrigley Field and Millennium Park to see just how tall you really are, and measure yourself to determine how many of you, stacked, would reach the top of the tower. You’ll also get a brief Chicago history lesson from a 9-minute movie, which talks about the building of the tower for Sears in 1970. When it opened in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world, although it’s since been surpassed in height multiple times (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai holds the current record). Sears actually sold the building and moved out in the late '80s, but the name remained until 2009, when global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, the building’s largest tenant, acquired the naming rights and the skyscraper became Willis Tower (many Chicagoans still insist on calling it Sears). In the winter, you can zip up to the top without much of a wait, but in the summer, budget a half hour to 45 minutes in line, or purchase the “Fast Pass” for $40 and skip the wait. The cafe on your way out sells Chicago-centric snacks—hot dogs and deep dish pizza—and if you want to take a piece of Willis home with you, pick up a Willis Tower Legos kit from the gift shop; it’s the shop’s most popular item. Allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours, including wait time.
- Kate Silver