The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is one of the most iconic buildings in the Western Hemisphere…also the tallest. In the world, it is the eighth tallest building. It is the highlight of Chicago’s skyline and contains so much history. It is a premier corporate office building that is home to more than 100 companies. It encompasses more than 4.5 million square feet and is 110 stories high/1,450 feet tall.
If you ever visit the Willis Tower (which we highly recommend you do), not only will you witness a sea of business people coming and going, you will also notice dozens and dozens of tourists walking in and out. Why? Because of Skydeck and The Ledge. Skydeck occupies the 103rd floor of the tower, which is also home to The Ledge, a glass-viewing platform. This attracts more than 1.7 million visitors every year and, as such, you can expect it to be busy.
To that point, my team and I visited on a regular Saturday morning approximately an hour after opening. Greeted by the front desk and security guards who direct guests toward Skydeck, we immediately heard the guards announce that there was already a 3-hour wait. The reason for such an early backlog was 100 percent visibility that day, according to security. That translated to both good and bad news – good because it meant a great experience and amazing photos, but bad because we had other tourist attractions to visit and didn’t anticipate such a wait.
We were advised to return later in the day, approximately around dinner hour as the crowds were sure to disperse by then. The timing proved to be perfect with only a 1-hour wait time. Not to mention that it provided us with views of daylight hours, sunset, and the night sky. And now we can pass along this valuable information to our readers – if you plan on attending Skydeck, consider going late in the day, approximately an hour before sunset. Not only will you encounter shorter lines, you will also get the most out of the experience… and out of your photos.
The lineup seems to go quickly thanks to a multitude of murals and interactive videos that show and explain some historical facts about Chicago and the Willis Tower.
Emerging from the elevator, expect to be blown away by the breathtaking views. Because it was a clear day, we were able to see over 50+ miles and four states.
Skydeck gives a wonderful 360 view on the 103rd floor and also offers a step out further onto The Ledge.
The Ledge was inspired by curious visitors and the memorable scene in the classic 80s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where the characters stand right against the window while pressing their foreheads against the glass as they attempt to look directly below.
Now, with The Ledge, visitors have a unique and unobstructed view of the city given that the enclosure is an all-glass box located 1,353 feet above Wacker Drive and the Chicago River, that extends out 4.3 feet from the building. While in the box, guests can view the city up, down, below and all around. The fully enclosed glass boxes (there are four of them in a line) effectively retract into the building, allowing easy access for cleaning and maintenance.
Standing on The Ledge undoubtedly is an exhilarating experience and, as you can likely imagine, is the busiest section of Skydeck. As such, you can expect to wait in line. There were approximately a dozen or so people in line ahead of my team and me so it took about half an hour or so for our turn.
Visitors tend to put on a model show when it’s their turn, taking numerous shots and conducting various poses with unencumbered views of Chicago as their backdrop. I must admit, I was definitely guilty of this myself.
Also on the 103rd floor is a gift shop that offers an array of Chicago and Willis Tower merchandise available for purchase.
If you are ever in Chicago, even for just a day or two, I would highly recommend putting the Willis Tower on your To Do list. Skydeck and The Ledge are amazing experiences and the views are just incredible.
General admission tickets are fairly priced. It is $24USD for adult tickets (ages 12 and up) and $16USD for youth tickets (ages 3 to 11). Children under 3 are free. There is also a fast pass admission which allows tourists to shorten their wait time and be within 2 to 4 elevator rides of their arrival. Understandably, this is the more pricey option, which is $49USD for ALL ages, with the exception of free for children under three.
Review and Photos by Marisa Filippo