Willis Tower vs. 360 Chicago: which is best?

If  you’re strapped for time while sightseeing in Chicago, the great debate of which skyscraper to visit between Willis Tower and 360 Chicago will likely arise – which one is best? We’ve made the decision making process easy for you, by breaking down what each tower has to offer! Check out what we have to say below to help you to decide the best way to make the most of your time!

Willis Tower (formally known as The Sears Tower):

The Willis Tower was completed in 1973, and is the tallest building in Chicago, at a staggering 110 stories. With the antennae included, that’s 1,730 feet high (520 meters)! The SkyDeck (where you want to go for the views) is on the 103rd floor, only 1,353 feet up from street-level. There are a lot more interesting facts from the tower’s official website.

At the Willis Tower, you have the option of visiting the SkyDeck, and walking on “The Ledge”, but if you’d rather spend a small fortune and eat there (I’m talking breakfast reservations for 2 people at the low price of $250?!?!?!), you could do that too! We decided to go with the first option, as we were short on time (and funds, TBH).

When we visited the tower, it was right when they opened at 9:00am – we were one of the first groups of people inside the main entrance!

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With our Chicago Go Card pass, we were able to cut the lines made up of tour groups and school-aged kids to access the elevators to the SkyDeck. On our way to the elevators, there was a mini interactive-type museum where you could watch some neat videos about the history of the tower, and check out some interesting facts about the tower. Once you get loaded up into the elevator to (finally) get to the SkyDeck, a video plays and tells you about some history that you may have missed on your way through, including how quickly you’re being shot into the air on the tiny elevator that’s taking you to the top…

Once you step through those elevator doors and onto the skydeck floor, the sights are phenomenal. You can see for miles! Apparently, on a clear day, you can see up to 4 of its surrounding states depending which way you’re looking. Once you get the chance to soak in the views, you need to take your adventurous self over to The Ledge. In case you haven’t heard about this, the Ledge is a series of 4 all-glass cubes that stick out over the side of the Willis Tower, with only 1,353 feet separating you from the street below. Do yourself a favor and check this out – the view is slightly terrifying, but so worth it. You get to actually go out into this cube, and even get your photo taken (both professionally and with your own camera if you so choose). The Ledge is what we loved the most about the SkyDeck at the Willis Tower, and likely its main attraction once you get to the SkyDeck.

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Ok, now the minor details:
Admission Price:
Adults $23.00, Youth $15.00
Hours of Opening:
These vary depending on the time of year – the SkyDeck website has more information regarding specifics, but if you plan to go mid-morning or later, you’ll be fine, as it’s open 365 days a year. Just note that the last entry is 30 minutes before closing.
What you get:
You essentially get a self guided tour of the place – there’s stuff to look at if you have to wait an extended period in line, and lots of interactive stuff for the kids. Once you get to the SkyDeck, the views are spectacular, and the Ledge is a lot of fun. There’s a souvenir shop if you neeeeeed a souvenir as well.

360 Chicago (formerly known as The John Hancock Center):

360 Chicago was completed in 1969, and is a towering 1,552 feet tall (antennae included). It stands at 99 stories, and is the 4th tallest building in Chicago, after the Willis, Trump, and AON towers. The 360 Chicago Observatory Deck sits on the 94th floor, and is the home of magnificent views and TILT! “Chicago’s Highest Moving Experience”. Check out the 360 Chicago website for more information about the building and it’s history.

When we visited 360 Chicago, it was one of our last stops (not because it was low priority, but because of where it was on the Big Bus Tour that we were taking throughout the day). We visited around 4:30 in the afternoon and found that while it was busy, it wasn’t overly packed – and this was on a Saturday, so we were pleasantly surprised!

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Entering the 360 Chicago was a similar experience to entering the Willis Tower. Go inside and walk through a line-up (that was fairly empty, thanks to our secret entrance being Go Card holders). We only had to wait in line for about 10-ish minutes before catching the elevator up to the very top (okay, the 94th floor – close enough), and were entertained by all of the interesting graphics and fun facts painted on the walls. Once we did get to the observatory, the views were jaw-dropping. The blueness of Lake Michigan resembled that of a tropical beach. Contrasting with the white sand below, you could almost pretend for just a second that you were in the Caribbean…almost. Okay…maybe more Miami, but still! The lake closest to our home is not that colour. Anyway, moving on….

After you take in as much of the Miami, er, Chicago, views that you can, you must check out 360 Chicago’s newest attraction: TILT! Essentially, it’s a type of standing “ride” (I say ride for lack of a better word) where each (paying) person has the opportunity to step into the designated area in front of glass windows, hold on to the hand rail (for dear life) and be literally tilted outside of the building (don’t worry, you’re still technically “inside”) to catch a view of the Magnificent Mile 1000 feet below. One of us maybe was a bit too terrified to attempt this, so the other one may have had to try this out alone. But let’s just say, it was a very neat experience! Definitely a cool perspective that not many people get to encounter. If you’re interested in learning more about TILT!, check out their website! Just note that the TILT! experience price is not included with admission to 360 Chicago – it’s an extra $7(USD) but definitely worth the few extra dollars! Also, there is a souvenir shop if you’re that person who needs souvenirs from every place they’ve ever been to…

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Now, the minor details:
Admission Price:
Adults $20.50, Youth $13.50 – add and extra $7 if you plan on doing TILT!
Hours of Opening:
360 Chicago is open 9am – 11pm daily, 365 days a year. Note that the last entry is 30 minutes before closing.
What you get:
Similar initial experience as the Willis Tower – you essentially get a self guided tour of the place. There’s stuff to look at if you have to wait an extended period in line, videos to watch, etc. Once you actually get up to the top, there are a lot of interactive stations (also educational) that can be entertaining for all ages. There’s also TILT! which was pretty fun if you’re not deathly terrified that you’re going to fall through the glass and succumb to your death on Michigan Avenue below.

So there you have it: Willis Tower vs 360 Chicago – which is best? We experienced both so that you can make an educated decision based on our experience(s). Which tower do you think you’d choose? (We couldn’t decide so we ended up doing both, clearly). Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy travels!

–The Calkins’

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