Skydeck Chicago is the highest observation platform in USA and offers great views of the city and the Michigan lake.
Lured by the need to step on ‘The Ledge,’ more than 1.7 million people visit this attraction every year.
How to reach Skydeck Chicago
Skydeck Chicago is an observation deck in Willis Tower, which is sometimes also referred by its older name ‘Sears Tower.’
Skydeck Chicago is on the 103rd floor of the 110-floor building.
Address: 233 S. Wacker Dr., Franklin Street, Chicago, IL 60606.
The entrance to the Skydeck Chicago is towards the east lobby of Franklin Street.
It is best to use public transportation to get to this attraction.
You can board Brown, Orange, Pink or Purple Line trains on Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ system to reach Skydeck, Chicago.
Get off at the Quincy Station which is about a block away from Franklin Street, and walk rest of the distance (see map below).
Both the stations are within 10 minutes walk from Skydeck Chicago Willis Tower.
The Skydeck Chicago is also accessible by buses from all over the city.
If a bus is your prefered mode of transport, get onto Bus No 1, 7, 22, 28, 126, or 151.
Skydeck Chicago parking
The nearest parking is at Tower Self Park, located directly across the street from the tower on Franklin Street.
Tower Self Park, which is operated by InterPark is located at 211 W. Adams, Chicago, IL 60606. Their phone number is: 312/935-2724.
The parking garage remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Skydeck Chicago hours
During the peak tourist months of March to September, Skydeck Chicago opens at 9 am and closes at 10 pm.
Rest of the year, Skydeck Chicago opens later, at 10 am and closes early, at 8 pm.
Last entry is always 30 minutes before closing.
Skydeck Chicago is open 365 days a year including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Best time to visit Skydeck Chicago
The best time to visit Skydeck Chicago is an hour before sunset.
Since everybody wants to see the sunset from Skydeck Chicago, it gets crowded around this time.
But it is the best possible experience at Skydeck Chicago because you get to see Chicago’s skyline in three different ways – during daylight, twilight and nighttime.
The second best time to visit Skydeck Chicago is early in the morning.
You can completely avoid the crowd if you visit this observation deck before 11 am in summer and before noon in winters.
Best season to visit
Winter is considered to be the best season of the year to go up on Skydeck Chicago.
Since winter is offseason, there is hardly any crowd, and you have the observation deck to yourself.
If you are in Chicago during December, January or February, do visit.
During these months, you can reach the observatory on the 103rd floor in about 10 minutes.
During the peak months it can take a minimum of 45 minutes.
Skydeck Chicago lines
During peak hours, days, or seasons visitors may have to wait for hours in the lines.
There are many lines at Skydeck Chicago in which visitors have to wait if they want to get the full experience.
1. Elevator queue to go down to the ticket counter
You have to wait in a line at the elevator to get down to the ticket counter for buying your tickets.
2. The ticket counter line
On weekends and peak times, you will find long waiting lines at the ticket counter to buy Skydeck Chicago’s entry tickets.
However, you can skip these lines if you buy your Skydeck Chicago tickets much in advance.
3. Elevator lines to go up to Skydeck
These are also very long lines.
During this wait, you get to see interactive exhibits and “Reaching For The Sky” presentation.
Depending on the time of the day and season, the waiting for the elevator can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
With the fast pass ticket, you can skip these elevator lines and get to within 2-4 elevator rides from the Skydeck.
However, we don’t recommend you buy a Fast Pass online.
Since Skydeck Chicago’s Fast Pass is three times as costly as a regular ticket, it makes sense to see the crowd at the time of your visit, and purchase the Fast Pass.
4. The line to get onto the ‘Ledge’
Skydeck’s Ledge is glass boxes extending out 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) from the skyscraper’s Skydeck on the 103rd floor.
It is quite an adrenalin rush to stand on this ledge, and that’s why there is a 10 to 20-minute waiting line here as well.
Even if you have a Fast Pass ticket, you still have to wait with the standard ticket holders in the line for the Ledge.
5. Queue at the elevator to get down
Everybody has to wait in this line regardless of their tickets.
There is no Fast Pass line at the elevator to get down.
Our recommendation: For the best experience, visit during non-peak hours. Buy regular SkyDeck tickets online, and buy Fast Pass at the venue only when you see massive lines.
How long does Skydeck Chicago take?
Visitors usually spend an hour and a half during their visit to Skydeck Chicago’s observatory.
Some tourists are known even to wind up their visit in an hour.
However, your complete tour of Skydeck Chicago can take anywhere from 2 hours to 4 hours depending on the crowd and the waiting lines.
If you want to minimize the time taken at Skydeck, buy Skydeck tickets in advance and visit early in the morning or late at night.
What to see at Skydeck Chicago
There are six things to see and experience at Willis Tower’s Skydeck Chicago.
1. Skydeck Museum
The Skydeck Museum has informative exhibits about the Willis Tower and its history.
The exhibits also narrate Chicago’s rich history and culture through exciting visuals.
2. Video Screens
Video screens keep the visitors engaged even as they wait for their turn.
These screens give visitors a sense of what to expect at the Observatory on 103-floor and The Ledge.
3. Multimedia elevators
These are one of the fastest elevators in the World.
As the elevators go up, they also display information concerning the height that the lift is at currently.
This information helps as a ‘distraction’ for passengers uncomfortable with looking outside.
4. Reaching the Sky
‘Reaching the sky, is the theatrical presentation at the Skydeck Chicago.
It narrates how Willis Tower and Chicago’s other landmarks set the standards for architectural achievements.
5. The Ledge
Skydeck’s Ledge is a glass box extending 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) away from the main walls of the Willis Tower.
The Ledge is different because instead of looking through glass windows (as in other observatories), here you look through glass floor as well.
Through the glass floors, you will be looking at Wacker Drive and the Chicago River from a height of 412 meters (1,353 feet).
Limited time on The Ledge
To ensure everybody gets to experience The Ledge, the time visitors get to spend on it is restricted.
Groups with three or less members get a maximum of 60 seconds/group and groups of four or more members get a maximum of 90 seconds/group.
6. Skydeck Observatory
Skydeck, the observatory is the main attraction of the building.
This observatory in Chicago’s Willis Tower is United States’ tallest observation deck.
It offers 360-degree views of the city, and on a clear day, you can see for 50 miles in every direction.
Skydeck Chicago Fast Pass
The longest wait at Chicago Skydeck is for the elevators.
This wait can take more than an hour during peak times.
And to ensure that the visitors don’t get bored while they wait for the elevators, the Willis Tower management has lined up distractions such as interactive exhibits and “Reaching For The Sky” presentation.
The Skydeck Fast Pass allows you to skip this long waiting period for elevators.
However, we don’t recommend Fast Pass because, at $75 per person, they cost three times more than the standard ticket.
We recommend you buy the regular Skydeck ticket now and upgrade to Fast Pass if it is too crowded on the day of your visit.
Note: There are Fast Pass ticket counters at the attraction.
Skydeck Chicago tickets
This Standard Skydeck entry ticket gets you access to everything there is to see in the observatory.
With this online ticket, you also get to avoid the long lines at the ticket counter.
Once you enter the building from the entrance located on S. Franklin St. between W. Jackson Blvd. and W.Adams Street, walk towards the ticket examiner.
They will scan the ticket on your mobile and let you in.
Adults ticket (12+ years): $23
Children ticket (3 to 12 years): $17
Kids under three years walk in for free.
Skydeck Chicago reviews
Skydeck in Chicago was voted a Top 10 Worldwide Attraction by travelers on Tripadvisor.
In the whole of the USA, there are only two other attractions which feature in this Top 10 list – Statue of Liberty and French Quarter in New Orleans.
Almost every visitor to Skydeck Chicago who left a review on Tripadvisor spoke about the ‘glass box’ and ‘glass floor’ – their reference to the amazing Ledge experience.
Many also used the phrases ‘views are amazing’ and ‘great view of the city’ while describing what they saw from the Observatory.
Skydeck Chicago vs 360 Chicago
Some tourists holidaying in Chicago do wonder if they should visit Skydeck Chicago or 360 Chicago.
If you didn’t know, 360 Chicago in John Hancock building is yet another observatory just 2.4 Kms (1.5 Miles) from Skydeck.
360 Chicago is on the 94th floor and offers excellent views over the city and Lake Michigan.
Skydeck Chicago or 360 Chicago – which is better?
From a location perspective and from views they offer both of them are quite similar.
360 Chicago’s tickets are cheaper than Skydeck’s tickets, and yet Skydeck gets a massive crowd.
So much so, the average waiting time at Skydeck Chicago is double the waiting time at 360 Chicago – during peak times.
However, what differentiates them is their unique feature – 360 Chicago’s Tilt and Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge.
360 Chicago’s Tilt
Eight visitors above 12 years of age lean against a window, which then tilts towards the street 310 meters (1,030 feet) below.
To know how the Tilt works –
You must pay $7 more to experience the tilt.
You can buy 360 Chicago tickets with the Tilt experience beforehand, or you can decide to upgrade at the venue.
Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge
The Ledge is a glass box extending 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) away from the main walls of the Willis Tower.
The observatory’s management spotted the forehead prints of thousands of visitors wanting to see the streets below and decided to build these extensions.
This glass box has a glass floor, which helps you see the street and walkers from a height of 412 meters (1353 feet).
There are four such ledge boxes, and you can take turns to try them out.
The Ledge experience is part of the Skydeck entry ticket.
Our recommendation: If you have time and budget for only one visit, we recommend you buy Skydeck Chicago tickets. If you have time for two trips, you can visit the Skydeck in the morning and book 360 Chicago for a night visit (they are open till late).