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    Willis Tower: Guide to visiting Chicago's Panoramic Skydeck

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    Joel Fulleda

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    Still called by former citizens of Sears Tower for its original name, the Willis tower is the symbolic skyscraper of the city of Chicago. Its particular shape and its height (it was the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1998) make it easily recognizable in the skyline of the Illinois capital. If a large part of the building is occupied by the offices of large companies and companies, at the same time it also embodies one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the city, thanks to the Skydeck: a balcony, or rather four, with a glass floor for a breathtaking view of the city, definitely not suitable for those suffering from vertigo, being on the 103rd floor!


    • Where is it and how to get there
    • Visit the Willis Tower
      • The unique architecture of the Willis Tower
      • The other skyscrapers of Chicago
    • Skydeck and Ledge: an experience on the void
      • Timetables, tickets and passes
      • Dine or get married on the Skydeck
    • Where to sleep near the Willis Tower

    Where is it and how to get there

    Willis Tower is located at 233 di South Wacker Drive. The main entrance, however, is temporarily closed due to the large new construction underway on the ground floor, which will see the inauguration of a superb restaurant dedicated to food by 2020. For this reason, the inputs to use are those in Adams street - open Monday to Friday from 5 to 22 - and in Franklin Street, open 24 hours and therefore considered the “after hour” entrance.

    If you are already in the city center, there are certainly no problems in identifying the Willis Tower even without a map, but if you are staying outside the center and want to get here directly by public transport, there are several ways:

    • Meter: just one block from the Franklin street entrance, you will find the metro stop Quincy, served by four lines: Brown, Orange, Pink and Purple.
    • Bus: there are numerous bus lines that stop right in front of Willis Tower. The line 37 ferma in Franklin street (fermata Franklin & Adams). Lines 1, 7, 28, 126, 151, 156 stop at both Adams street (stop Adams & S. Wacker) and Jackson Boulevard (stop Jackson & Franklin).
    • Train: right on the other side of the river, a 5-minute walk away, is the Union Station. In this train station, in addition to long-distance trains, most of the local trains that connect downtown Chicago to its suburbs stop.
    How to get around Chicago To get a better idea of ​​getting around the city, read carefully our article on getting around Chicago.

    Visit the Willis Tower

    Seeing this skyscraper from the outside already has its own reason, but it is really worth entering it. Most of the colossal building is dedicated to offices and management centers of large companies, but some areas are open to the public. One of the most interesting is on the 33rd floor Tower House: a meeting and work place, a co-working space where freelancers and creatives can work in the company of the services offered by a bar.

    To keep fit, there is the same level Tone: a real high-altitude gym. On the 66th and 67th floors we find instead Altitude, a bar that finds its strength in the panorama that can be admired from the windows. In addition to having a coffee looking at the city from above, the real reason why the Willis Tower is worth a visit is to discover the peculiarity of its architecture, which culminates in the suggestive Skydeck: one of the main attractions of the city of Chicago.

    The unique architecture of the Willis Tower

    Although for over 20 years it is no longer the tallest building in the world, Willis Tower retains some record and typicality architectural that make a visit essential if you are in Chicago. First of all, the fact of still being the second tallest skyscraper of the USA after the One World Trade Center in New York.

    Inaugurated on May 4, 1973 on commission from the Sears Roebuck and Co. department store chain, it kept the Sears Tower name until 2009, when it was bought by London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. With a height of 527 m (also considering the antennas, otherwise the meters would be 443), the colossal tower was built in a decidedly innovative way, and was partly imitated for the construction of other later skyscrapers.

    The structure, with a square base, is composed of nine tubular elements  in turn with a square base, placed next to each other as if they were placed on a face of the Rubik's Cube. We are talking about a very broad base, if we consider that with over 400 thousand square meters of surface, the built-up area is second only to the Pentagon in US territory. As you can see from the outside, these nine gigantic columns are not all the same height. Only two of them reach 108 floors and above them are the two tall antennas. Three structures instead come to 90 floors, two to 66 and the last two to 50 floors. In truth, the total floors would be 110, but two of them are not habitable, since they are floors used exclusively for lift operations.

    The other skyscrapers of Chicago

    Chicago is, after New York, the American city with the largest number of skyscrapers exceeding 200m in height. This wealth of modern and state-of-the-art towers makes it a perfect destination for civil engineering enthusiasts. But even ordinary tourists can admire Chicago's other iconic buildings from the windows and the Willis Skydeck. They are well 13 the skyscrapers that exceed 200m in height, and 6 of these even exceed 300m. Let's see which are the 5 buildings that compete in height with the Willis Tower.

    John Hancock Center
    Trump Tower
    1. John Hancock Center: 457m (344m without considering the antennas). Also known by the name of its address, 875 North Michigan Avenue, it competes with the Willis as well as for its height, for its panoramic views. Instead of a Skydeck, they were made here two panoramic points breathtaking. A platform that moves outward, making people face down in the void, and an open observation point that allows visitors to feel the effect of the wind at 314m high: thrilling, in all senses!
    2. Trump International Hotel and Tower: 423m. Known simply as Trump Tower, is the second skyscraper in the city if you do not consider the antennas. The structure is actually very similar to that of the Willis Tower, with elements of different heights assembled next to each other, but more offset from each other and with a final result perhaps more chic, but certainly less impressive.
    3. Any Center: The fourth tallest skyscraper in Chicago is also one of the oldest. Inaugurated a year before the Willis Tower, the world height record was removed by the latter. A curiosity: it was initially covered with Carrara marble, a material that proved unsuitable for the harsh Chicago winter. Only a year after the inauguration, a slab broke off and slipped into a nearby building. After a temporary solution with protective belts, in the early 90s all the cladding of the building was replaced with granite.
    4. AT&T Corporate Center: One of the most classic skyscrapers in the US as a structure, it is home to the American Telephons & Telegraph Company of Illinois. As a curiosity, the handlers were praised for decreasing the nocturnal lighting during the migration of the birds, thus reducing their mortality by 80%.
    5. Two Prudential Plaza: The fifth skyscraper in the city is also one of the most relevant from an engineering point of view. Built between 1988 and 1990, it received 8 awards, including the award for the best structure awarded by the Illinois Engineers' Association in 1995.

    Skydeck and Ledge: an experience on the void

    With a dedicated entrance at the base of the Willis Tower, the Skydeck is the piano n.103: dedicated to tourists who want to live a unique experience on the Chicago sky. Here touch screens and one exhibition space inform about the local history and culture, while the video presentation “Reaching for the Sky” tells the story of the building and the city after the great Chicago fire. But the real attraction is The Ledge project. The Ledge consists of four glass boxes that come out from the walls of the skyscraper of about one and a half meters, at a height of over 412m from the ground.

    By taking the elevator to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, it is possible to have one completely unique view not only on the city but, on clear days, on the surrounding area up to 80km: you can touch the border of four different states with your eyes. But the real thrill is that of look down: beyond the glass plate on which one rests one's feet, an impressive leap into the void on the street below.

    Given the footprints left by visitors on the windows of the Skydeck, it was decided to find a solution to satisfy the curiosity to look down. Initially conceived as retractable cabins, which could exit and enter the building, these four boxes were then designed by glass experts, who removed from the project the steel components that supported the cabins under the floor, making sure that the supports , placed only at the edges, did not disturb the view and gave the impression of walking among the clouds ".

    Timetables, tickets and passes

    The Skydeck is open every day of the year: from March to September from 9 to 22, from October to February from 10 to 18. The last admission is half an hour before closing. The cost of this experience isn't exactly cheap, but it's worth it. These are the ticket prices:

    • Full: $ 24
    • Children (3-11 years): $ 16
    • Children under 3: free
    • Fast pass (ticket + priority lift access): $ 49
    • Day / Night admission (two admissions within 24 hours): $ 45

    Sites where to buy the ticket

    • Skydeck tickets on GetYourGuide
    • Skydeck tickets on Viator

    However, know that an opportunity to save is given by Chicago Citypass. The Skydeck is in fact one of the attractions included and, if you are planning to visit other tourist places in the city, it can certainly be an excellent opportunity.

    On the weekend it is possible to enjoy the Early bird admission: a special visit that is held only twice a week, with limited places, and which allows you to have access to the attraction for a longer time than normal. The cost is $ 65 per person and the times are: from March to September on Saturdays at 8 am and Sundays at 8.30 am; from October to February both Saturdays and Sundays at 9am.

    Dine or get married on the Skydeck

    Have you ever thought about having breakfast or lunch one step away from the void? One of the unique experiences that can be lived on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower is just this. For $ 125 each, you can enjoy a rich meal every morning from Monday to Friday breakfast sitting on the edge of the Ledge, watching the passers-by who walk in a hurry below you with their take-away coffee: but they will be so small that they do not notice what they are sipping.

    Breakfast and priority access to the Skydeck

    From March to September the appointment is at 7 am, from October to February at 8 am. romantic dinner under the same conditions. A cost of $ 100 per person for three courses in a truly unique location. Dinner time is from March to September at 22.30pm (Saturday and Sunday 23rd) and from October to February at 8.30am (Saturday and Sunday 9.30am).

    Info for dinner at the Skydeck

    A similar experience can be experienced at lunch: every Saturday and Sunday at 12 there is a lunch next to the windows of the 99th floor, with a spectacular view over the city.

    Info for lunch at the Skydeck

    Organizing a romantic date of this type can only lead to a "Yes" from the other party and therefore, what better occasion than get married suspended in the void? This is no joke: on these glazed terraces it is possible to celebrate your wedding in a decidedly suggestive location. You just have to make sure that your partner does not suffer from vertigo!

    Where to sleep near the Willis Tower

    Willis Tower is located in full center and certainly the area of ​​the Loop is the most suitable for staying near this skyscraper. It is true that it is also the most expensive area of ​​Chicago: if you are looking for cheaper or more remote areas you can take a look at our article dedicated to how to find accommodation in the city (by clicking on the button below), where you will find an overview of the best neighborhoods and a series of recommended structures.

    Our tips on where to sleep in Chicago

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