High Altitudes in Chicago – John Hancock Observatory and Wilis Tower
Being raised in a city myself, I am no stranger to buildings of dizzling heights and strange architecture. While my fellow international exchange friends were awestruck by the size of the buildings in Chicago, I found myself, strangely, at home. I had the distinct opportunity to visit John Hancock and Wilis Tower on two separate Chicago trips, so here’s an exclusive insight into which I feel is the better option, if you only have a day to spare!
John Hancock Observatory
I did not actually visit the John Hancock Observatory itself – after reading reviews on the iPhone App, GuidePal, I visited the Signature Lounge instead which offers equally compelling view at equal (if not cheaper, if you so decide to only order soft drinks at US$5!) prices as the Observatory. I was amazed by how neat and organised the city was – and from here, you can be rewarded with a skyline view of the Chicago city (something you cannot get with Wilis Tower). You are able to view Navy Pier in all its glory, and partake in how the city is basked in sunlight (or snow during winter!). Coupled with the lounge setting and the right hours, you will not be swarmed by hoards of tourists that you see in the Observatory.
Be prepared for dismal service though. I was not well attended to, in spite of few customers on the day of my visit and more than adequate number of staffs catering to each customer. That is the only bummer in an otherwise superior experience.
Nonetheless, this is my personal favourite between the two. If you only have time (and money) for one skydeck, this is the one to go to. You will not be disappointed.
875 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60611
Sunday to Thursday: 11am to 12.30am
Fridays & Saturdays: 11am to 1.30am
I visited the Wilis Tower Skydeck as well. Wilis Tower is the tallest skyscraper in Chicago, standing at 108-storey with a total height of 442m. When in Chicago, you would be able to immediately identify Wilis Tower simply by looking up – and looking for a black tower with two distinctive antennas. What distinguishes Wilis Tower from other sky-high viewing decks however, is its unique enclosed glass balconies that extend out of the building, allowing you to have a sweeping view of not just Lake Michigan and its surroundings, but very pedestrians walking around the street!
While certainly it was a treat to view breathtaking skylines from here, be warned that it may be steep at an admission price of US$18 (but then again, John Hancock Observatory costs US$17.50). You will not be able to view the Chicago city skyline in its awe and glory though – after all, Wilis Tower is part of the Chicago city skyline itself!
Prior to entering the skydeck, you would view an exhibition of how the building was accomplished, as well as key landmarks around Chicago. I would say that this is definitely an interactive experience that would please first-time visitors to Chicago, who may not know anything at all about the city. On a good day, the lift would bring you to the 103-storey – otherwise, you may only end up on the other observatory at the 99th floor. Do take a moment to step into the glass enclosure – conquer your fear of height, and you can be assured that it is 100% safe!
The Wilis Tower is an extremely popular attraction, and unless you are willing to fork out more money to skip the line, you can face up to 2-3 hours wait. To avoid this, you can go early in the wee hours of the morning – which is either 9am (Fall) or 10am (Spring), or after 5pm, when the queues die off. I went late at night, at around 7pm – so I could only capture the city at night. It is nonetheless beautiful, though I wish I came in earlier to watch the sunset.
233 S Wacker Dr Chicago, IL 60606
Apr-Sep: Daily 9a-10p; Oct-Mar: Daily 10a-8p