The Chicago CityPass booklet comes with two options to view the city from above: the Willis Tower Skydeck Chicago or 360° Chicago at the Hancock Center. These two buildings also happen to have the two bird’s eye views of the city. For visitors to Chicago on a tight timeline, it is imperative to maximize your time. Visiting two different skyscrapers for views of the same city is a bit redundant. Here I will break down the difference between choosing Skydeck Chicago or 360° Chicago.
SkyDeck Chicago at the Willis Tower
1.) Located on the 103rd floor of the 2nd tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
2) Gimmick: “The Ledge” glass floor allows visitors to stand on a glass floor and look below 103 stories.
3) $49 Fast Pass Admission (children and Adults), $15 regular admission (children 4-11), $23 regular admission (12 and up)
4) Located in the Loop, local eateries will be open during the week, less on the weekend. Vehicle traffic during the week is higher than on the weekends.
5) Windows are prone to showing water streaks and dirt marks.
6) Open 365 Days a Year: March through September from 9am-10pm; October through February from 10am-8pm.
360° Chicago at the John Hancock Center
1) Located on the 94th floor of the Hancock Building, the 3rd tallest building in Chicago.
2)Gimmick: “Tilt” ride that allows patrons to extend over the side of the building on a hydraulic powered, glass shield. ($7.00 surcharge)
3) $44 Fast Pass Admission, $20 Adult general admission, $13 youth general admission.
4) Located in the Gold Coast along Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile,” vehicle and foot traffic is heavier on the weekends.
5) Windows are markedly clear with minimal smudging and streaking.
6) Open Daily from 9AM to 11PM.
7) Bonus: There is a full bar and food service in the observatory, with plenty of seating.
Which One to Choose? Skydeck Chicago or 360° Chicago?
I visited both Skydeck Chicago amd 360° Chicago in the same weekend, one on a Saturday afternoon around 11 AM and one on a Sunday afternoon around 3PM. I visited during the peak of spring break and the differences between the two were stark. First, the wait at Skydeck Chicago was approximately 2.5 hours for visitors without a FastPass and 40 minutes for those with a FastPass. There were hoards of people waiting to get in and very few people directing visitors. From my observations in line, it appeared that most of the visitors were from out of the country and wanted to see this famous and very tall building. The endless lines made the trip to Skydeck Chicago resemble something like Disneyworld. First there was the line to get into the building. Next, there was the line to get into the elevator. Then there was the line to get your ticket stamped. Finally, a line for a photo, a line for another elevator, and then, up to the top.
Once up top, the line to stand/experience the ledge was another 40 or so minutes. Note: For those desperate to get a photo of themselves on the Ledge, a visit to Skydeck Chicago will be one long wait. I’d recommend bypassing this very touristy, unnecessary part of a visit. For more details on a trip to Skydeck Chicago, consider reading this post.
I visited 360° Chicago at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and it couldn’t have been a more ideal time. There was not a single person in line, and I cruised up to the top of the observatory in less than 10 minutes. The windows were clean and the line to access TILT was less than 40 people. There is an added bonus of a small section of enclosed walkway that is outdoors. This allows one to experience the lake breeze and sounds of the city below from 94 stories above the ground. It truly is a delightful experience. Additionally, seating is much more plentiful in the forms of benches and high top tables. Even on days with short wait times, a place to rest one’s feet is a welcome sight.
All in all, which do I recommend? Skydeck Chicago or 360° Chicago? I’d suggest a visit to 360° Chicago. The wait was a bit shorter, the windows were cleaner, and the views of the lakeshore were dramatic and peaceful. I particularly like that both places have gift shops up top or down on ground level, just in case you change your mind, but appreciate even more the full scale bar and dining option at 360° Chicago. The built in bench seating around the North and East windows surely provide relief from a long day of sightseeing.