For decades, the Chicago Sears Tower held the title of being the tallest building in the world. Renamed the Willis Tower in July 2009 (due to a new leasing agreement with Willis Group Holdings insurance), the crown jewel of Chicago’s skyline boasts 110 stories and a height of 1,450 feet. Many Chicago residents will continue to refer to the Willis Tower as the Sears Tower. Completed in 1973, the building remains the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It is also the 3rd-tallest building in the world.
Skydeck and Ledge
For out-of-towners, the Willis Tower Skydeck serves as Chicago’s highest and most visited observatory. It takes a full 60-second elevator ride to reach the Skydeck. From a height of 1,353 feet, visitors can see up to 50 miles on a good day – well into Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Snap photos of the surrounding skyline, or use the high-powered telescopes to get a closer view of distant objects Glass balconies, known as the Ledge, were added to the Skydeck and opened in July of 2009. These four all glass boxes 1,353 feet (412m) above the street allow visitors to feel like they are standing in space with 180° vertical and horizontal views. 1.5 million visitors a year take advantage of this opportunity to see the city laid out like a map, absorb its immensity and understand the relationship between its landmarks. Though not deep they do give you the impression you are standing in mid-air. Have a friend take your picture from an adjacent Ledge for a unique memento of your visit.
While the view is certainly the main attraction, the Willis Tower Skydeck also delivers interactive exhibits and kiosks. Exhibits offer a hands-on way to learn about Chicago’s interesting past and present. Kiosks provide a computer-guided tour of Chicago’s most famous landmarks. The Knee-High Chicago display brings the attractions down to eye level for the kids. While taking in the view, kids can learn about Chicago sports, history and more. Morning fog can obstruct the view and lines and wait times for the elevator can be long during tourist season, particularly on the weekends.
Back to Earth
For more grounded entertainment, Willis Tower hosts a number of events in the building’s plaza. A farmer’s market runs from summer through fall on Thursdays. Concerts are also frequently scheduled. There are a number of restaurants on the 2nd floor restaurant level and main lobby including Starbucks, a bakery, Mexican and a deli. The Willis Tower is located at 233 South Wacker Drive in Chicago’s West Loop downtown district. For visitor convenience, the building is easily accessible via commuter rail station, three major highways, CTA buses and the Chicago L train.
by Jeff Wysaski