Rising more than 1,450 feet above the city’s skyline, the Willis Tower is King among Chicago’s most iconic skyscrapers. The views from its observation deck are unparalleled, making it a must-see destination for visitors to the city. In this article, we’ll share some interesting facts about the tower’s construction and offer tips for visiting it.
The Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, is one of the most important attractions in Chicago. It is located in the heart of the city’s Downtown and is one of the top tourist attractions in Illinois and the United States.
In the same way that the CN Tower defines Toronto or the Empire State Building defines New York, the great height of the Willis, its tourist importance, and its location make it visible from practically every point of the city and one of the symbols of American economic power.
Situated on the western coast of Lake Michigan, Chicago benefits from its proximity to the lakeshore. The Willis Tower is an important landmark and reference point for residents and visitors. To make navigating the city more manageable, we suggest identifying your location in relation to the tower once you reach your accommodation.
Chicago’s Willis Tower: History & Facts
Known as the Sears Tower between 1973 and 2009, the Willis Tower is a prominent office building situated at 233 South Wacker Drive in Chicago. It is one of the tallest structures in the world.
Inaugurated in 1973, its construction was completed in 1974 for Sears, Roebuck and Company. It is 110 stories tall and offers over 400,000 square feet of office and additional space. The design comes from the reputable architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), with Bruce Graham as the leading architect and Fazlur Khan as the structural engineer.
Excluding its transmission antennas, the skyscraper stands at an impressive height of 1450 feet (442 meters). It held the record for the tallest building on earth for 22 years, only to be surpassed in 1998 by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by a mere 32 ft (10 meters).
In 1969, Sears, Roebuck, and Company was the largest retailer on Earth, employing roughly 350,000 people. They enlisted SOM to create an office tower to centralize their offices and support projected growth. Strategically positioned near highways and commuter rail lines for employee convenience, its location ultimately brought vitality to a previously neglected portion of Chicago’s Downtown district.
Despite its official name change in recent years, many long-time Chicago residents continue to refer to the building affectionately as the Sears Tower. In 2009, London-based firm Willis Group Holdings (now Willis Towers Watson) secured a lease for three floors within the tower and obtained naming rights for a duration of 15 years. As of July 16th, 2009, its designation changed to Willis Tower.
Adorned in black aluminum and bronze-tinted glass exteriors, the lobby features “Universe,” a sizeable motorized mural created by renowned American sculptor Alexander Calder, also known as the “Wallmobile.”
The Skydeck, an observation platform, is situated on the tower’s 103rd level. It experienced a significant overhaul in the early 2000s, which incorporated the addition of The Ledge – four glass enclosures protruding 4.2 ft (1.3 meters) from the structure. Since its unveiling in 2009, The Ledge has provided unimpeded views of Chicago and its surrounding region.
Some fun facts about the Willis Tower:
- It was the tallest building in the world until 1998.
- It has approximately 16,100 windows.
- From its top, you can see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
- It is the eighth tallest building in the world and the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
- It has 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) of electrical cables.
Visiting Willis Tower’s Panoramic Observation Deck
When you visit the Willis Tower, be prepared for a security check. Your backpacks are placed on a scanner, and you will pass through a metal detector. The process is relatively simple but can take several minutes, depending on the amount of people.
Willis Tower admission is included with the Chicago CityPASS pass, which provides access to five different attractions (including the Willis Tower and Shedd Aquarium plus a choice of three attractions from the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium or a riverboat tour) saving up to 48%.
The elevator ride to the Skydeck is fast. The elevator will probably be crowded, and your ears will pop. Once you step out onto the Skydeck, you will be able to enjoy a breathtaking view from the very first moment.
Be aware that the Skydeck can be challenging for some people who fear heights, especially the “Skydeck Ledge.” The ledge juts out about 4 feet (1.3 meters) from the top and offers a new view as you exit.
These clear glass boxes, protruding 443 meters into the air, are the most popular attraction among visitors. For those who don’t dare try them for real, Willis Tower Skydeck Chicago has video screens installed that simulate the experience of stepping out onto The Ledge.
It must be said that while the views from the Skydeck are spectacular, they are protected by glass, so reflections can be a problem.
Views from the Willis Tower observation deck.
How to climb the Willis Tower: Fares, Opening Times & Tickets
Willis Tower opening hours
It is possible to visit and climb the Willis Tower year-round and enjoy Chicago’s scenery during all four seasons.
|May through September|
|Monday to Friday||9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.|
|Saturday and Sunday||8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.|
|From October to April|
|Monday to Friday||9:00 a.m. to 08:00 p.m.|
|Saturday and Sunday||9:00 a.m. to 08:00 p.m.|
The ticket office closes 30 minutes before closing time.
Rates to visit the Willis Tower in Chicago
You should purchase tickets for the Chicago Willis Tower in advance.
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The best way to visit the Willis Tower at a discount is through the Chicago CityPASS pass, which provides access to five different attractions (including the Willis Tower and Shedd Aquarium plus a choice of three attractions from the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium or a riverboat tour) at a savings of up to 48%.
To get on, it is recommended that you book your tickets in advance. This will save you time and allow you to visit the tower more leisurely.
You can book your ticket online and choose your options and date of visit. You can book your tickets here.
Chicago’s Sears Tower: Location and how to get there
The address of the Willis Tower is 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606, USA. It is located in the heart of downtown Chicago, very close to the Chicago River, Millennium Park, and the Art Institute.
The following transit lines have routes that pass near the Willis Tower (Sears Tower).
- Buses: 126, 136, 151, 28, 37
- Trains: MD-N, ME, UP-N, UP-N, UP-NW
- Subway Lines: Blue, Brown, Purple
For parking closest to Skydeck, there are three parking lots at the Willis Tower within one block of the tower:
211 W Adams
This Skydeck Chicago covered parking garage is especially convenient. You can find the entrance on the south (left) side of Adams Street, between S. Franklin and S. Wells Street, and just beyond the subway on Adams.
241 S Franklin
Skydeck Chicago has a second parking garage directly across the street from the Willis Tower entrance on Franklin, on the east side of S. Franklin Street.
230 S Wells
The entrance to the Wells Street garage is on the west side, between Jackson and Adams.
Cabs and rideshare apps
Chicago cab and app drivers know how to get to the Willis Tower. If they ask for a specific address, it indicates 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago.
Accommodations near the Willis Tower
Being in downtown Chicago, you can visit the Willis Tower from some of the best hotels in the city. Some of the top-rated accommodations near the tower include:
- JW Marriott Chicago
- The LaSalle Chicago, Autograph Collection ]
- W Chicago – City Center ]
- Canopy By Hilton Chicago Central Loop
- Residence Inn by Marriott Chicago Downtown/Loop
- La Quinta by Wyndham Chicago Downtown