Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower)

willis sears tower

I have nothing against Willis Group Holdings, Ltd., a London-based insurance broker. Except for the renaming of the 110-story Sears Tower as Willis Tower. Chicagoans do not like name changes (looking at you, Macy’s), so most locals will address this fifth-tallest building in the world by its previous moniker.

One of the best tourist destinations in Chicago is the tower’s Skydeck; approximately 1.3 million tourists visit each year. Despite living in Chicago for literally decades, my first trip to the Willis Tower took place this year. Thinking a visit on a random Wednesday afternoon would mean no crowds, I was sorely surprised to wait in line for over a half hour to get to the Skydeck. Take note: make sure you allot enough time for crowds no matter when you plan your tour.

There is a headset personal tour available for those who want to know what they’re looking at. Since all visitors see a short video explaining the history behind the tower, I opted for the cheaper ticket price and no headset.

After the video, which explains how workers constructed such a magnificent structure, visitors take a thrilling elevator ride to the 103rd floor. From the Skydeck tourists can see 40-50 miles around, which includes much of Illinois along with Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and of course, the sprawling Chicago skyline.

The best part, however, are the “Ledges,” all-glass boxes jutting out from the Skydeck that people can actually walk into and look 1,353 ft. down. When I stepped out onto the glass myself, the view reminded me of looking out an airplane window…except without the airplane. Also try to note the sway of the building. According to the Skydeck’s Web site, the average sway is approximately six inches in wind gusts.

The Willis Tower originally opened in 1973 after three years of construction. The tower has approximately 16,100 bronze-tinted windows. That’s a lot of windows to wash, and in case you’re wondering how they do it, six roof-mounted robotic window washing machines clean every single window when necessary.

For other fun facts, the Skydeck offers museum-like exhibits that detail everything you ever wanted to know about America’s tallest building.

Basic Info
Location: 233 S. Wacker Drive
Phone: (312) 875-9696
Website: www.willistower.com or www.theskydeck.com

Getting There
L: Brown Line to Quincy/Wells
Bus: #11
Driving: From the North, take I-90/94 and get off at Jackson. From the West or the East, take I-90/94 and get off at Wacker Drive/Franklin Street. Take Franklin Street to Jackson Boulevard.

Admission Hours & Prices
April – September: 9am-10pm
October – March: 10am-8pm

General Admission Admission & Skylights Tour Admission & Trolley Tour

Adults $15.95 $21.95 $42.95
Children (3-11) $11.00 $16.50 $27.00
Fast Pass (the express line to the elevators): $30.00


Jamie Hansen

About Jamie Hansen

I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. And I still love reading newspapers. After growing up in the suburbs I took a four-year Chicago hiatus to the University of Iowa where I majored in journalism and English. Now I’m back and ready to help you make the most of the Windy City. As Kanye says, I’m a Chicagoan until Chicago ends… but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home in Florida.

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