When it comes to viewing Chicago, I had seen its shoreline from North Avenue Beach near Lincoln Park, its open green spaces in Grant and Millennium Park, and its architectural streets in Old Town. I had even ventured outside of the city to see the beautiful gardens and greenery that was possible in this Midwest metropolis. What I hadn’t seen yet was how it looks from above. Sometimes the thought might cross your mind that it may not be necessary to see a city from above. Don’t all cities look the same with crowded buildings and skyscrapers? What would be so special about Chicago? I decided not to question, but instead venture out (or up rather) to see this architecturally beautiful city from a vantage point I hadn’t experienced: above.
360° Chicago (formerly the John Hancock Observatory)
Towering above at 1,500 feet, 360° Chicago is known for being the fourth-highest building in Chicago and is the thirty-third tallest building in the world. It’s my first option when it comes to viewing Chicago down below, and I was not disappointed. From all around I could see plenty of Chicago’s waterfront and downtown without ever feeling overcrowded or rushed. Known for its distinctive X-shaped bracing on the outside, I now find that I can locate 360° Chicago very easily throughout the city. Its unique style has won numerous awards including the Distinguished Architects Twenty-Five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1999. Looking down around me, however, I find there is more beautiful architecture than the building I stand in. Peering down, I can find Navy Pier and giant skyscrapers along Magnificent Mile, two locations I remember strolling through on a previous weekend. Experiencing them in person was memorable, but viewing them from above is even more impressive.
Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower)
Housing numerous businesses as well as being one of Chicago’s significant tourist attractions, the Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower is my second option for viewing the city. The tallest building in the western hemisphere at 1,450 feet (1,730 feet if you count the antennas), Willis Tower has 2,232 steps that thousands of climbers from ages six to seventy-nine race up every year to raise money. What’s the fastest time for running up these steps? 13 minutes. Luckily I can take the elevator since the Skydeck and Ledge viewing area are on the 103rd floor! Although my fear of heights gets the better of me I manage to I step out on the Ledge, a glass box sticking out 4.3 feet from the edge of the tower for people to stand on and appear as though they’re literally walking on Chicago. I’m excited to think I’m on the highest observation deck of the United States, even if I do have acrophobia. On a clearer day I’m told it’s possible to view Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, but for today I’m mostly retracing my steps through Millennium Park when I see the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the Field Museum along the Lakefront Trail. Definitely not a bad view from above at Willis Tower!
While there may be plenty of other options including Architectural Boat Tours and Walking Tours, I determine these two views from above have satisfied me on my explorations. The weather is getting colder and with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on my list of Chicago expeditions I know there will be plenty more to see. No matter how you plan on seeing Chicago, whether by boat, bus, or sidewalk, don’t forget about what you can see from above. Overhead a view awaits with plenty of Chicago to discover and experience.
Hours and Locations:
360° Chicago: 875 N. Michigan Ave., 94th Floor, Open Daily 9am-11pm
Skydeck Chicago: 233 S. Wacker St. (Enter on Jackson Blvd.), Open April-September 9am-1opm and October-March 10am-8pm