Imagine standing 1,353 feet in the air with nothing between you and the ground except one-and-a-half inches of glass. Your knees are wobbling, your heart is pounding and your palms are sweating even though you know you’re safe, that millions of people have done this before you. It is evening, and the lights of Chicago create a spectacular view as far into the distance as you can see. The lights beckon you to come out, to view the city not just in front of you, but directly below you, too. Still unsure of yourself, but unable to resist the lure, you gingerly place one foot on the glass in front of you. You hesitate while you work up the courage to move your second foot onto the glass, but you finally do. And there you are, high above the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s streets and sidewalks directly below you, everything at ground level looking dwarfed from the Ledge on the 103rd floor Skydeck of the western hemisphere’s tallest building, the Willis Tower.
Begin your Ledge experience on the lower level of Willis Tower, where you not only purchase your tickets, but you are greeted with museum quality interactive exhibits highlighting Chicago’s history and culture, the history of skyscrapers and Willis Tower and the comparison of contenders for title of the world’s tallest building or structure over the years. Simulated Ledge views let you get a feel for what it would be like to view Chicago landmarks like Wrigley Field from the height of the Ledge. See how many Michael Jordans or other Chicago celebrities it takes to reach the height of Willis Tower, or stand against a height chart to see how many of you it would take.
Move into the theater to watch a nine-minute fast-paced film on the history of Chicago skyscrapers and the construction of the Willis Tower. Then enter the elevator, where in 60 seconds you are whisked at the speed of 24 feet per second to the 103rd floor Skydeck. On the way up, a video shows points at which you pass the height of other tall structures like the Statue of Liberty, the St. Louis Arch and the Eiffel Tower.
And then you are there, on the Skydeck. More Chicago information and memorabilia line the interior walls of the Skydeck, but the main attraction is not what is inside the building, but rather on the outside. Three sides of the Skydeck offer magnificent views of the city from behind a short railing. You can even see neighboring Indiana and Michigan on clear days. The fourth side of the Skydeck, the west side, is where the adrenaline kicks in, where you can step out four feet onto a glass Ledge enclosure hanging outside the building. And 90 percent of visitors get up the courage to do just that, even if it’s for only a second before recessing back into the building. For those who just can’t step onto the Ledge, a portion of the west side allows you to move right up to the edge of the building, without a railing, so you can look down but keep your feet firmly planted on the interior floor. But those 90 percent are the ones who’ll have bragging rights that they were brave enough to live on the edge and experience the Ledge.
The Willis Tower is located at 233 South Wacker Drive in Chicago; the Skydeck entrance is located on the south side of the building on Jackson Boulevard. The Skydeck is open 365 days a year. Check the web site for hours and admission fees.