360 CHICAGO vs. SkyDeck in Chicago: Which Observation Deck in Chicago is Better?

360 CHICAGO vs. SkyDeck in Chicago: Which Observation Deck in Chicago is Better?

This detailed Skydeck vs 360 CHICAGO comparison will show you which is the best observation deck in Chicago.

Chicago has no shortage of skyscrapers. There are also two world renowned observation decks in Chicago: Skydeck at Willis Tower and 360 CHICAGO at the former John Hancock Center (it has since been renamed to 875 North Michigan Avenue).

Both observation decks in Chicago sit on some of the tallest buildings in the city, offering amazing views of Chicago, Lake Michigan, the surrounding suburbs and even states.

If time allows, you should visit both observation decks in Chicago but if you only have the time or budget to visit one of the two observation decks in Chicago, which one should you choose?

In this detailed Chicago observation deck comparison guide, we will take a look at both 360 CHICAGO and Skydeck to see their similarities, unique features, different experiences and views so you can decide which observation deck in Chicago is the best.

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Skydeck Chicago

Address: Willis Tower, 233 S Wacker Dr.

This is a photo of the view of Skydeck in Chicago with the antennas on top
Skydeck Chicago

Skydeck is a very well known observation deck located in the Willis Tower. If you are not familiar with the name Willis Tower, you probably would recognize the name Sears Tower. The buildings’ naming rights do change from time to time and in 2025 the name will probably change once again.

Opened in 1974, Skydeck is newer of the two observation decks in Chicago. It is extremely popular, receiving over 1.7 million visitors annually.

The observation deck and the ground floor were remodeled in recent years and now there is a really fun interactive experience on the ground level and a lot of photo ops.

360 CHICAGO

Address: 875 North Michigan Avenue.

John Hancock Building as seen from Skydeck

360 CHICAGO is located on the 94th floor of the former John Hancock Building. It is known as the former John Hancock Center before the rename.

360 CHICAGO is the oldest observation deck in Chicago, offering amazing 360 views of the surrounding area.

There is a bar in the observation deck on the same level where you can enjoy a drink with the view.

Skydeck vs. 360 CHICAGO: Hours of Operations

Skydeck and 360 CHICAGO have different hours of operations.

Skydeck has seasonal hours, meaning they are open for longer during the spring and fall from March to September and longer hours on the weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

From March to September, Skydeck is open during the following hours:

  • Monday – Friday: 9am to 10pm
  • Sat & Sun: 8:30am to 10pm

From October to February, Skydeck is open during the following hours:

  • Monday – Friday: 9am to 8pm
  • Saturday & Sunday: 9am to 10pm

Last entry is 30 minutes prior to closing at Skydeck.

360 CHICAGO does not have seasonal or weekend hours, so everyday is the same from 9am to 11pm.

360 CHICAGO closes later than Skydeck but the last entry is 1 hour before closing (versus 30 minutes for Skydeck).

360 CHICAGO Night view with lights lit up the streets and all the buildings have lights on at night.

Which Chicago Observation Deck is the Tallest?

360 CHICAGO sits on the 94th floor of the former John Hancock Center, about 1030 feet above ground.

Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, at about 1353 feet above ground.

Skydeck is the tallest observation deck in Chicago as well as the highest public observation deck in the country.

Elevator Speed Comparison: Which Elevator is the Fastest between Skydeck and 360 CHICAGO?

Now that we know Skydeck is taller than 360 CHICAGO, let’s talk about how long it would take you to get up to the observation deck in their high speed elevators.

The elevators in both buildings are extremely fast and you will actually feel your ears popping during the elevator ride.

Just to illustrate how fast these elevators are, it only takes 60 seconds to get up to Skydeck and 40 seconds to 360 CHICAGO.

If we convert that to actual speed, the Skydeck elevator runs at 1600 feet per minute and the elevator at 360 CHICAGO is about 20 miles an hour, or 1760 feet per minute.

Therefore 360 CHICAGO has a faster elevator.

Special Attractions of Skydeck and 360 CHICAGO

Both Skydeck and 360 CHICAGO offers an exhilarating experience with their own unique offering:

  • The Ledge at Skydeck
  • TILT at 360 CHICAGO

The Ledge at Skydeck

The Ledge at Skydeck is a series of 4 glass “boxes” that extend 4.3 feet outside of the building. You probably have seen photos of the Ledge all over social media.

The Ledge at Skydeck Chicago

You will essentially walk into a box with glass bottom and can see 1353 feet straight down to street level. If you have a fear of height like I do, you will find this terrifying (but really cool at the same time).

The Ledge offers you an amazing photo opportunity. There is a camera suspended from the ceiling that will take photos for you for purchase. Or you can always take your own photos (if you are traveling alone, the attendant will help you take photos).

Chicago Skydeck Ledge photo with a girl with long wavy hair and a blue shirt standing on the ledge at Skydeck in Chicago

Since the Ledge is the most popular attraction at Skydeck, you can always expect a line and a time limit. For a party size of 1-3, you will have one minute to take your photos and videos; for a larger party size, you will have 90 seconds. The attendant will actually set an alarm and ask you to leave when the time is up.

The Ledge is included in general admission at no additional cost. There is no minimum height or age requirement for the Ledge at Skydeck.

TILT at 360 CHICAGO

TILT is an exhilarating experience at 360 CHICAGO and one of its kind.

TILT at 360 CHICAGO

Unlike the Ledge, you do not stand on TILT. TILT is a movable glass platform that you stand against (while holding onto the handle). This glass platform will move at a 30 degree angle so you feel like you are literally “falling” as it “tilts” you towards the ground.

The experience lasts about 2-3 minutes and 8 people can participate at once.

TILT is in a separate room with glass walls and doors. Unlike the Ledge, you cannot take photos or videos yourself at TILT, there is a staff member that will take photos for you for purchase inside the TILT room.

TILT with people at 360 CHICAGO photo

You can always ask friends and family to take photos of you from the viewing area outside of the TILT room.

TILT costs an additional $10. There is a minimum height requirement of 42 inches at TILT.

In addition, 360 CHICAGO offers a Saturday yoga class (1 hour class) that is unique.

To summarize, you can spend more time on TILT at 360 CHICAGO but you get better photo opportunities at the Ledge at Skydeck.

Is There Food or Drinks at Skydeck or 360 CHICAGO?

Skydeck

Skydeck does not have a bar or restaurant on its observation deck during regular business hours.

What it does offer is a reservation only afterhour VIP dinner on Thursday & Friday evenings at 10pm.

This VIP dinner requires reservation 3 business days prior and you will get a 3-course meal and 7-table per evening experience. The 3 course meal is catered by Giordano’s Pizza; it costs $150 per person.

360 CHICAGO

360 CHICAGO has a bar called CloudBar that offers a variety of beers, cocktails, wines, coffee, mocktails and soft serve ice cream (menu here).

Cloud bar at 360 CHICAGO

Tickets to 360 CHICAGO has an option to include a drink with general admission, the menu is slightly different than the regular menu.

There is no food at CloudBar.

360 CHICAGO vs. Skydeck on Ticket Prices, Which one is cheaper?

It is not cheap to visit either Skydeck or 360 CHICAGO. One way to save money on admission is to get either the Chicago Pass, Chicago Explorer Pass or Chicago CityPASS as they all provide significant discounts on attractions in Chicago when used correctly.

Skydeck

Skydeck offers two types of admission tickets: General Admission and Expedited Tickets.

Both tickets require you to book ahead with a time slot, and you can enter within 30 minutes of the time slot (15 minutes before and 15 minutes after). If you miss the time slot you risk being turned away if it is crowded.

The expedited ticket allows you to skip the line at the elevator and the Ledge (more on that later), so you can save a lot of time when it’s crowded. But if it is not crowded then it’s kind of a waste in my opinion.

General admission at Skydeck Chicago starts $35 for adults (age 12+) but tickets can be as much as $49; $26 for children age 3-11 and free for children under 3 with free stroller check.

Expedited Entry tickets at Skydeck cost $55 regardless of age. So if you want expedited entry you should definitely consider Chicago CityPASS since it’s included.

The Ledge is included in both types of tickets at no additional cost. Sunset hours also do not have additional cost.

Skydeck ticket prices is much higher when you book last minute and during the summer. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book on a third party site.

360 CHICAGO

360 CHICAGO has 6 types of tickets (yeah I know, it’s a lot of options). There is no expedited entry option.

  • General Admission Ticket (View): $35 for adults (age 12+), $23 for youth (age 3-11) and free for kids under 3.
  • View + TILT: $45 for adults; $33 for youth
  • Sip (at CloudBar) + view: $46.50 for adults only (sometimes cheaper here)
  • TILT + SIP + View: $56.50 for adults and $38.50 for youth
  • Sky Yoga Saturday (1 hour class + mimosa or coffee): $50
  • Special celebration event (specific time and day): $19

Skydeck prices do change throughout the day and can be as much as $49 when you book last minute. 360 CHICAGO general admission is cheaper in many instances.

360 CHICAGO vs. Skydeck Experience

At first glance, both observation decks offer amazing views but in reality they actually have quite different experiences. This section will show you what you can expect to experience at these two observation decks in Chicago.

360 CHICAGO

360 CHICAGO experience starts the moment you step into the lobby. Before you enter 360 CHICAGO you will find restaurants and Starbucks in the building.

360 CHICAGO ground floor

On the ground floor of 360 CHICAGO, there is a walk-through exhibition celebrating Chicago’s history and 3 of its 77 neighborhoods.

360 CHICAGO Neighborhoods display

This part is pretty quick and you will be at the elevator going up to the 94th floor.

360 CHICAGO getting off elevator
Right after getting off the eleavtor

As soon as you get off the elevator, you will be greeted with a majestic panoramic view facing the South of Chicago through a number of floor-to-ceiling windows.

On the observation deck floor, you will see a separate area for TILT (usually there is a line and a staff person checking TILT tickets and letting people in).

360 CHICAGO Interactive screen

You will also find interactive screens in 6 different languages so you can learn about the buildings you are looking at and a brief intro and some facts of the buildings.

To enhance your experience, you can use the new Magnicity web app to explore the view you are looking at.

One of the best experiences at 360 CHICAGO is to grab a drink at the CloudBar. There are seats and tables at the bar area as well as a seating area where you can just chill (without having to buy a drink).

Cloud Bar photo at 360 CHICAGO observation deck

When I visited during sunset hours, there were a good number of visitors just chilling and waiting for the sunset so that’s pretty cool, allowing you to really spend as much time as you want on the observation deck level.

Seating area at 360 CHICAGO observation deck waiting for sunset

Skydeck Chicago

Skydeck Chicago offers a slightly different experience compared to 360 CHICAGO.

Located in Catalog, an Urban space with restaurants, stores and Color Factory, Skydeck starts on the bottom level of the building.

Catalog Urban Space in Chicago
Catalog

Skydeck seems a little stricter about the time slot. On display screens outside, they actually show you what time slot can currently go inside and you have to wait outside in the lobby (with seating areas) to wait till at least 15 minutes before your booked time entry.

Skydeck Lobby time slot

Skydeck Chicago recently renovated their ground floor level, offering a 30-60 minute interactive experience and plenty of photo opportunities.

Skydeck Ground Floor interactive experience CTA train

You get to walk through a “running” CTA train, see and take photos with Chicago deep dish pizza, hot dogs, pretend you are on stage at the Second City, and pose with famous Chicago buildings.

Skydeck interactive experience deep dish pizza photo

I thought this interactive experience was really fun for both families and adults! You can definitely spend a lot of time here while learning about culturally important things and people in Chicago.

Skydeck  ground floor interactive family friendly experience with microphone at the Second City

After getting off the elevator on the 103rd floor of Willis tower, you will be greeted with amazing views. You can walk around the observation deck and see views from South, East and North but not West because the Ledge takes up the West side.

Similar to 360 CHICAGO, you will find large interactive screens at Skydeck that tells you some of the most famous buildings you are looking at and a little intro about them.

Skydeck interactive screen

There are some print-at-home kids friendly activities at Skydeck, including fact sheets, coloring pages and scavenger hunts during the visit. You must bring the materials yourself.

Skydeck family friendly activities leave your mark in the sky

In summary, Skydeck offers more interactive experience on its ground floor (+ the Ledge experience) and 360 CHICAGO offers a bar and better seating experience on the observation deck level (+ the extra cost TILT experience).

The view at Skydeck vs. 360 CHICAGO: which view is better?

One of the most important aspects at any observation deck is the view, isn’t it? I mean if you don’t care about the view why bother going up to an observation deck?

The good news is that from either observation deck in Chicago you will get amazing views of the city and even the surrounding states. The caveat here is that you need to go on a nice day. Another thing to note is that sunset time automatically makes any view better.

Before we continue with the comparison I just want to mention that the day I visited Skydeck was a bit cloudy and hazy and when I visited 360 CHICAGO it was during sunset and it was a clear day, so you may see some differences in the photos below but I would not let that affect this comparison.

Similarities

Both observation decks have floor to ceiling windows with 360 degree view of Chicago. Even though there is a difference in height but the views are equally breathtaking

Both observation decks have interactive screens that can better help you identify what you are looking at and the history of the most important buildings.

Differences

Since 360 CHICAGO is on Michigan Avenue, it is much closer to Lake Michigan than Skydeck, which is further west.

Sunset view over Lake Michigan from 360 CHICAGO observation deck
View of Lake Michigan from 360 CHICAGO

This means that you have an almost unobstructed view of Lake Michigan from 360 CHICAGO and you can see the street and cars running parallel to the beach and shoreline of Lake Michigan.

From 360 CHICAGO you can also see Navy Pier which is hard to see from Skydeck.

Navy Pier from 360 CHICAGO
Navy Pier from 360 CHICAGO

Since Skydeck is southwest of 360 CHICAGO, from Skydeck looking west you can see all the skyscrapers between Skydeck and Lake Michigan, including the building 360 CHICAGO is in. If you want the view of skyscrapers with Lake Michigan in the background then Skydeck is where you can see it.

Skydeck view of Chicago
View from Skydeck Chicago

In addition, you can see Museum Campus (Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium) as well as part of the Chicago River from Skydeck that you cannot really see from 360 CHICAGO.

View of Chicago from Skydeck photo
View from Skydeck

With similar logic, 360 CHICAGO is more north (north of the river) so looking South from 360 CHICAGO you will see a lot of skyscrapers. From Skydeck you see the most number of skyscrapers when looking North/west.

View of Chicago from 360 CHICAGO photo
View from 360 CHICAGO
360 CHICAGO Nightview
Night view from 360 CHICAGO
John Hancock Building as seen from Skydeck
View from Skydeck

So which view do you think it’s better?

What is the difference between 360 CHICAGO and Skydeck?

I know I talked about a lot of different aspects of both observation decks and it can be confusing to keep track. Therefore I made a little summary table here to better help you compare 360 CHICAGO with Skydeck Chicago.

Skydeck Chicago360 CHICAGO
LocationWillis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower)
South of the River
Former John Hancock Center
North of the river on Michigan Avenue
Hours of OperationsSeasonal hours and weekend hours
9am (or 8:30am) – 10pm (or 8pm)
Last entry is 30 minutes before closing
9am – 11pm everyday
Last entry is 1 hr before closing
Year Opened19741969
Height103rd Floor at 1353 ft94th Floor at 1030 ft
Elevator Speed1600 ft per min
60 seconds to observation deck
1760 feet per min
40 seconds to observation deck
Special AttractionsThe Ledge at no additional costTILT ($10 more) + minimum height requirement

Saturday Yoga Class
Food and DrinksNo Bar
VIP after-hour pizza dinner at 10pm on Thursdays & Fridays
CloudBar
No Restaurant
Ticket Options2 options: general admission & expedited entry (both need time slot)6 options:
Different combination of general admission, 1 drink, TILT
Special celebration
Saturday Yoga class
Ticket Price$35+ for adults general admission$35 for adults general admission
Experience30-60 min interactive experience on the ground levelInformation celebrating 3 Chicago neighborhoods

Note that I did not add view to this chart since it is best explained with photos 🙂

Given all the similarities and differences, what’s your opinion on which observation is the best in Chicago?

Other Chicago Travel Articles

If you are planning a trip to Chicago I have a few other Chicago blogs that can help you plan your trip.

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