Go BIG or Go Home
What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

Willis Tower: Tallest Building in the Western Hemisphere

Willis Tower

Willis Tower, Chicago

I’m sorta amazed by people who don’t have a fear of heights, like I do. How do they not get jelly knees and queasy stomachs being that far from terra firma? In this case, 1,353 feet above said terra, to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (That’s 412 meters, for all our metric friends).

Our guest post this month comes from Nicole Wiltrout, a freelance writer living in Columbus, IN. Nicole writes about adventures at home and away with her husband and two young sons at Arrows Sent Forth. She also shared this report on the world’s largest children’s museum in Indianapolis last year.

Nicole is far braver than I am. Her report:

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

My husband and I, along with our youngest son, spent a weekend in Chicago. This included a trip to the SkyDeck at the top of the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) on a Saturday afternoon.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

My family typically visits Chicago a couple of times each year. This particular trip was to do some research for a blogging project with Expedia. I wanted to visit a few major Chicago attractions that I had either never been to or hadn’t visited in a while. I’ve heard a lot about the SkyDeck but had never done it on previous trips to the city.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The SkyDeck would be particularly interesting to fans of Go BIG or Go Home because it’s a chance to go to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. You’ll ride an elevator 103 stories up and step out on a glass sky ledge that extends four feet off the side of the building.

SkyDeck Willis Tower

No way. No how. Never.

The view is amazing, not only because of the dizzying heights, but because Chicago has one of the most interesting skylines in the world due to its unique architectural heritage. You’ll also get sweeping views of Lake Michigan. On a clear day, you can see 4 states!

Chicago Skyline

Great views!

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list)

Older Kids: 8
The tweens and teens I saw were all smiles and giggles as they dared each other to step out onto the ledge and were jumping around from window pane to window pane taking photos. There are also some interactive displays at various points in the entrance process that older kids would enjoy (like how many Michael Jordans it would take to add up to the height of the Willis Tower). Since I often notice kids this age looking a little glum on family trips, this is definitely a good spot to dazzle the not-easily-impressed older crowd.

Younger Kids: 3
I give it a low rating for this age group because a visit to the top involves standing in a lot of long lines. First you’ll wait to buy your ticket. Then you’ll wait for an elevator. Followed by a wait to get into the theatre to watch a 10-minute video. Then you’ll wait in another line for an elevator to the top. To end your visit, you’ll wait on an elevator to get back down to the ground. (I just used the word wait 5 times.)

And while you’re waiting, there’s not much room to move about. If we had brought our 3-year-old to the SkyDeck, it would have been a big disaster. If you do take younger kids, make sure you get there right when it opens. And consider bringing a simple activity for them to do while waiting (like a little coloring book). Also, the interior wall at the top has some fun facts (called” Knee-High Chicago”) that would be interesting to share with children.

SkyDeck for Kids

Just my size!

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

SkyDeck Chicago

233 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606



  1. Sarah V. said,
    July 26, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    We were just there about two weeks ago and really enjoyed it. Our five year old had fun, but we lucked out and didn’t have to wait in any lines. (We went on a Monday afternoon.)

  2. Mike said,
    July 27, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    A glass ledge! Seriously! Sorry, but this is not one I could manage 🙂

  3. Steve said,
    July 28, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    Very cool! I’m not a fan of tall buildings as it seems to take forever to get to the top, usually costs a small fortune, and once I take a quick look around I’m done and ready to go. Hard to get value out of a ticket that way. The glass ledges might add a nice little touch though. Could extend the time needed at the top while I try and convince myself that the glass is strong enough to hold me.

  4. July 30, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    Cool building! I would definitely like to try to step on that glass and watch the things under me. I always feel amaze every time I see the beauty of a place from high location.

  5. September 1, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    Hey Traci,

    I am from Chicago and I have been up to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly known for many many years as the Sears Tower….still not use to the new name!) and I must say it is an amazing and scary experience. I am very afraid of heights, but I wanted to experience it once. If you love Willis Tower, you should also have lunch or dinner at The Signature Room at the top of the Hancock building. It has amazing views, especially at night of the city!


    • Traci Suppa said,
      September 2, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

      Thanks for the tip, Sally! I do love rooftop restaurants!