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Top Places for Chicago Skyline Views (That aren't the Willis/Sears Tower)


the Willis Tower in Chicago viewed from Grant Park

If there’s a building that everyone associates with Chicago, it’s the Willis/Sears tower. To set the record straight, the building is technically called the Willis Tower, but anyone who’s known Chicago longer than a handful of years still refers to it as the Sears Tower. The only people who get mad at you about it are the people who work there.


But questionable naming choices aside, is the Willis Tower Skydeck worth the $30+ ticket and/or the potential long wait for the elevators? The answer: maybe. The view of downtown from the top is nice, and the glass boxes overhanging the streets make for a fun thrill. But you know what your view of Chicago is missing from the top of the Willis Tower? A view of the Willis Tower.


Here are four Chicago skyline alternatives that I think put the Skydeck to shame:


Chicago Skyline View #1 - The Hancock Tower’s Signature Lounge on the 96th


Update 02/25/24: At the moment, the Signature Lounge and Signature Room are closed. The Chicago 360 skydeck are still in operation. Like most Chicagoans, I sincerely hope another restaurant takes the spot soon!


Situated at the north end of the Magnificent Mile, the Hancock Tower boasts a 360 degree tilting skydeck and a top notch restaurant and lounge. I personally haven’t visited the Hancock’s 360 Observation Deck, so I can’t speak to that one. And The Signature Room at the 95th (the swanky restaurant on the 95th floor) may not be for you unless you’re willing to shell out serious bucks on your meal (but if you do, make a reservation and make it as far in advance as you can.)


But I’m here to sell you on the Signature Lounge. The Lounge is a bar with drinks and light eats with STUNNING views of downtown. You’ll likely have to wait in a line in the lobby in order to get up, but getting on the elevator to the top doesn’t cost you a penny. And if you opt to visit in the late afternoon, odds are high that the line will move fast. Are the drinks at the top overpriced? Of course. But it’ll be less than the $30 minimum a pop you paid to get up to the top of the Willis tower. And to repeat a line from earlier, from the top of the Hancock Tower, the Willis tower will actually be in your pictures! If you’re lucky, you’ll get seated right next to the window. But even if you aren’t, the views are incredible from anywhere. And being just a touch shorter than the Sears, it’s often still Insta-worthy even when it’s a little rainy. The views at the can actually be stellar in bad weather, watching the city glow against a darkened sky. (Ask me about the time I was up there when the tower got struck by lightning!) Overall, it's the best view in the city, and sipping a cocktail while you admire it only makes it better.


Pro tip: if you're a human that’s comfortable using a women’s bathroom, check out the

view from the ladies room before you leave. Trust me.



View #2 - The LondonHouse Rooftop Bar

the Chicago River viewed from the rooftop bar at the LondonHouse Hotel

The bar at the LondonHouse Hotel is my favorite place to get an up-close view of downtown and the Chicago River. It’s located right on the south bank of the river, just a few steps from Michigan Avenue. Its rooftop restaurant and bar have been voted among the best of Chicago on many occasions!


If you want to eat at the restaurant, you absolutely need a reservation. They fill up quickly, so book as far in advance as you can. But honestly the best experience is just showing up and taking up the standing room space in the open-air bar. Unless you happen to be staying at the LondonHouse (lucky you!), there will be a line for the elevator that you’ll need to wait in again. But as with the lounge at the Hancock, the views over the river are well worth it!


Chicago Skyline View #3 - The Museum Campus


As we shift toward places to see great skyline views that aren’t from above, the first place that comes to mind is the Museum Campus. Located on the south side of the loop and extending out into Lake Michigan, the museum campus is full of green spaces that look back over the center of the city. You can get amazing views from the overlook just outside the Shedd Aquarium. If you're in the mood for a little bit of a walk, you can follow the breakwater all the way out to the Adler Planetarium. The view of the city from there, a solid quarter mile out into the lake, is the absolute best view available.


the Chicago skyline viewed from the Adler Planetarium

Pro tip: You can get a similar Chicago skyline view from the end of Navy Pier, but the view from The Shedd or the Adler is better, and bonus, you get to avoid Navy Pier and its hoards of tourists and pickpockets.



View #4 - The Lincoln Park Zoo Overlook


The Lincoln Park Zoo is truly one of the highlights of Chicago (see my full guide to it here!), and while you’re there, take the time to take in the view of the city from the park on its southern edge. Lincoln Park contains way more than just the zoo. The space directly south of the zoo is a beautiful natural area with a boardwalk for easy exploration. And when you’re done with the natural beauty, take a quick detour up to the bridge that leads to the zoo’s south entrance. This zoo entrance is usually closed except on their busiest of days, but the picturesque view of the skyline over the green of the park makes for a great view and beautiful photos.


the Chicago skyline viewed from Lincoln Park

Which one looks the best to you??


Chicago’s skyline is truly something to be admired! Why not check out all four!?


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Love and Shenanigans,


Andi


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