Sears Tower or John Hancock Building, Chicago
Getting up there is not all too cheap. And before you get on the elevator, they force you to pose for a picture with a fake background. On your way out, they try to sell you that picture for nearly $30. Then they force you to pass through a long hall of gift shops instead of walking straight out.
Unique Suggestions: Take in the views at the top though. That's one thing that's not a scam. Just remember to BYOB--bring your own binoculars--because the coin telescopes on the skydeck are also a ripoff.
I would only suggest going if you have a budget attraction card like the Go Chicago Card--because at least you know it's discount priced. The Sears Tower gets so crowded with tourists that by they time you get to the top you'll be ready to leave right away.
Unique Suggestions: Get a budget card so that the fall-out won't be as bad--at least if it's discounted you'll know you got your money's worth.
Fun Alternatives: If you're dying to see awesome views try the John Hancock Tower--usually less crowded and in a better location.
You can spend $10-11 and visit the official observation deck on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building, or you can wait in another line, sometimes shorter, and always free line to go to the Bar/Lounge on the 96th Floor.
The view isn't as dramatic with tables, and bars and people sprawled along the window seats, but for the budget traveler, or drinker, you can get a 2nd-rate view and spend your $10 on a couple of expensive drinks.
OK, this is not a tourist trap but my personal opinion what is better while visiting this remarkable building. Instead of going to the Observatory, better take elevator to the lounge room. You can enjoy there in nothing less beautiful city panorama having glass of wine and some appetizers for more or less same price you pay for Observatory admission.
If you want to spend the money and get a fabulous NIGHTIME view over the city and waterfront.......
Unique Suggestions: spring for a sinfully delicious dinner at La Cite`, the fabulous round restaurant on top of Lake Point Tower (the wave-shaped glass building across the street from Navy Pier). Prix fixe menu.
This is Champagne and Chateaubriand heaven.
For daytime views at a more modest cost Sunday brunch is sometimes offered.
Call ahead to check/make reservations: 312-644-4050.
Valet parking available in the building.
On a good, clear day, you can see all of Chicago from its observation deck on the 103rd Floor. It's great!
However, the tickets aren't cheap, the lines can be long, and depending on the weather conditions you may not see anything anyway, So ask the attendant or call first. (312) 875-9696 - 233 S. Wacker Dr. (entrance on Jackson Blvd.)
Unique Suggestions: So, before you stand in line to buy a $10 ticket, ask the elevator attendant what the visibility at the top is like. He or she will know, and will probably tell you. If he or she says the visibility is bad, save your time and money for another day or another attraction.
Do not assume that because it's a great, sunny day on the street, that the view will be fantastic. Many times there is a haze that prevents visibility 'up there' that you won't notice until too late.
Fun Alternatives: Weather bad, but you're already there?
Get a slice of Chicago style deep dish pizza, or stroll over the canal bridge and see Union Station (2 blocks west) or just catch the 60, 130 or 151 buses east to Michigan Ave and the Art Institute. Or even stay on the 130 to get to the Museum Campus and many more attractions.
The Sear's Tower is EXPENSIVE. Ok, yes, go up by all means if you want to say you've been in the tallest building in the world (I wouldn't believe other claims to this title!). And the views are incredible, don't get me wrong. But, I think better views can be had at the Hancock Center for a little less. And ugh, you have to wait through lines and a movie, and... might not be worth it. Depends on what you want to say you've done in Chicago!
SEARS TOWER IS GOOD TO JUST GO UP AND EASE YOUR CURISOITY, BUT THE VIEW FROM THE HANCOCK TOWER IS MUCH, MUCH BETTER. BE A BIG SHOT AND PAY TO GO UP DURING THE DAY AND THEN AT NIGHT. ANOTHER OPTION FOR THE NIGHT VIEW IS TO GO TO THE BAR UP AT THE TOP OF THE HANCOCK WHICH DOSEN'T CHARGE ADMISSION. OF COURSE YOU'RE PAYING 6 OR 7 BUCKS FOR A BUD LIGHT SO IT'S ABOUT THE SAME BUT YOU HAVE A BEER TO SHOW FOR IT. THE BAR STAYS QUITE PACKED SO BE WARNED.
I'm not a local. But we went up the Hancock building. It cost US$ 19 for two tickets. Best I can say about it is that it's a building and it's very tall. The much vaunted Skywalk isn't very big and the view out is masked by fine netting. Sears Tower wasn't that much better. But when you're going round the world trying to visit the tallest buildings I suppose you have to do it.
Going to the top of the Hancock Building is definitely something you can skip. It's expensive and you can see more from the Sear's Tower. If you have to go I would recommend going up to the restaurant at the top and enjoying the view from there. It's free. If you want you can have an overpriced martini to go with the view.
John Hancock building has this photographer who politely asks to take your photograph as you wait to ride the elevator up and gives you a tab asking you collect the photo at the top. When you go to the desk, you're told its going to cost about $10 and you can choose your own background from the cheesy choices they have...falling off the building etc. They have you lapping up the photo in no time.
Chicago itself is kind of a giant tourist trap. It's a money motivated town to it's core and that's reflected by the inflation you'll find here. The entirety of Magnificent Mile and most everywhere else inside the Loop is going to be very expensive. The Sears Tower Observatory is not worth the price of admission. The Hancock Observatory would be a better choice because it's got a bar and retaurant.
The Sears Tower. Never believe the time posted. Sign says 30mins we left after 90mins still nowhere near the elevators. Getting our money back was a nightmare. They refused to return our money saying the time posted was 60mins(still less than the 90 we had already waited).We'll try the Hancock tower next visit.
The Sears Tower may offer you a spectacular, one of a kind view, but there is ALWAYS a long line and I thought it was a tad expensive, plus you're "encouraged" to move along in a timely manner!
Sears Tower - this is a photo from, not of. Amazing to see helicopters flying at the same level you are!