Updated: December 2017
John Hancock Observatory in Chicago:When you think of the the city of Chicago and tall buildings, the first one that comes to mind is probably Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). I have done the observation deck up there and on my last trip to Chicago (September 2011) I decided to try the John Hancock building instead. You get to go up 94 floors to their observatory and the views are great. Most people agree that the lines are minimal at JHO (John Hancock Observatory) compared to Sears Tower which is more famous. We stayed on the Magnificent Mile so walking the few blocks to the Hancock Building was easy. You enter on the lower level and then take an escalator up another level to the main entrance. At that point you buy your tickets and head towards the elevator after a quick photo that they take. The trip up the 94 floors takes only about 45 seconds at which point you get out on the 94th floor and have a great view (depending on the weather).
You can spend all day up top, but I suggest roaming the windows for the best view for 30 minutes to an hour. Then get down onto the city streets and see all the actual sights up close. There are some great chances to take photos - you may have to wait your turn as others are looking for the same opportunity. As you can see from the photos below, the views are unobstructed and on a sunny day you can get memorable pictures. There is one small section that allows you to be "outside" of the glass windows. It has a mesh, netting instead of glass, but you get the feeling of being up that high and hearing all the sounds of the city. Picture quality is not the best as your camera will try to focus through the mesh. Sit down and grab a drink at the little cafe and enjoy the views. There is also a small gift shop for souvenirs. If the weather is really cruddy, don't pay the money to go up as your visibility will be bad. Wait for a break in the weather in then head on up.
Hancock Observatory Cost and Tickets:How much are tickets? General admission is $15 for an adult and $10 for a youth (3-11). Kids under 3 are FREE. Can you save on your admission cost? Yes. Look into things like the Chicago CityPass which saves you almost 50% on several popular attractions like Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago along with the John Hancock Observatory. The pass is just over $75 and gets you into all those places plus Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum. Group rates save a bit, but you need 20 people in order to one in for free. The hours of operation are 365 days a year from 9AM to 11PM. I've heard that seeing the city lights at night is amazing. During summer months and into the early Fall you can also see the famous fireworks show that takes place off the Navy Pier area - watch from the JHO. You can even order tickets in advance online at Hancockobservatory.com.
What Do You See from the JHO 94th Floor?:We have included 5 pictures from our visit. You can see them down below. If the weather is good you can see Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana as well as much of Illinois. The day we were there it was a bit overcast, but the views were still excellent. You get a great vantage point from up that high and are able to see all the things within the Chicago metro area. Look north to Lincoln Park, Wrigley, or up towards Wisconsin. Out East is the great expanse of Lake Michigan. Southwest is where you'll find the Willis Tower and rest of the skyscrapers in the city. I found that looking down on the high rise condos and apartments was the best part. Amazing that many of those places have rooftop swimming pools that otherwise you would never know exist. I suggest going to this observatory to start any trip in Chicago as you can get a good layout of the city and see how far things like Navy Pier, Soldier Field, and the Chicago River really are.
|Looking out towards Navy Pier from the Obvservatory.
|Straight down towards the water - check out the rooftop pools.
|View of downtown with Sears Tower in the distance.
|Another view of downtown with - past the skyscrapers is Grant Park and Soldier Field.
|Looking north from the Hancock building - Lake Michigan coastline, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast, and more...