View Chicago's Skyline From An Underrated Destination Instead Of This Tourist Trap

The Chicago skyline is a dazzling reminder that humans can alter landscapes in beautiful ways sometimes. With its gleaming skyscrapers, art-deco office towers, and Gothic high-rise buildings, the skyline is a monument of towering stone, steel, and glass alongside Lake Michigan. With a mind-boggling mix of building styles, Chicago was actually ranked as the top holiday destination in North America for architecture lovers in a recent study published by Buildworld. Indeed, thousands of architecture enthusiasts flock to Chicago each year to salivate over its iconic buildings. But in such a big city with so many locations to choose from — nearby roads and highways, a Lake Michigan cruise, the skydeck of a tall building — where's the best place to see the skyline? 

Some would suggest that the top of the 1,450-foot tall Willis Tower is the perfect place to marvel at the entirety of Chicago. After all, the tower is the city's highest skyscraper and one of the tallest in the world. From the Skydeck on the 103rd floor, you can see the skyline along with parts of four different states on a clear day. As an added bonus, the Skydeck has glass-bottomed viewing platforms that extend 4.3 feet from the building to provide visitors with unobstructed and, some would say, terrifying views. Unfortunately, though, the Skydeck is a bit of a circus, drawing over 1.7 million visitors every year. Instead, allow us to suggest a less crowded and more relaxing alternative to address all your skyline-gazing needs: 360 Chicago.

Views and thrills at 360 Chicago

Two miles northeast of the Willis Tower is 875 North Michigan Avenue, formerly known as the John Hancock Center. At 1,127 feet, the massive black skyscraper is a smidge shorter than the Willis Tower but looks similar, as the same team designed both buildings. Take the elevator ride up to the 94th floor, where you'll find 360 Chicago Observation Deck, which as the name implies, features panoramic views of the city as well as the lake.

In addition to being less crowded than the Skydeck, 360 Chicago is closer to the lake, revealing the stunning visual contrast between the smooth blueness of the water and the geometric patterns of the buildings. The views are simply breathtaking from this location. For an even more daunting angle, hop on TILT, a one-of-a-kind scary ride that provides a downward-facing glimpse of the city. Feeling queasy just thinking about it? It may be best to avoid eating a deep-dish Chicago pizza beforehand. 

Another perk of this location is Cloudbar, which bills itself as "Chicago's new bar in the sky." During the day, the mirrors on the bar's walls and ceiling reflect the clouds, making you feel as if you're one with the atmosphere while sipping your coffee. The bar turns into a chic lounge at night, serving cocktails, mocktails, and other refreshments above the shining city. 

More ways 360 Chicago rocks

How about some yoga at the top of the world? As if views, thrills, and high-elevation cocktails weren't enough, 360 Chicago also offers Sky Yoga classes taught by a professional instructor. The price of admission includes an hour-long yoga class, entry to the observation area, and either a mimosa or a Kikwetu coffee. The 360 Chicago venue also hosts public events such as their New Year's Eve in the Sky party and has space available for weddings and other private events. We told you, this is just not your average, everyday observation deck. 

If heights are not your thing and you prefer viewing the city from a more earthly location, we have a few more suggestions for you. Boat cruises provide spectacular views of the city's unique architecture and skyline. For three consecutive years, Chicago Architecture Center's First Lady Cruise was voted a top-10 North American boat tour by USA Today. On these 1.5 hour cruises, you have a front-row seat to Chicago in all her glory while a knowledgeable tour guide shares detailed information about the city's history, architectural styles, and its most famous buildings. You can also embark on a skyline cruise on Lake Michigan for the most sweeping views yet. From this vantage point, you can appreciate how the Willis Tower and 875 North Michigan Avenue jut up from the skyline like proud parents, watching over the magnificent city.