Best Time to View Sunsets in Chicago

By Ashley Friedman

Chicago sunsets: winding down a day in the Windy City

Best Time to View Sunsets in Chicago

Chicago's a city famous for skyscrapers, sports fans, hot dogs and history. As a landlocked part of the country, Chicago might not seem to be a prime viewing spot for sunsets, but with its proxmity to Lake Michigan and an abundance of rooftop bars and observation decks, the city has optimal locations to watch day turn into night. Chicago's long dark winter and generous snowfall can make sunset watching tougher in some months than others, but when the days are clear, Chicago's formidable architecture, unique venues and lush public parks provide plenty of places to be dazzled by the setting sun.

Best time to view a sunset

Chicago winters are notoriously cold, dark and long. In the wintertime, the sun sets as early as 4:30 p.m., leaving the city dark within an hour, but the cold, crisp Midwestern winter can lend a clarity to the air that makes winter sunsets fiery and dramatic. After the vernal equinox on March 21, the daylight hours in Chicago start to build, and by mid-April the sun doesn't go down until 7:30 p.m. Throughout the spring, the days continue to lengthen, and by the end of June, Chicago doesn't see the sunset until nearly 8:30 p.m. After the summer solstice, of course, the number of daylight hours slowly starts its decline. The Chicago sunset in autumn begins around 6:40 p.m. in late September, and 5:45 p.m. by the end of November.

Weather and seasonal considerations

Cloudy skies are all but assured during Chicago's rainy autumn and icy winter. Overcast skies from September through March make sunset viewing more difficult, so if you're planning a trip to Chicago during the cooler part of the year, be prepared for gray skies that make the sunset pretty much invisible. Spring and summer are better, with clear skies and the reflections of Lake Michigan setting the stage for a particularly majestic sunset.

Best places to watch the sunset

Bars and restaurants like 360 Chicago and The Signature Lounge at The 96th atop the John Hancock Tower offer the opportunity to view the sunset from the shores of Lake Michigan 95 (or 96!) feet in the air. Although the sun can be quite blinding as it pours through the floor-to-ceiling windows during the afternoon, plan to arrive at least an hour or so before sunset to beat the crowds. Enjoy twilight at the Skydeck with its panoramic views and glass floors that display the city beneath your feet. It's a popular destination (especially with tourists) and is often thronged with visitors, so be sure to get there early, especially on a weekend.

If you'd prefer to do your sunset-watching closer to the ground, Navy Pier, Chicago Botanic Garden and Chicago's beautiful Lakefront Trail can provide a welcome respite from the crush of the city, as well as a pleasant vantage point to watch the sun go down.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Social Sciences. She has experience writing copy for the websites of creative professionals, and regularly contributes to several blogs covering popular culture, travel, food, and social action.