Views from the Top
Published: February 2011
By Karrie Jacobs
Whether you want to float over the Grand Canyon or see the earth curve around Shanghai, T+L guides you to six observation decks where the sky’s the limit.
Arizona: Grand Canyon Skywalk
Cantilevered way, way out over the Grand Canyon’s west rim, with the Colorado River some 4,000 feet below, this U-shaped glass-bottomed bridge is arguably the world’s highest observation deck. It’s certainly the most mind-blowing one. Deck visitors must don paper slippers over their shoes to keep from scuffing the glass. hualapaitourism.com; tickets from $71.
Norway: Aurland Lookout
It may look like an oversize bowling alley designed by IKEA’s masters of minimalism, but this observation deck in Norway is a "truncated bridge into midair" that thrills visitors with a breathtaking view of one of the west coast’s largest fjords. Opened to the public in 2006, the Aurland Lookout has quickly become one of the country’s iconic (and most lauded) structures. Aurland, Sogn og Fjordane; 47/5763-3313.
Shanghai World Financial Center
On the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the top tier of the three-layer observatory is the world’s highest within a building—at 1,555 feet up. Architecture geeks will love that the observation deck sits within the building’s most distinctive feature, the rectangular cutout that makes the whole building resemble a giant bottle opener. swfc-observatory.com/en; tickets from $22.
Dubai: At the Top, Burj Khalifa
While this observation deck at the newly crowned world’s tallest building (around 2,717 feet) is called At the Top, it’s actually on the 124th floor of the 163-story-high monument. Massive double-height windows, an open-air terrace, and an unparalleled perspective make the real Dubai look a lot like the architectural models you see on display all over town. burjkhalifa.ae; tickets from $27 (pay $109 to cut the line).
Taiwan: Taipei 101
The world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010 is now just another footnote in the arms race to the sky. Taipei 101 takes inspiration from traditional Taiwanese residences and is built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. To get to its top-floor observation deck, visitors take the world’s fastest elevator. Just leave any addictive substances behind: the chewing of gum or betel nuts is not permitted. taipei-101.com.tw; tickets from $13.
Chicago: The Ledge at Willis Tower’s Skydeck
How do you make the observation area of a 37-year-old skyscraper that hasn’t been the world’s tallest since 1998 feel new again? Attach a series of magnificently scary glass boxes to Chicago’s venerable Skydeck. The illusion of standing unsupported 103 stories above the ground is a real crowd-pleaser—as anyone can guess by the hours-long line to get up to it. theskydeck.com; tickets from $16.