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Find some of the world’s most thrilling views atop a growing number of observation decks.

You could be standing on air.

That’s
what it feels like when you step inside one of the glass boxes that protrude from the 103rd-floor Skydeck at Chicago’s Willis
(formerly Sears) Tower. After all, the seamless, apparently unsupported
glass floor is the only thing between your toes and the urban mosaic 1,300 feet
below. Even if you’ve been to hundreds of observation decks, the effect of the
Ledge is still unnerving.

And
really, a skyscraper observation deck should make you feel like you’re flying.
Decks, at their best, are a mechanism for transforming the engineering genius
of super-tall buildings into pure visceral magic. Emerge from the elevators at
the top of places like Toronto’s
CN Tower and you get a double hit: a dizzying view and a powerful sense of
immersion in the building’s unprecedented scale.

Fortunately for altitude-loving travelers, the demand for that
total skyscraper experience is seemingly endless. There are currently so many
observation decks opening that it’s hard to keep track.

At the beginning of the year, we all heard about the grand opening
of Dubai’s Burj
Khalifa—at 2,717 feet, it’s the world’s tallest building by more than 1,000
feet—and its 124th-floor observation deck. However, most of us
probably overlooked the completion of China’s Nanjing Greenland Financial
Center (world’s seventh-tallest building) and its deck. By year’s end, we’ll
have seen the opening of a deck atop Hong Kong’s new
108-story International Commerce Centre (world’s fourth-tallest building) and
the 2,001-foot-tall Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower.

Meanwhile, older, shorter towers have been jazzed up with
inventive new features such as the vertigo-inducing glass Ledge or organized
bungee jumping off towers in Auckland and Macau. The assumption is that
tourists don’t just want to ride the elevator, peer through the coin-operated
binoculars, and go back down. They want to revel in the height.

“We’re
in an experience economy,” explains Randy Stancik, general manager of Chicago’s
Skydeck. “Everybody wants a story to tell—something that can be photographed,
that could be Facebook friendly, that could be sent out on Flickr.”

Admittedly, in this country, we’re still a little behind the
curve. There’s no bungee jumping off Seattle’s Space
Needle, and the tallest new building in the U.S., Chicago’s 98-story Trump
International Hotel and Tower
, completed in 2009—number nine in the
world—doesn’t have a proper deck. (It does have an awfully nice terrace bar on
16, though.)

However, the views from today’s giants tend to isolate tourists
from the cities that are so very far below—it’s a bit like peering out the
window of an airplane. So it’s worth remembering that the highest deck isn’t
always the coolest one. It’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of seeing the
city from a less lofty perspective like, say, the top of the world’s 14th-tallest
edifice, the Empire State Building. —Karrie Jacobs

World's Coolest Observation Decks

Find some of the world’s most thrilling views atop a growing number of observation decks.

You could be standing on air.

That’s
what it feels like when you step inside one of the glass boxes that protrude from the 103rd-floor Skydeck at Chicago’s Willis
(formerly Sears) Tower. After all, the seamless, apparently unsupported
glass floor is the only thing between your toes and the urban mosaic 1,300 feet
below. Even if you’ve been to hundreds of observation decks, the effect of the
Ledge is still unnerving.

And
really, a skyscraper observation deck should make you feel like you’re flying.
Decks, at their best, are a mechanism for transforming the engineering genius
of super-tall buildings into pure visceral magic. Emerge from the elevators at
the top of places like Toronto’s
CN Tower and you get a double hit: a dizzying view and a powerful sense of
immersion in the building’s unprecedented scale.

Fortunately for altitude-loving travelers, the demand for that
total skyscraper experience is seemingly endless. There are currently so many
observation decks opening that it’s hard to keep track.

At the beginning of the year, we all heard about the grand opening
of Dubai’s Burj
Khalifa—at 2,717 feet, it’s the world’s tallest building by more than 1,000
feet—and its 124th-floor observation deck. However, most of us
probably overlooked the completion of China’s Nanjing Greenland Financial
Center (world’s seventh-tallest building) and its deck. By year’s end, we’ll
have seen the opening of a deck atop Hong Kong’s new
108-story International Commerce Centre (world’s fourth-tallest building) and
the 2,001-foot-tall Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower.

Meanwhile, older, shorter towers have been jazzed up with
inventive new features such as the vertigo-inducing glass Ledge or organized
bungee jumping off towers in Auckland and Macau. The assumption is that
tourists don’t just want to ride the elevator, peer through the coin-operated
binoculars, and go back down. They want to revel in the height.

“We’re
in an experience economy,” explains Randy Stancik, general manager of Chicago’s
Skydeck. “Everybody wants a story to tell—something that can be photographed,
that could be Facebook friendly, that could be sent out on Flickr.”

Admittedly, in this country, we’re still a little behind the
curve. There’s no bungee jumping off Seattle’s Space
Needle, and the tallest new building in the U.S., Chicago’s 98-story Trump
International Hotel and Tower
, completed in 2009—number nine in the
world—doesn’t have a proper deck. (It does have an awfully nice terrace bar on
16, though.)

However, the views from today’s giants tend to isolate tourists
from the cities that are so very far below—it’s a bit like peering out the
window of an airplane. So it’s worth remembering that the highest deck isn’t
always the coolest one. It’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of seeing the
city from a less lofty perspective like, say, the top of the world’s 14th-tallest
edifice, the Empire State Building. —Karrie Jacobs

Dutch Dennis [1] http://www.flickr.com/photos/35588958

World's Coolest Observation Decks

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