World's Greatest Elevator Views
In the famous elevator scene from the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the wacky candy maker treats golden ticket-holder and company heir apparent Charlie Bucket to a trip aboard his glass elevator. This lift travels “sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways....” Ultimately, it shoots right through the roof and soars over city rooftops.
Of course, elevators of this sort don’t exist—at least not right now, anyway—but there are plenty of lifts that can turn a boring few minutes staring at metal (or worse, mirrored) walls into an exhilarating thrill ride. Thanks largely to the clear glass sides, passengers are rewarded with amazing views that literally put the outside landscape on display.
These elevators are a far cry from the pulley system–based contraptions used as far back as late 200 B.C., or even the “modern elevator,” introduced in the mid-1800s for moving freight (the first passenger lift debuted at an NYC department store in 1857).
Today, following the same basic design (with some safety and technological improvements), elevators are everywhere, moving the masses up and down. Many are even well-known features in iconic landmarks, like those found in the Eiffel Tower’s legs and main shaft. The City of Light’s famed metal tower has lifts that haul travelers to the top lookout point, some 540 feet (or 54 stories) off the ground, where they’re greeted by bird’s-eye views of the Parc du Champ de Mars and the equally famous Arc de Triomphe.
Other elevators aren’t as public. The Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco is home to a set of lifts that offer some of the best views of Union Square, from as high as 32 stories. (The elevators are technically for guests, so you should at least try to act like one.)
And while all of the elevators have the propensity to incite a bit of heart-pounding excitement, none has the ability to make its riders as prone to panic attacks as the cliffside Bailong Elevator, which can cart dozens of people nearly 1,100 feet off the ground. Just try not to freak out while watching the ground slowly disappear below!
Acrophobics, beware: it’s probably a good idea for you to sit these out. But if heights don’t bother you and you’re looking for a thrill, read on for some of the best elevator views from around the world.
CN Tower, Toronto
This 1,800-foot-tall tower has six glass-sided elevators that whisk visitors to the Look Out Level 1,100 feet above ground in just 58 seconds. Feeling extra adventurous? Hop on the elevator with two glass panels on the floor—a ride not for the faint of heart. (Tickets from $15.)
Westin St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco
This “hidden” treasure might technically be for use by hotel guests, but that doesn’t stop non-guests from going on a joy ride. Just walk by the front desk and follow signs that point you to the Tower Elevators. You’ll be treated to a view of surrounding Union Square from 32 floors up. (Free.)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Of the iconic tower’s four double-decker lifts, three—with plenty of windows looking over the Parc du Champ de Mars—haul visitors to the first and second levels, at 187 and 377 feet, respectively. Ready for more? Another glass lift brings guests to the top—540 feet, or 54 stories, off the ground. (Tickets to top from $12.)
Hammetschwand Lift, Bürgenstock, Switzerland
The 500-foot-high peak of Bürgenstock—a famous Swiss plateau–cum–lookout point known for its stunning views of Lake Lucerne—is easily reached by a metal-and-glass elevator, which opens onto a viewing platform that actually extends over the plateau’s edge. (Free.)
Suur Munamägi,Vorumaa, Estonia
This lift may rise a mere 95 feet off the ground, but that’s from an elevation of some 1,050 feet—the highest point in the Baltic states. The glass sides allow for views of the Haanja Upland while in motion. And on a clear day, you can see more than 30 miles away. (Tickets from $2.)
St. Louis GatewayArch
Egg-shaped trams that burrow along the length of the Gateway City’s famous arch give travelers a fun glimpse at the inside workings of the structure during the ascent and descent. And of course, there’s the more traditional view of the rest of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and downtown St. Louis from the top. (Tickets from $5.)
Bailong Elevator, Zhangjiajie, China
Claiming to be the highest (and heaviest) outdoor elevator in the world, this cliffside lift takes brave riders some 1,060 feet above ground. The dizzying views of the surrounding finger-like, tree-covered mountains—not to mention the increasing distance between your feet and the ground—are more than enough to induce a panic attack. (Free.)
Sunshine 60, Tokyo
The elevator in Tokyo’s Sunshine City 60-story skyscraper may ascend to the 60th-floor observation deck, but the cool view here is inside. As the lift rises, the lights dim, and passengers are treated to a music and light show—think stargazing. (Tickets from $7.50.)
Space Needle, Seattle
Seattle’s futuristic and skyline-defining structure is also home to an elevator that delivers beautiful views of Washington’s metropolis. As guests climb the 520 feet to the Observation Deck, they’re also treated to panoramas of either Puget Sound to the west or Mount Rainier, south of the city. (Tickets from $11.)
Great views don’t always come from Mother Nature; sometimes they’re man-made. The atrium at this hotel spans the entire height of the building—that’s 50 stories, or 470 feet. Take the elevator to the tippy-top floor, and enjoy a (slightly dizzying) view of the interior space as well as the illuminated 50-foot sail canopy (which changes colors!) from above. (Free.)