Rise above the city for a new perspective.
To get a real feel for a new city, you need to get high. High up, that is. Because—hyperbole incoming—only by scaling staircases to reach the best rooftops, riding cable cars to observation decks, or zipping upwards in terrifyingly speedy elevators to magnificent viewpoints can you really understand the scale and scope of [insert your destination of choice]. And at the very least, you’ll get some great pictures.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: Mexico City, Mexico
Since the Torre Latinoamericana was inaugurated in 1956, taller buildings (like the Torre Reforma Latino) have sprung up in the Mexican capital. But there’s a reason people still have a soft spot for this Mexico City landmark—namely, the impressive view over the historic centre and beyond, which gives just a taste of how mindbogglingly massive Mexico City really is.
INSIDER TIPInstead of going to the 42nd-floor official viewing platform, go to the 41st-floor bar/restaurant Miralto and wash down that view with a beer.
The Sky Garden
WHERE: London, United Kingdom
Given that The Shard is London’s tallest building, you might be led to believe that it’s the best spot for views over the British capital. Well, it ain’t bad… but it is expensive. So, save your money and go across the river to The Sky Garden. It’s the city’s highest public garden and tickets are free (although you’ll have to book in advance to secure a spot).
Basílica del Voto Nacional
WHERE: Quito, Ecuador
The technically-unfinished Basílica del Voto Nacional in downtown Quito, Ecuador is a neo-Gothic masterpiece. In fact, it’s the best example in the Americas and is sometimes even referred to as the Notre Dame of Quito. If you’re brave enough to traipse up to the top of its towers, it’s also got some cracking views over Ecuador’s capital city and nearby mountains too.
Cerro de Monserrate
WHERE: Bogotá, Colombia
The Cerro de Monserrate is a mountain within the city limits of Bogotá, topped with a bone-white 17th-century church popular amongst locals and visitors alike. However, while crowds often clamor to visit during the day, the best views are to be had at sunset. Reach the peak by cable car, funicular, or on foot (but make sure you’ve given yourself time to adapt to the altitude first).
INSIDER TIPTo get up close and personal with views over Bogotá during the day, the viewing deck of the Torre Colpatria is your best bet.
Rooftop bars are often the best places to get stellar views over a destination and there are very few things which aren’t improved by adding cocktails and ambient lighting into the mix. So skip the skyscraping observation decks in Singapore, and consider stopping by the comparatively modest Lantern Bar on the 6th floor of the Fullerton Bay Hotel instead. It may not be the highest rooftop in Singapore, but it’s easily one of the coolest.
WHERE: Santiago, Chile
Chile doesn’t do things by halves and in few places is that more apparent than Santiago, home of Latin America’s tallest viewpoint—Sky Costanera. The panoramic views over the capital and surrounding Andes Mountains are unrivalled from the dedicated observation deck which awaits at the top of this towering, 300m-tall tower.
WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark
The Spire—which is part of the Church of Our Saviour—rises above the skyline of downtown Copenhagen, Denmark, like something out of a fairy tale. Although it may seem like it was pulled from a storybook, with its Helter Skelter-esque, helix-shaped spiral staircase and opulent black-and-gold color scheme, it’s very, very real. And you can climb right to the top.
WHERE: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When in Amsterdam, a panoramic view is just a boat ride away. In Amsterdam North, to be precise. Cross the river by hitching a lift on the public access ferries before making your way up to the sky deck at The Lookout, situated atop the A’DAM Tower. If just looking out over the Amsterdam skyline isn’t enough though, you can also swing out over it on Europe’s highest swing.
WHERE: Havana, Cuba
It’s tricky to get a new perspective on such a beloved city like Havana, but you can quite literally do just that at the Cámara Obscura in the Cuban capital. After scaling the stairs of the Gómez Vila building, you’ll be guided into a small, dark room and shown a real-time pinhole camera projection of the downtown. While there are Cámara Obscuras the world over, the one in Havana is thought to be the only one in the Caribbean, making it even more imperative that you pay it a visit.
WHERE: Berlin, Germany
Built to celebrate a reunified Germany, the bulbous glass dome of the Reichstag building in Berlin is also one of the coolest locations from which to peek out over the city below, including the German Bundestag. To really make a day of your visit to the Reichstag Dome, reserve a table at the rooftop restaurant too.
WHERE: Edinburgh, Scotland
Constructed in honor of one of Scotland’s most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh’s Scott Monument is decorated with characters straight from the pages of his novels. The outward beauty of this impressive Gothic edifice aside though, the spectacular views from the top of the tower make the claustrophobic, stomach-churning climb up 200+ stairs well worth it.
Taipei 101 Tower
WHERE: Taipei, Taiwan
Formerly the world’s tallest building (it was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai back in 2010), Taipei’s TAIPEI 101 Tower is still a feat of bamboo-shaped engineering and a worthwhile destination for the view-seeking traveller. Although visiting the very top floor—a.k.a. the 101st floor—will prove impossible unless you’re a member of the private VIP club which calls it home, you can still stop by the observation decks on the 88th to 91st floors.
The Peace Tower
WHERE: Ottawa, Canada
Sometimes known as The Tower of Victory and Peace, this freestanding bell tower—situated in the Parliamentary District of Ottawa, Canada—is not dissimilar in appearance to London’s Big Ben. And even though you’ll have to queue for a while to secure access to this nearly 100m-tall neo-Gothic structure, both the views and the exquisite, gilded interiors make it worthwhile.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re there in July or August, try and stop by between 11 am and 12 pm, when the carillonneur is performing. From September to June, the carillon is played from 12 pm to 12:15 pm.
WHERE: Buenos Aires, Argentina
While the Palacio Barolo—an architectural masterpiece with views as delightful as its design—is the obvious place to visit for panoramas over Buenos Aires, you should also consider the underrated (but equally worthwhile) Galería Güemes, an Art Nouveau treat tucked on Florida Street. Why? Well, because hidden above the offices which now make up most of the building’s interior is a charming 14th-floor observation deck.
El Corte Inglés
WHERE: Madrid, Spain
You can quite literally get anything at El Corte Inglés, a vast Spanish department store chain. In Madrid, that’s taken to the extreme on the 9th floor of the Callao branch, where you can enjoy a gourmet meal by the window, complete with fantastic views over the capital. While somewhat well-traversed by locals, it’s mostly overlooked by visiting foreigners looking for great vistas.
WHERE: Paris, France
You could happily take your pick of excellent viewpoints in Paris, although the downside of most is that you’ll likely be standing in the very building you most want to snap a photo of. However, if you choose to head to the observation deck of the Tour Montparnasse, you can bypass that issue entirely, instead enjoying picture-perfect views over some of the French capital’s most iconic sights, like the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre.
WHERE: Rome, Italy
The best views in Rome can, naturally, be found from atop one of the city’s seven hills. To be more precise, they can be found from Aventine Hill, the home of Orange Garden. Not only are the vistas here fabulous, so is the setting—orange trees abound, and the manicured lawns are perfect for lounging.
However, you can’t miss the hidden view from the nearby Knights of Malta Priory—peeking through the keyhole provides a perfectly framed view of the St Peter’s Basilica cupula.
WHERE: Prague, Czech Republic
Don’t be deceived! Prague’s Petřín Hill Lookout is no Eiffel Tower, even though the 63m-tall tower was designed to look like one. However, the views are still fantastic, given that the tower does have a rather advantageous location on Petřín Hill. From the observation deck—reached by climbing almost 300 stairs—you can admire Prague in its entirety.
INSIDER TIPDon’t bother walking up the hill to reach the lookout. Save your breathe and take the funicular instead.
Castelo de São Jorge
WHERE: Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge is a medieval citadel popular amongst tourists to the Portuguese capital. Given its understandably centric, elevated location, it’s an ideal place to get some of the best sweeping views over the city below, while simultaneously soaking up the country’s history. Two birds, one stone.
WHERE: Oslo, Norway
‘Oslo Opera House: Please walk on the roof’, says the Oslo tourism board, in a stroke of advertising genius. It’s the only logical thing to do; after all, we climb mountains, so why not buildings? I’m paraphrasing, but still, they clearly know how to sell a destination. And the Oslo Opera House is quite the destination, especially for travelers wanting a great view of the surrounding fjord and its multicolored houses, as well as the wider city center.
Mount Victoria Lookout
WHERE: Wellington, New Zealand
The epitome of a hilly city, Wellington is replete with viewpoints. However, the most easily accessible (and well-known) viewpoint which looks over the Kiwi capital is surely Mount Victoria. Once there, you’ll find a triple threat of ocean, harbour and city centre views, meaning great photos are practically guaranteed.
WHERE: Reykjavik, Iceland
You might not know the name, but you’ve likely seen pictures of the modernist, greyscale parish church which lies in the heart of the Icelandic capital, a.k.a. the only-moderately-terrifying-looking, Hallgrímskirkja. There’s nothing scary about the picturesque views over Reykjavik’s colourful downtown from the top of the Hallsgrímskirkja tower though.
Ceb Tower Observation Deck
WHERE: Washington D.C.
Only opened in mid-2018, Washington D.C.’s Ceb Tower Observation Deck is one of the latest additions to the global slew of purpose-built observation decks. And while it’s certainly one of the most impressive—you’ll be privy to 360-degree views over the US capital (and Capitol)—access to the 31st and 32nd-floor lookouts doesn’t come cheap. You’ll have to stump up $20+ per person to visit.
WHERE: Seoul, South Korea
If you were to find yourself at the very top of the Namsan Tower in Seoul, South Korea, you’d be nearly half a kilometer above sea level. That should give you some idea of how incredible the cityscape views are from the tower’s observation deck (which also has a Korean history exhibit). There’s plenty to do for people who don’t want to go right to the top though—throw a coin in the Wishing Pond or visit the Teddy Bear Museum.
Sky Circus Sunshine60 Observatory
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
There’s really no shortage of innovative lookouts in Tokyo—think Tokyo City View, Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree, to name but a few. However, for a lookout which combines a quirky, Instagram-friendly appeal on the inside with some jaw-dropping views over one of the world’s coolest skylines, then head to the “experience-based” Sky Circus Sunshine60 Observatory.