The sound of whirring blades, the feeling of liftoff, and the stunning views of the ground falling away from you can only be found one way: aboard a helicopter. Whether you’re flying over the Hong Kong skyline or hovering above Iguazu Falls, a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping ride will thrill adrenaline junkies and avid photographers looking for the perfect, unobstructed shot. Some landscapes simply demand a view from above, so climb aboard one of these twenty helicopter rides for an unforgettable experience.—Abbey Chase
New York City
There are countless ways to enjoy the world’s most iconic skyline, but a helicopter ride over Manhattan trumps all. From views of Ellis Island to Central Park, a flight over the Big Apple will cover all the major sights as you soar past the newly completed Freedom Tower and Financial District, as well as the famous skyscrapers in Midtown. Longer tours will take you past the George Washington Bridge, the Palisades, and as far north as Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Liberty Helicopters is based out of the Downtown Heliport near Battery Park and offer tours ranging from twelve to twenty minutes, as well as private tours, aerial engagements, and weddings.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide
Cut by the Colorado River through the Arizona wilderness, the Grand Canyon reveals Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata in a colorful display, all set against a (hopefully) clear blue sky. Designated as a National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Canyon continues to stun visitors more than 100 years later. Maverick Helicopters operate two flights in the region: The Canyon Spirit Tour takes you over Kaibab National Forest, Marble Canyon, Point Imperial, and the iconic North and South Rims, while the Grand Canyon Discovery Tour operates outside the boundaries of the national park, taking you over the section of the canyon privately owned by the Hualapai Tribe. Maverick also operates day and night flights over nearby Las Vegas.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Grand Canyon Travel Guide
The fourth-largest of the islands, Kauai has made countless appearances in famous movies, including Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The small island is one of Hawaii’s most untouched natural settings, from the verdant craggy shores of the Na Pali coastline to its secluded tidal pools, grottos, and waterfalls. On the Big Island, you’ll find the otherworldly volcanic landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, covered by tendrils of glowing lava, juxtaposed against overflowing waterfalls and vibrant rainforests. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers tours over both islands, leading you through the lush valleys of Kauai’s undulating landscape and over the Big Island’s Kohala Coast and iconic volcanoes.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hawaii Travel Guide
Hong Kong boasts a skyscraper-laden skyline huddled around Victoria Harbour. British colonization and heavy Chinese influences have made Hong Kong a uniquely diverse city, with an East-meets-West personality that makes it one of Asia’s most intriguing metropolitan hubs. Heliservices take off at The Peninsula Hong Kong, with fifteen- and thirty-minute morning and afternoon flights that fly over Hong Kong’s downtown and the outlying islands in the Harbour.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hong Kong Travel Guide
Great Barrier Reef
Off the coast of Queensland, billions of coral polyps form the world’s largest coral reef system, home to more than 1,500 species of animal, including many endangered species, the rare dugong, and nearly 500 species of coral. The reef is the only living structure that can be seen from space, so an outlook from the helicopter will afford you excellent views of the area. GBR Helicopters flies a number of routes in the area, ranging from thirty-minute flights over the Reef to personalized tours that land on a private beach for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Great Barrier Reef Guide
Few regions are as romanticized as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and the sparkling blue waters, postcard-perfect towns, and jutting seaside cliffs ensure that the region more than lives up to its reputation. While it is tempting to spend your vacation laconically exploring the quaint towns and indulging in the area’s culinary excellence (the Amalfi Coast is known for its limoncello), take to the skies for an entirely new perspective. HeliSorrento offers excursions from Capri, Naples, Ischia, and Sorrento, with opportunities to stop in various towns along the way, including Pompeii. If you’re pressed for time, you can also use HeliSorrento to transfer between towns, with some stunning sightseeing along the way.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Amalfi Coast, Capri, and Naples Travel Guide
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Located just outside downtown Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier stretches for twelve miles along the Mendenhall Valley, butting up against the eponymous glacial lake and hosting nearly 500,000 visitors a year. Temsco Helicopters takes you flying over the rugged alpine terrain near the glacier, giving you an up-close look at the 7,000-foot Mendenhall Towers. Climate change threatens the viability of the glacier, so be sure to take in the beauty of this region while you still can.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Juneau, the Inside Passage, and Southeast Alaska Travel Guide
America’s most famous cascade is comprised of three separate falls: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Dissolved salts and “rock flour” contribute to the water’s greenish color, which pours over the edge at a rate of about four million cubic feet per minute. The famous Maid of the Mist boat tour has operated at the falls since 1846, but for a drier view, grab a seat aboard a Niagara Helicopters tour. Take off along Victoria Avenue and glide down the Niagara River, spotting Whirlpool Rapids, the Rainbow Bridge, and Queen Victoria Park along the way.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Niagara Falls and Western New York Travel Guide
Though perhaps best known as the home of Al Capone, deep-dish pizza, and the country’s most cursed baseball team, Chicago is one of the most architecturally rich cities in the world. Because of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the downtown area has been completely rebuilt in the last 144 years, boasting an eclectic mix of styles that create the Windy City’s unique skyline and streetscape. Rotor Zen Helicopters takes off near Midway Airport, flying north as the Willis Tower, John Hancock Building, Millennium Park, Grant Park, Navy Pier, Soldier Field, and the sweeping shores of Lake Michigan come into view. Private and custom tours are also available.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chicago Travel Guide
According to its indigenous name, Victoria Falls is known as “the smoke that thunders,” and although it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is the largest due to its volume of water. Victoria Falls are composed of six gorges and two islands at the top that disperse the water over 5,600 feet. When David Livingstone first saw the falls in 1855, he described it as “a sight so wonderful that Angels must have gazed down on it in flight.” Zambezi Helicopter Company’s aptly named Flight of Angels takes you in circuits over the falls and through Zambezi National Park, while the longer Zambezi Spectacular offers a more comprehensive view of the area.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Zimbabwe Travel Guide
Rio de Janeiro
The electric beachfront town of Rio is always a whir of sights and sounds, its buzzing metropolis home to nearly 6.5 million people. Brazil’s second largest city is a sports and cultural epicenter, home to the hallowed Maracana Stadium and playing host to the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics. The soapstone, Art Deco Christ the Redeemer statue is the city’s most iconic landmark, and a flight aboard Gray Line Rio by Air will take you right up to the 98-foot structure. On the nine-minute flight, you’ll soar over the Lagoon, Rio’s Botanical Gardens, and the Tijuca Rainforest, ending with a lap around Christ the Redeemer. More lengthy excursions will take you past Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado Mountain.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide
The City by the Bay packs a punch despite its relatively small size, with its bohemian past and tech-savvy present forming a vibrant, modern city. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1776, San Francisco offers endless sightseeing on the ground and in the air. San Francisco Helicopters flies six different tours of the area. The Vista and Vista Grande Tours hit all the highlights in the city, soaring past the city’s skyline, iconic bridges, Alcatraz Island, and other surrounding islands, while wine country tours and stops for lunch in Sausalito will surely satisfy any oenophile or gourmand.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Francisco Travel Guide
The stunning, 250-foot Falls on the Brazil-Argentina border features 275 drops and draws more than one million visitors a year to its subliminal cascades. Twice as tall and three times as wide as Niagara Falls, Iguazu has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011. There’s only one way to truly experience the falls—in a helicopter—so take off from Rodovia das Cataratas in Brazil with Helisul. Hover over the stomach-dropping falls on the ten-minute Overflight Falls tour or take the longer half-hour tour for additional views of the Parana River, Iguacu River, Three Border Landmark, and the Itaipu Dam.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Brazil Travel Guide
Hemmed in by Table Mountain, the Durbanville Hills, and the Cape Flats, Cape Town rolls over the hilly coastal landscape, its suburbs sprawling across the waterfront. Despite its urban environs, Cape Town is also known for its rich biodiversity, with more than 2,200 species of plants growing on nearby Table Mountain. With so much natural beauty to see outside the city, climb aboard a flight with NAC Helicopters for a tour of the sights, including the City Bowl, Camps Bay, the Twelve Apostles, and neighboring suburbs and small villages like Noordhoek, Simon’s Town, Constantia, and Muizenberg.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cape Town Travel Guide
One of the most menacing and mythologized spots on Earth, Mount Everest was first officially summited by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and has challenged the world’s best climbers ever since. While only the most experienced mountaineers should attempt the trek to the 29,029-foot peak, Kailash Himalaya Treks, traversing the spine-chilling Khumbu Icefall, offers another way to see Everest. Take off at Kathmandu airport and head east, soaring over the Himalayas and alpine villages, as the world’s tallest peak slowly and dramatically comes into view. It should be noted that the experience remains largely unchanged despite the recent earthquake, since the tour covers areas that weren't as heavily impacted as others. Still, Kailash is currently offering 10% off its normal rates, but October–May are the ideal months for this ride, as summer is monsoon season.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Nepal Travel Guide
What was once a major shipbuilding and logging hub has transformed into one of the country’s most sustainable and greenest cities, appropriately earning its title as The Emerald City. A modern skyline punctuated by the Space Needle and juxtaposed against the rising peak of Mount Rainier makes for the perfect backdrop as you hover over the city. Seattle HeliTours will take you past all of the major sights, including downtown, the Space Needle, Lake Washington, Ballard Locks and Ship Canal, Fisherman’s Terminal, University of Washington, and Elliot Bay Marina.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seattle Travel Guide
Consistently listed as one of the world’s most livable cities, Sydney rewards residents and visitors alike with its rich history, beautiful architecture, lively arts and culture scene, and picturesque location along Sydney Harbour. The highlight of any flight over the city is sure to be a view of the iconic Sydney Opera House, opened in 1973 and designed to look like billowing sails anchored in the Harbour. Running flights during mornings and twilight, Sydney HeliTours will take you around the Harbour and as far outside the city as the eastern suburbs and beaches and nearby Blue Mountains. Adrenaline junkies should opt for the self-explanatory “Door off” tour of the city.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Sydney Travel Guide
Fox Glacier, New Zealand
The eight-mile glacier stretches along the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, uniquely culminating in a leafy rainforest at its base. Easy accessibility makes Fox Glacier one of the most world’s most visited glaciers, and the surrounding area does not disappoint, with the country’s two highest mountains rising in the distance above expansive farmland. After a stroll through the sleepy Fox Glacier Township, take off over Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers with Glacier Helicopters and a landing on a stretch of isolated, untouched snow. Longer tours cover a larger portion of the Southern Alps.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Zealand Travel Guide
Columbia Mountains, Canada
The Columbia Mountains stretch from Idaho and Montana up through British Columbia, boasting hundreds of miles of nearly untouched wilderness. Glacier Helicopters offers three rides over the area in Revelstoke, 350 miles east of Vancouver. The Teaser tour takes you over Three Valley Lake, with an optional six-minute extension that takes you past the valley’s waterfalls and hydro dams. Enthusiasts should opt for the Revelstoke Dam Tour, which takes you past the three-mile structure that bridges the Columbia River. Not for the faint of heart, Glacier Helicopters also offers glacier tours, ski touring drops, alpine mountain bike drops, and heli-wedings.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s British Columbia Travel Guide
Laikipia Plateau, Kenya
Kenya’s western territory is one of the country’s less-visited areas, but its wildlife conservation efforts have made it one of the best places to see Kenya’s unspoiled scenery away from the crowds. The diverse landscape includes semideserts, scrubland, cedar and olive tree forests, and wide expanses of savannah. Helicopter rides in the area can take you past the 17,000-foot peak of Mount Kenya and the dramatic sheer cliffs of Ol Lolokwe. Three-day safaris with Tropic Air begin in Nairobi; traverse the deserts of Northern Kenya, the Hoodoo Valley, Lake Logipi, and the Suguta sand dunes; and end at the Melako Conservancy.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kenya Travel Guide