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The world’s best observation decks

An observation deck or viewing platform is an elevated platform or deck for sightseeing that is usually built in tall towers or archi­tectural structures like skyscrapers as also often on mountains and canyons. Often these observation decks double up as places offering thrill to those looking to have their adrenaline rush with activities like bungee jumping, augmented reality and other excit­ing rides.

Many of us love observation decks, not necessarily for the same reason. While most would agree that the breathtaking bird’s eye view of the surroundings is a reason that attracts us, others often visit observation decks to test their fear of heights, or to check out how the world looks like from our favourite landmarks.

There was a time when most of the highest observation decks, except for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, were located in the continent of North America. But in the last one decade, Asia and the Middle East have taken the lead and today, the world’s highest views can be experienced in these regions only.

The following are some of the observation decks around the world that one may visit. The heights men­tioned against the names of tower or deck here refer to the height of the observation deck and not the tower itself. Entries have been listed in descending order of heights.

Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China

Height: 1,841 ft.

The highest observation deck in the world is located at a height of 561.3 metres (1,841 ft) in the 632-metres-tall (2,073-ft) Shanghai Tower (which is also known as Shanghai Center). It is an office-cum-hotel building in the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone in Shanghai, China and was completed only recently in 2015. It is currently the tallest building in China and is said to have the world’s fastest elevators. The observation deck is located on the 119th floor and amongst other things it provides a view of the nearby Shanghai World Financial Centre, another super-tall skyscraper which is ranked 10th highest in the world now. The Shanghai Tower is expected to come up with more observation decks in the recent years.

Abraj Al-Bait Towers, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Height: 1,831 ft.

Mecca is the holiest place in the world for the Muslims. You can enter here only if you are a Muslim; hence, this attraction is just to read about if you are a non-Muslim.

This is a huge complex with a maximum height of 601 metres. It is the world’s third-tallest building, after the Burj Khalifa and the Shanghai Tower and contains more floor space than any other building in the world. It houses a hotel, a five-storey shopping mall and a prayer room that can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The soaring towers of this building are the world’s largest clock faces and are visible from a distance of 25 kilometres. There is an observation deck both at the clock face and just beneath the central tower’s summit, but as stated earlier, only Muslims can visit here.

The viewing platform located at the central clock tower just below the golden crescent has a height of 558 metres. The other viewing deck below the clock facade has a height of 400 metres and this one is located adjacent to an exhibition hall.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE

Height: 1,821 ft.

Reaching a height of 828 metres (2,722 feet), the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building and has the maximum number of floors (163). This tallest manmade structure in the world was opened at the beginning of 2010. However, it missed out on having the world’s highest observation deck; the one here, although located at the 148th floor, is at a height of 555.7 metres, about 5.5 metres lower than the one at Shanghai mentioned at the top of the list. There is an outdoor observation deck that is accessible at 1,483 feet. The Sky Deck, at a height of 1,821 feet, was opened in late 2014 and provides magnificent views over this mag­nificent desert city dotted with skyscrapers.

Readers may note that in less than two years, the feat of being the tallest building in the world is going to be handed over by Burj Khalifa to the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia. This upcoming tower has been writ­ten about later in the article.

Shanghai World Financial Centre, China

Height: 1,555 ft.

Located in the Pudong District of Shanghai, this super tall skyscraper is home to the hotel Park Hyatt Shanghai (which is located in the 79th to 93rd floors making it cur­rently the third highest hotel in the world). This tower itself is the second tallest in the city and looks like a bottle-opener, giving it its popular name. Apart from the hotel, offices, conference rooms, restaurant and shopping malls, the tower also has three observation decks on its 94th, 97th and 100th floors. These decks were opened soon after completion of the building in 2008. The obser­vation deck on the 100th floor has transparent glass-walled walkways. The decks offer views of the Huangpu River and the marvelous sky-rises of the city and one must target going up the decks on a clear day, as both weather and pollution can play a spoilsport otherwise. So it is important to check the weather forecast before planning a trip here.

The sightseeing hall is also a venue of exhibitions and has a café and a souvenir shop in case if you are looking forward to spending some time or having some food and drinks.

CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

Height: 1,465 ft.

Dating back from 1976, this tower was the world’s tallest manmade structure when com­pleted. Not any more!

There are three observation decks here, all of which are very popular with locals and visitors alike. At 1,136 feet is the LookOut deck, at 1,168 feet is the hands-free outdoor EdgeWalk deck and at 1,465 feet is the SkyPod deck, which, on a clear day, provides a visibility of more than 160 kilometers. From the LookOut deck one must board a special elevator for the SkyPod that takes you up 33 storeys. Visitors come to SkyPod for a chance of spotting the famous Niagara Falls on the horizon.

Sky Tree, Tokyo, Japan

Height: 1,456 ft.

This is the world’s second-tallest structure and the tallest in Japan reaching a total height of 634 metres. The Sky Tree houses communica­tions satellites, television and radio broad­casting facilities, a restaurant and observation decks at various levels (the last level deck is a transparent spiral staircase with views all the way back down to busy street level). From the deck visitors may have views over To­kyo’s mind-boggling urban sprawl up to a distance as far as the iconic Mt. Fuji.

Canton Tower, Guangzhou,

China

Height: 1,421 ft.

The Canton Tower reaches a height of 600 metres and is located on the south bank of the Pearl River in the Haizhu district. The skyscraper has a spectacular design of two subtly twisting ellipses that is narrow at the ‘waist’, taking inspiration from the female body structure.

In the evening time, the tower is beauti­fully lit with LED lights with changing colours and patterns. On special occa­sions fireworks are also launched from its sides. The tower is home to restaurants, entertainment rides and many lookout platforms. The observation deck located at 1,421 feet provides beautiful views of the city and over the Pearl River Delta.

This deck has the Guinness World Record of being the world’s second-highest out­door observation deck. There are also the Cloud Observation Deck on the 107th Floor and the Star Observation Deck on the 108th floor that give visitors the chance to see the starry skies and clouds.

There is also a space post office here. Apart from this there are many other attractions also like the Engineering Marvel Tour on the 109th and 110th floors, the Bubble Tram that has 16 glass cabins that take tourists to travel along a track circum­navigating the rooftop in about 30 minutes and the 100-foot freefall, the highest vertical free fall in the world.

Skydeck at Willis Tower, Chicago, IL,

USA

Height: 1,353 ft.

Often referred to as the Sears Tower, the Wil­lis Tower (renamed in 2009) in Chicago is a 110-storey skyscraper which, when completed in 1973, was the tallest building in the world. It held on to the title for quarter of a century. To­day it is the 16th tallest in the world and the 2nd tallest building in the United States. It overlooks the shores of Lake Michigan and being one of the biggest attractions in this part of the world, attracts more than 1.7 million visitors every year.

There is an observation deck on the 103rd floor, the highest in the US. Elevators take visitors to the top in less than a minute and one can feel the sudden change of pressure. There is another observation deck on the 99th floor. Yet more exciting is The Ledge, installed in 2009, that comprised of all-glass boxes, including glass bottom that extend four feet out from the building to hover high above the street below. These are like glass bot­tom balconies and can give you butterflies in stomach as you look below. You must definitely not miss visiting here.

International Commerce Centre,

Hong Kong, China

Height: 1,289 ft.

This is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the sixth tallest in China. It is home to the world’s highest hotel, The Ritz-Carlton that occupies the floors 102 to 118. This tower also famously houses the Sky100 observation deck, a 360-degree indoor observation deck on the 100th floor. Lifts take visitors up the 100 floors

in just about a minute. However, the build­ing lacks the floor numbers 4, 14, 24 and so on (as the number ‘4’ is regarded as inauspicious in many parts of Asia). Hence the actual floor numbering of the deck as well as the entire tower is disputed. The deck offers views of the Hong Kong Island, the Victoria Harbour, the Kowloon Peninsula and the highest peak of Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong.

Taipei 101, Taipei,

Taiwan

Height: 1,284 ft.

This post-modernist structure is the tallest and largest LEED-certified building in the world and has a height of 509 metres. Opened in 2004, this building became the first one to cross the half kilometre mark. The structure of the build­ing is said to resemble a lotus blossom.

It has three observation decks of which two are inside at the 89th floor and one juts outwards at the 91st floor. The decks can be reached in superfast elevators that climb 84 floors in just 37 seconds. Initially it was also claimed that these were the world’s fastest elevators, stating that it travelled at a speed of 17 metres per second. However, this has not been confirmed. The view from the 91st floor outdoor observa­tion deck can be a little dizzying and is open only when weather permits.

One World Observatory, New York,

USA

Height: 1,250 ft.

Located on the top of the One World Trade Centre, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the One World Observatory deck on the 102nd floor is a ‘must visit’ for all visitors and locals in New York City. An elevator takes just about 60 seconds to take visitors up there. From there one can have views of all attractions of New York including Manhattan, New York Harbor, the Hudson and East rivers, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and New Jersey.

The observatory uses state-of-the-art technology and that enhances the quality of the experience for visitors. They can take an augmented reality tour of the skyline of New York by using a tablet to explore the city’s landmarks. As you go up the floors on the elevator, the floor to ceiling monitor gives a time-lapse recreation of the skyline of Manhattan.

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur,

Malaysia

Height: 1,214 ft.

When opened in 1998, the 452 metres-tall Petronas Twin towers held the record for the world’s tallest building, but that feather in the cap has since gone. Nonetheless, the twin towers did bring the country of Malaysia and city of Kuala Lumpur a lot of worldwide attention. The twin towers however continue to hold the record of being the tallest twin towers in the world and are connected by a double-decker bridge located at the 41st and 42nd floors. The observation deck is to be found on the 86th floor of the second tower.

The tower was in the news when Alain Robert, the renowned French ‘Spiderman’, scaled the outside of the building by using only his bare hands and feet. He was arrested at the 60th level. Thankfully, for visitors, ascending is easier. There is a double-decker lift that takes one to the skywalk that joins the two buildings. From there one can continue to the floor obser­vation deck.

One must keep in mind that being one of the most popular attractions in the city of Kuala Lumpur, visitors start queuing up for tickets as early as 6.30 in the morning.

Empire State Building, New York,

USA

Height: 1,211 ft.

One of the oldest skyscrapers in the world, the Empire State Building was completed in 1931. With a height of 443 metres to the tip, the iconic building remained the tallest in the world for nearly four decades and has been featured in numerous Hol­lywood movies ever since its completion. Although much overshadowed now as far as the height is concerned, the Empire State Building remains a cultural icon and a big tourist puller. It has two observa­tion decks, at the 86th and 102nd floor respectively. Its 86th floor outdoor deck is among the world’s most visited one and the one at 102nd floor is not quite as popular. The decks remain open until 2 am every night.

Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower,

Shanghai, China

Height: 1,152 ft.

This is the second tallest TV tower in China, and the sixth tallest in the world.

Located in the Pudong District of Shanghai by the Huangpu River right opposite the Bund, this tower has a unique design, with three 7-meters-wide slanting stanchions support­ing its base. There are many spheres along the height of the tower, each housing variety of activities and recreation. Inside there is a 25-suite Space Hotel, a revolving restaurant and sightseeing floors. At night the exterior of the tower is decorated in colourful LED light. There is a Space Capsule sighting floor at 1,152 feet and double-decker elevators take visitors up there in the wink of an eye.

The Shard, London

United Kingdom

Height: 1,076 ft.

The historical city of London got its tallest building in the year 2013. Located near the Thames River and London Tower Bridge, this skyscraper has superfast elevators that climb 20 feet per second and take visitors to two observation decks at the 68th and 72nd floors respectively. One of the decks is indoors, and the other one is partially located outdoors. It provides a 360-degree view of the 1,000 years of the city’s history. While you look at the breathtaking views from the deck, there is a computer here that allows you to replace the current views with the corresponding historical views at the same place in London.

While there are very few entries of tallest tow­ers and observation decks in Europe, the Shard holds a position of pride. It also houses the Shangri-La Hotel.

Eiffel Tower, Paris,

France

Height: 906 ft.

This wrought iron lattice tower was erected in Paris for the 1889 World Fair to act as the entrance to the big fair venue. For more than 40 years thereafter it remained as the world’s tallest manmade structure and one with the highest observation deck for 41 years. Initially the tower had come in for huge criticism from artists and intellectuals and the government even contemplated to bring it down. However, over the centuries it has become a cultural icon and the biggest landmark of the whole of France.

While the total structure is 1,163 feet tall, the

highest floor and observation deck is at 906 feet. There are three levels of observation decks with restaurants on the first and second levels. There are elevators to go up there but those looking to shed some calories may also climb the stairs, there are 300 stairs to reach the first level and 300 more to reach the second level. The Eiffel Tower of Paris is the most visited paid monument in the whole world and about 7 million people visit it every year. This also makes it the most popular observation deck in the world.

KL Tower, Kuala Lumpur,

Malaysia

Height: 906 ft.

The highest viewpoint in the touristy city of Kuala Lumpur, this communications tower opened to the public in 1996, has a revolving restaurant and an observation deck that can be reached by super-fast elevators in less than a minute. It is the 7th tallest communications tower in the world and the tallest in Southeast Asia. The tower is also popular with sports enthusiasts and hosts a run up the interior staircase competition every year and is also a regular venue on the International BASE Jump Circuit.

Stratosphere Tower, Las Vegas,

USA

Height: 869 ft.

The Stratosphere is a Casino, Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas and its tower houses the tallest free-standing observation deck in the United States. The tower itself is 1,149 feet high but the observation deck is at a height of 869 feet. It is second in the world only to the CN Tower in Toronto. It provides two observation decks, a restau­rant and four ‘thrill rides’ that take visitors on an aerial show over the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas.

Top of the Rock, New York,

USA

Height: 850 ft.

Located on the rooftop of the iconic Rock­efeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, the Top of the Rock is the place to be in, if you want to have a bird’s eye view of the city of NYC. Up there one finds three indoor and outdoor viewing decks that provide a 360-degree view of the city. Opened in 1933, the Rockefeller Centre is a historic Art and Dine centre in the city of New York. The viewing deck is often said to have the best views in the city. The open deck also has a restaurant up there.

Thyssenkrupp Test Tower, Rottweil,

Germany

Height: 761 ft.

This is a test tower for elevators owned by the elevator manufacturer Thyssenkrupp. Visitors who go up the observation deck are rewarded with spectacular views, which on a clear day, can go up to the Swiss Alps since there are no other tall structures around. It is the tallest elevator testing tower in the whole world and acts like a laboratory for testing high-speed and innovative elevators. It is a twisty engineer­ing wonder and is currently the highest viewing deck in Germany.

SkyTower, Auckland,

New Zealand

Height: 720 ft.

Built as a part of the SkyCity Auckland Casino complex, this is a telecommunica­tion tower with an observation deck that offers breathtaking views of Auckland, the ocean, and the rolling mountains of New Zealand. If you have vertigo, you may not want to visit the glass bottomed observation deck here. With a total height of 1,076 feet from ground level to the top mast, this tower is the tallest free standing structure in the southern hemisphere and the 25th tallest tower in the world. It also offers two types of adventure activities for the adventure aficionados at extra cost – the SkyWalk and the SkyJump. The SkyWalk provides walking on an open-air ledge, and the SkyJump offers breathtak­ing bungee plunge options. Both are at a height of 620 feet above the ground. The SkyTower is beautifully lit on special occasions like Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day decorating the night skyline of the city of Auckland.

Berliner Fernsehturm, Berlin

Germany

Height: 666 ft.

Built as early as 1969 by the government of the then East Germany, this is the city’s iconic Radio and Television tower located in the famous Alexanderplatz area in cen­tral Berlin. Due to its location near Alex­anderplatz, it is also often called the Alex Tower. The tower was originally intended to be the symbol of Communist power here, but today it is a true symbol of Berlin city. It is the tallest structure in the entire country with a total height of 1,207 feet, although the viewing deck is not the tallest one. In addition to having a famous indoor observation deck, this tower also has a revolving restaurant and a bar and attracts more than a million people every year.

Calgary Tower, Calgary,

Canada

Height: 627 ft.

Originally called the Husky Tower, this observation tower was built to mark the centennial of Canada in 1967 and opened to the public in 1968. It was then the tallest structure in Calgary and the tallest in Canada outside of Toronto. It was once the world’s highest 360-degree-viewing observation deck, and became the found­ing member of the World Federation of Great Towers. There are colourful exterior light that are turned on daily between 5 in the morning and sunrise, and then again at dusk and at midnight.

The Space Needle, Seattle, WA

USA

Height: 520 ft.

Our last entry in the list of highest obser­vation decks is located in Seattle. Built in the Seattle Centre for the 1962 World’s Fair, the tower measures 605 feet in height and has an observation deck and rotating restaurant at 520 feet. From the deck one can have a view of the Seat­tle skyline, Olympic Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and the nearby islands on the Bay. There are elevators to take you up there. Today the Space Needle is famous for having the world’s first revolving glass floor at the observation deck.

Other observation decks

Talking of the highest Observation decks in the world, it must be remembered that not all of them are located in towers. While in our Tower special issue, above we have presented the highest ‘Tower-based’ observation decks, the following should not escape a special mention. These are the other very high observation decks that are not located in towers.

Grand Canyon Skywalk, Arizona,

USA

Height: 4,000 ft.

This horse-shoe shaped skywalk is 10 feet wide and extends 70 feet out over the rim of the canyon at Eagle Point. The glass-bottomed observation deck, although actually at ground level, is located 4,000 feet above the floor of the Canyon below giving you bouts of vertigo. That makes it more than twice as high as the observation deck at Shanghai Tower or Burj Khalifa. It is a difficult walk for even the toughest hearted visitors. As a consequence, very few tourists actually go for a walk on this skywalk and prefer to take the helicopter ride instead.

Yuanduan, Chongqing,

China

Height: 2,356 ft.

This is the world’s longest glass skywalk making it one of the most terrifying tourist attractions in the world. The skywalk arches out 90 feet from a cliff’s edge in the Longgang National Geological Park in south-western China. With a height of 2,356 feet from the ground, this is also the highest observation point in the world, and only visitors with very strong heart conditions must visit here. Although the glass skywalk can hold up to 200 people at a time, only about 30 people are allowed at a time for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Stegastein Viewpoint, Flåm,

Norway

Height: 2,123 ft.

This viewpoint juts out 100 feet over the Aur­landsfjord and is located half an hour north of Flåm in Norway. The viewpoint provides visitors with views across to the UNESCO World Herit­age Site of Næøyfjord. The viewpoint is located on the National Tourist Road and provides unparalleled views of the fjords.

Dachstein Stairway to Nothingness,

Austria

Height: 1,300 ft.

It is a suspension bridge with a viewing plat­form, a rather terrifying one at that. Located 1,300 feet above the Dachstein Massif, it presents spectacular views of the Austrian Alps and the rock-face below. Located an hour and a half’s drive southeast of Salzburg, the suspen­sion bridge is 100 metres long and located near the Dachstein Glacier. At the end of the bridge those with very strong hearts can descent 14 steps into a glass viewing platform that juts above the glacier.

Future tallest Observation Deck

Jeddah Tower, Jeddah,

Saudi Arabia

Height: 2,113 feet

The Jeddah Tower, that is all set to be com­pleted in 2020, is going to be the future tallest building in the world with a total height of 3,280 feet (558 feet higher than the current tallest building Burj Khalifa). This building is set to become the first building in the world to surpass the distance of 1 kilometer in height. With that it is also planned to house the world’s highest observatory at 2,113 feet. The outdoor terrace at the deck is planned to be a huge one (697 square meters) that will overlook the Red Sea and have many glass bottomed panels to let visitors challenge their nerves.

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