Top of the World – For some of the best views

I love being on top of the world. Who doesn’t, you might think? But my view of being on top of the world is, quite literally, just that. And I am sure there are many who would share this world view. In the book of Genesis, the builders of Babel declared, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens. And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered upon the face of the whole earth.” Since ancient times, cities have connected humanity and men have been fascinated with height as it is seen as a symbol of power.  

What better way to see the greatness of some of these cities than to see them from the highest point, standing on top of one of their magnificent man-made structures! World over, there are magical sights to behold and nowhere more than in some of the best-known skyscraper cities of the world.

1 Empire State Building

Perhaps still the most beautiful skyscraper in the world, The Empire State is a 103-story Art Deco building in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. As of 2017, it is the 28th-tallest building in the world, but I feel it remains the most famous building in the world. The Empire State stands tall amongst its other iconic neighbours in Manhattan as it has been a cultural icon since King Kong climbed it first in 1933.

The main lobby is accessed from Fifth Avenue, on the building’s east side, and at the west end of the lobby is an aluminium relief of the skyscraper as it was originally built. To see one of the most famous images in New York City, a depiction of the building itself with beams of lights radiating from the mast, is a memorable experience.

Empire State Building, New York City
View from the Observation deck in Empire State Building, NYC

Once through the security check, we queued up for the elevator to take us to the 82nd floor so that we could walk up to the open-air 86th floor Observation Deck by stairs, which is recommended to experience the climb on the steel staircase. The Observation Deck wraps around the building’s spire and offers the most spectacular views of New York City and beyond. From up here, we got one-of-a-kind views of The Hudson River and East River, Central Park, Times Square, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, and much more.

People go for many reasons. Some people because they want to enjoy the view from above, because it’s romantic, because they’ve seen it in the movies. We went up there because it’s a must-see.

2 Burj Khalifa

A building so tall that there is a six-degree difference in temperature between the top and at the ground level. Burj Khalifa in Dubai has been the tallest structure in the world since its topping out in 2008 and in the process, broke several records. With 160 habitable storeys, Burj Khalifa can accommodate about 35,000 people, which is the population of a small town. Built around a hexagonal core, the tower houses 57 elevators, some with the longest travel distance in the world.

The tower is beautiful. No doubt about it. But it’s the kind of beauty that starts to grow on you. It was difficult to look at anything else when I was in its vicinity. Even from far, it just grabs your attention. Without giving it a second thought, we knew we had to go to the top to witness its glory that comes from its superlative height.

Burj Khalifa At the Top, Dubai
At the Top Burj Khalifa, Dubai

We had pre-booked the tickets to visit the famous observation deck At the Top on the 124th floor in the afternoon. After arriving at the Dubai Mall half an hour before the scheduled time, we found our way comfortably to the At the Top reception at the lower ground level where every journey to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa starts. We had sufficient time to check out the interactive screens and other exhibits that describe the facts and figures of the tower. At the appointed time and after the security check, our journey to the observation deck began. We walked through hallways where several multi-media exhibits displayed the construction process and provided insights into the design and architecture of this man-made marvel. Soon we were outside one of the high-speed elevators and were able to board it in a couple of minutes. Inside of the elevator feels like a magical world and adds to the excitement. With hardly any feeling of discomfort, our ascent started and all eyes were staring at the display monitor. 124 floors climbed in exactly 60 seconds. I had the sense to record it on my iPhone.

As we stepped out of the elevator and headed out onto the public outdoor observation terrace, the view of the ever growing skyline of Dubai just took our breath away. What was Dubai merely a decade or two ago and look what vision of some men and determination of many has created! Stunning 360-degree views of the city that is rapidly expanding left us spellbound. Standing on the observation deck, we could turn around and see most of Dubai’s famous landmarks in the distance, like the Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab, the Atlantis, the World Islands, the Sheikh Zayed Road with countless skyscrapers lining its both sides, the Dubai Marina and of course the Dubai Fountain right at the foot of the tower. We also took a closer look at the world below through avant-garde, high powered, telescopes that have interactive screens providing a close up of the structures in the city along with some information. We could even see how Dubai looked like during the old times when clicking the “Historic” option.

The whole visitor experience is very well planned and also very impressive.

3 sky100 Hong Kong

The former British colony of Hong Kong is a vibrant and a densely populated urban centre with a skyscraper-studded skyline. The Bank of China Tower is one of the most recognisable skyscrapers in Central, Hong Kong. However, International Commerce Centre (ICC) situated above MTR Kowloon Station takes the recognition for being the tallest building in Hong Kong at 490 meters.

The observation deck is located on the 100th floor and is the only indoor observation deck in Hong Kong offering 360-degree views of the territory and its famous Victoria Harbour. Fortunately, the day wasn’t very cloudy when we went up to the sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck. Usually, weather plays a very important role in the overall experience one has at such great heights. Although not absolutely clear to start with, the mist kept clearing throughout the time we were up there.

Sky100, Hong Kong
View from the Observation Deck in Sky100, Hong Kong

We loved the interior design of the ticketing office lobby, which is dominated by glass and metal in white color, with ultra violet light giving it a futuristic impression. Once through the ticketing formalities, we went straight to the double-deck high-speed elevator and reached the 100th floor in just 60 seconds. After alighting from the elevator, we step into a hallway that has a glass floor under which there is an incredibly detailed miniature model of the Hong Kong city.

Now the time came to enjoy the 360-degree views of Hong Kong from 393m above sea level. The most memorable sight for us was the spectacular and breathtakingly stunning view of the Victoria Harbour. On the window ledges, there is information about each area we were viewing. We were amazed with the aerial view of stacks and layers of Lego-like buildings set against a picturesque river and mountain backdrop. Inside the observation deck, Hong Kong’s culture and its unique story is featured in the multimedia exhibits as well as in numerous displays on the walls. There is a mural of its most famous citizen, Bruce Lee, in action and is obviously a favorite spot for photos.

sky100 certainly has the best views of Hong Kong as we get an unobstructed view of the harbour and Hong Kong Island skyline from here.

4 Willis Tower

Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower, is the second-tallest building in the United States and the Western hemisphere. At 1,450-foot, this skyscraper in Chicago remained the tallest building in the world for nearly a quarter of a century after completion in 1973. Its 110 floors dominate the city views from almost every corner.

Besides the interesting architecture facts, the greatest thing about the tower is that it has a public Skydeck. One can go up to the top and be amazed by the 360-degree views of Chicago, Lake Michigan and on a clear day you can see across up to 50 miles and 4 states! Apparently, I was not alone in wanting to see the phenomenal views, as more than 1.7 million people visit its observation deck each year, making it one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations.

I went into a little theatre and watched a short little video called The Skydeck Experience that gave some information about the tower, its history, and its name change from Sears Tower to Willis Tower. On the way to the elevator, the walkway is filled with interactive titbits of information about the tower and the city, as well as visuals that are pretty attractive. For the history buffs, the video presentation Reaching for the Sky, featuring the history of the Willis Tower as well as other major landmarks in the Windy City, tells the story of Chicago’s rise to the top of the architectural world.

Chicago Willis Tower
View from the Skydeck in Willis Tower, Chicago

Of course, the most exhilarating experience in the tower is to stand on The Ledge and feel the city from 103 floors over Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. Original Sears Tower architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) designed The Ledge, and interestingly, its fully enclosed glass boxes can retract into the building, allowing easy access for cleaning and maintenance.

Whether it is daring to stand out on The Ledge or learning about the Windy City, an unmatched view is not all the Skydeck offers. I recommend to plan your visit just before sunset, so you can enjoy one of the best sights at day light, at colorful sun set and at night time when the lights slowly start to glow throughout the city.

5 Petronas Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers were once the tallest buildings in the world. Still the world’s tallest twin structures, in my view, they remain one of the most beautiful skyscrapers anywhere in the world. The buildings, with a steel and glass facade designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, are a landmark of Kuala Lumpur.

Tower One is fully occupied by Petronas and a number of its subsidiaries and associate companies, while the office spaces in Tower Two are mostly available for lease to other companies. At the base of the Twin Towers is Suria KLCC, an upmarket shopping mall that is very popular with tourists. Stretching out to the side of the Towers is the spacious and beautifully landscaped KLCC Park which features a jogging track, walking paths, a water fountain and a wading pool for children. Also located in between the two towers is the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas concert hall, home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.

The 88-floor towers are constructed largely of reinforced concrete and were designed by an Argentine architect. The Towers are connected on the 42nd and 43rd floors by a double-decker sky bridge that stands 170 metres above street level, the highest two-storey bridge in the world. We were very excited when we got out tickets to the Skybridge and to the Observation Deck a few days before our visit to the city. Ticket sales open at 8:30 am. We were told that tickets are sold on a first come first serve basis and on busy days can sell out early. Tickets can also be purchased online directly from the Petronas Twin Towers website. You should definitely book online and in advance of your visit to save yourself the time and hassle of buying in person and probably having tickets be sold out.

When it was time for us to take our tour, we were called to queue in front of the automatic turnstile, which opened with a scan of the QR codes printed on our tickets. We were given safety introductions and overview of the skyscraper; introduced to our guides; and were reminded to always follow the building regulations. Guides then escorted us into elevators to the Skybridge level on the 42nd floor. At the Skybridge, we had ten minutes to enjoy the views and take our photos.

We took another elevator to reach the 86th floor. We loved the concentration of colourful homes in the suburbs and the lovely mountains while taking in the 360-degree views from the 86th floor Observation Deck. The Observation Deck features some fascinating, high-tech displays, including digital galleries, light shows, and a miniature master plan of KLCC. After viewing Kuala Lumpur from the Observation Deck, we were taken back to the ground floor with a final visit to the gift shop. The entire visit took about forty-five minutes.

When in Kuala Lumpur, seeing Petronas Twin Towers should be on every traveller’s list. I recommend checking the weather before you go up in the towers for the best views of the city or try to visit at night when the city is lit up.

Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
View from the top of one of the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

We love visiting the world’s iconic towers, especially those that were the tallest in the world at some point in their existence. If you have been to the top of any record breaking towers, we would love to hear your stories and your thoughts.