There’s nothing like seeing a city from above. The view down onto an urban landscape cannot only offer a profound sense of just how massive a metro area can be, but also a breathtaking experience.

So if you’re not afraid of heights or spending time in elevators, then you might want to take a high-altitude journey to an observation desk the next time you’re visiting a major city…especially if it belongs to one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Most of the more popular cities have more than one option and the companies that run the observation decks are continually adding features to entice adventurers. So not all observation deck experiences are the same and the cost of admission, along with wait times, can vary from building to building and season to season.

It’s not a bad idea to book your tickets ahead of time for the convenience and to save on precious wait time. And since it’s impossible to predict weather and smog conditions in advance, we suggest purchasing a ticket with an open date if possible. You don’t want a day with low cloud ceiling to destroy your awesome view.

Here are just some popular cities with mega buildings featuring observation decks offering panoramic views you don’t want to miss


To entice people back to this 1970s skyscraper, Willis Tower  (formerly Sears Tower) added glass boxes to their 103-story Skydeck. Wa la…like magic, visitors to the Chicago landmark can now feel as if they’re floating in the air via “the Ledge.” Meanwhile, a couple miles to the north, thrill-seeking visitors will find a unique experience at 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue, which along with offering a more scenic view of the Lake Michigan coastline also features “the Tilt”– a moving attraction that allows visitors to experience leaning out up to 30 degrees through a specially designed glass bay 1,000 feet over the street.

New York City

One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the western hemisphere and peaks at 104 stories. During the 60-second ride up to the One World Observatory, visitors are immersed in what’s probably the best view in all of New York. City lovers can stand on a 14-foot glass disc and gaze at the street below or dine at one of three restaurants on the 101st floor. Also consider checking out New York City’s icon, the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.


Architecture groupies visiting Shanghai will gawk at the World Financial Center’s physique that resembles a can opener. Even on a super busy day, visitors can find a spot on one of the three observation levels. The top deck stands at 1,555 feet high and includes a glass floor experience.

Within walking distance, it’s possible to also soar to new heights at the Oriental Pearl Television Tower at 1,122 feet and also at the spiral-shaped Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China. The Shanghai Tower towers over its Chinese competition with an impressive 1,841-foot high observation deck, the tallest aerial Chinese visitor center.


To appreciate Taipei 101’s lotus blossom design, you’ll need to view the building from a distance. It’s an architectural work of art that was inspired by ancient Chinese pagodas and stands out it in the Taipei skyline. Once they get up close, visitors will need to brace themselves for the 17 meter per second ride that thrusts them to the 91st floor in record time. This site offers both indoor and outdoor decks, although the outdoor deck will sometimes close due to poor weather conditions.

Got a recommendation on an observation deck experience we may have missed? Leave it in the comments below!
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About The Author

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at