tokyo skytree cloudy

Unwittingly I’ve visited some of the tallest buildings in the world, casually looking up to glimpse where they meet the heavens, but leaving without ever taking a ride to the top. People will ask me, “what was the view from the Burj Khalifa like?” and I’ll tell them that the lobby was very nice. The fountain in front was great but I can’t vouch for the view since climbing to the top of tall buildings is something I almost never do.

That’s not to pass judgement on those who say, I want to go up there but first wait in line all day.

Modern Mountain Climbing

Skyscrapers have become the urban equivalent of mountains for many travelers today and something of a tourism pissing contest for the places that build them. There can come a sense of accomplishment in making your way to one of the highest human-made points on Earth, sharing in the architectural accomplishment of our species as a whole. Yet the tallest view isn’t always the best.

view from galata tower

For example, the Galata Tower hasn’t been close to Istanbul’s tallest building for over 45 years but the view of Levent from Istanbul Sapphire isn’t the one people are crowding to see. (Here are the landmarks to look out for when flying in.) Location is the key and the older the city, the further outside of town mega-structures tend to be.

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Funding The Soaring Heights

Of course unlike mountains, whose entrance fees are usually limited to a set of solid lungs and genetically enhanced sherpas, skyscrapers are built first – funded later. A ride at 36kph (~22mph) on the world’s third fastest elevator to the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa runs about $35, the Tokyo Skytree is $20, and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers $25. Not at all unreasonable prices mind you but adding that the average reservation needs to be made 5 days in advance, for non-planners like myself, there’s a better chance of me climbing the these buildings like French Spiderman than booking ahead of time.

Embrace The Cat’s Eye View

Seeing is truly believing for our Paleolithic minds, so looking at photos from atop Singapore’s Gardens By The Bay isn’t the same as actually riding the long escalators up yourself. While the views from above can be beautiful, it’s below we’re focusing on from the dizzying heights. Altitude is good for perspective and literally expanding our horizons; the interesting stuff is overwhelmingly hovering at quaint eye level.

A few meters off the ground is where anything tangible on Earth constructed by human beings began. Our brains are terrible at comprehending large scales so zoom up to the top of enough tall buildings and they’ll begin to blend into one big “wow” in your memory.

But the food not sushi in Japan, including the takoyaki at Mokuchi next door to the Skytree, I can still taste. The one-slip-from-death climb up the Quito’s La Basilica Church and grip on every ladder step it induced is like yesterday. The views from above, or lack there of, were only pleasant side effects to the sights still in my mind’s eye.