The first thing I do when I visit anywhere new is seek out the highest building, be it TV tower or church steeple, from which to enjoy the view, get my bearings and appreciate a little about a city’s layout and history. Not only do my seven choices provide pretty special views from the top, they are full of character from the outside. So in reverse order…
7. TV Tower, Vilnius (326 metres)
The whole of the old town in Lithuania’s gorgeous capital city may be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it is out in the suburbs that you will get a real sense of the city.
In 1991, over a dozen unarmed civilians were gunned down outside the TV tower when Soviet tanks opened fire on anti-USSR protesters. There are memorials inside and outside of this immense structure, the tallest in Lithuania.
There’s a revolving bar at the 165 metre level. Window-side seats and tables are on a revolving platform that takes around an hour to rotate 360º giving you time to enjoy a couple of Svyturys beers while you look down on the housing estates, power stations, rivers and forests of greater Vilnius.
6. Olympic Tower, Munich (290 metres)
Sports fans will love a trip to the Olympic Tower, built when Munich hosted the 1972 Olympic Games. It’s in the middle of the huge Olympiapark complex which is home to the Olympic Stadium, a man-made lake and other venues where the Games took place.
From the top, you get brilliant views across Munich to the snow-capped Alps, while closer by you’ll be able to look down on the Allianz Arena (where Bayern Munich play), BMW World and the spiders-web covered Olympic Stadium.
5. Žižkov TV Tower, Prague (216 metres)
Brutally ugly from afar and bonkers up-close, Prague’s tallest building, in the residential suburb Žižkov, is worth a visit if you get tired of the beautiful architecture in the centre. A bizarre series of huge babies are crawling up the tower – “Babies” is a sculpture by the Czech artist David Černý, and although I’m not sure of their relevance, they somehow suit this eccentric building.
The tower looks a bit like a rocket ready for take-off, and can be seen from wherever you are in Prague. The pods house a restaurant, bar, viewing platform and even a mega-expensive one-room hotel. Make use of the swinging bubble chairs and telescopes in the viewing pod, and try to pick out Prague’s more touristy landmarks in the distance.
4. Torre dos Clérigos, Porto (76 metres)
It was so long ago I was in Porto, I can’t find any photos I took, but when I saw this blog post from Shing at The Culture Map, the memories came flooding back. I recall two things about my visit to this church tower:
i. my thighs were aching for days after I hiked up the 225 steep stone steps (no elevator here, sorry!); and
ii. the city views were simply stunning, with the orange roofed buildings of Porto below and the port warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia across the River Douro.
3. Belfort, Bruges (83 metres)
If buildings could win Oscars, this beauty would have cleaned up for its starring role in the 2008 comedy ‘In Bruges’. Right in the middle of Bruges’ main square, Markt, this medieval bell tower is the first port of call for the thousands of tourists and day trippers in Belgium’s most gorgeous city. As a result, it gets heaving and the queues to get in can be horrendous – get there at opening time (9.30am) if you can. Only 70 people are allowed inside at any one time, and there’s not a lot of room as everyone heads straight up the 366 steps (again, there’s no elevator) to the top.
Although there’s no rooftop bar here, there are no shortage of places nearby to enjoy a Belgian beer. Try the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café in the corner of Markt, or two of my favourite bars in the world – Café Rose Red and t’Brugs Beertje – are less than a five minute walk away.
2. Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik (75 metres)
This distinctive church dominates Iceland’s capital city, and the viewing platform at the top affords the second best view in Europe. Thankfully, there is no staircase so an elevator zooms you up for 900 ISK.
From the outside, there are concrete columns either side of the tower, which are said to represent volcanic basalt. But it is the view from the top which is the main draw. You can see this tiny city’s multi-coloured monopoly houses, the snow-capped Mount Esja and look down on the statue of explorer Leifur Eiríksson, who locals believe was the first European to discover North America.
You will also be able to see Café Loki in the square in front of the church, which should be your next port of call for a warming cuppa and a slice of delicious Skyr cake.
1. UFO, Bratislava (95 metres)
It may not be the highest on this list, but gets number one for its superb city views and for having the best toilet view I know. The UFO is the fitting name of the circular bar and restaurant on top of the reclined support column of the SNP road bridge, which crosses the River Danube.
An elevator whisks you up to the bar for €6.50 – you’ll get this back if you choose to eat. The bridge was built in the late 1960’s, and the city’s Jewish quarter was demolished to clear space for it. On the elevator ride, there are archive photos of the bridge in construction on TV screens.
If you’re brave enough to climb the short staircase up to the windy outdoor viewing platform above the bar, you get a brilliant view of Bratislava’ castle and old town, while on a clear day you can see three countries – Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.
Don’t leave without popping to the toilets, with their floor to ceiling windows directly behind the urinals – surely the world’s best view while spending a penny.
I’ve been to four! (Prague, Porto, Bruges and Bratislava!) I stayed right next to the one in Prague, but I didn’t go up it. Kicking myself now! Thanks for this list.
If you’re ever in Bilbao, you can’t go up our highest building (Torre Iberdrola) if you don’t work there, but you can take a funicular to the mountain Artxanda which is higher 🙂
Thanks for the Bilbao tip. Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia just missed out on a place – I went there before digital cameras were invented, and can barely remember it.
I’ve never actually been inside it despite having been in Barcelona 15 times now. Maybe you can go up the Torre Agbar now, the phallic shaped one, if you’re ever back in BCN.
What a cool idea for visiting a place the first time or even for a return visit. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you – Florence just missed out on a place in my list.
I’m afraid that Prague tower with the crawling babies is going to give me nightmares! I’ve only been to one of your choices (Hallgrimskirkja), but my own favorite might have been the view from the castle above Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Yes, I forgot about the LJ view number 8!
Excellent article as usual and a different slant on doing the tourist bit. As a regular visitor to Lithuania I have still not visited the TV tower so it is on my list. However, I would also suggest the Bell Tower in Cathedral Square band the even more impressive bell tower at the University. Neither are as high as the TV mast bit because they are both in the old town give you a panoramic view of the city that has real immediacy.
The bell tower was closed for a refurb when I was in Vilnius in 2012. I’d like to go up it, so that’s my incentive to return one day.
A good list and a great post. I have only done one – Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. I would nominate St Peters in Rome and the Stump in Boston, Lincolnshire! Will Villa come straight back up?
St. Peter’s wouldn’t let me in as I was wearing shorts! Doubt very much if we’ll be back up any time soon – we need a massive clear out and it’s a huge job for whoever’s crazy enough to take it.
Do you think God objects to shorts?
Pearson would sort them out!
Pearson is a bit of a strong character and not very media/fan friendly. I can’t see him getting along with our current owner. I don’t think any manager will come until Lerner has sold up.
That is true. For a whole season he refused to talk to Radio Leicester because he thought they had criticised him one time!
Wrong, I have also climbed Torre dos Clérigos in Porto!
Not too memorable for you then?!
I have always considered human behaviour rather odd. We live on the surface but like to climb as high as we can or alternatively go deep under ground!
The only one of these I’ve done is Bruges. Actually, my advice would be to go up near closing time – it’s quiet at the other end of the day, and on the way down you don’t meet anyone coming up. Fond me memories of the bell towers in Florence and Siena for amazing views.
Cheers for Bruges tip. The Florence campanile is a stunner and I’m kicking myself for not including that now.
Only been to the one (Reykjavik!) gorgeous view of the cute colourful houses! Although I went to Prague and Bruges but didn’t go up those towers… Did Petrin in Prague instead! Off to do UFO in June!!! http://www.thisfpplanet.com
You’ll love Bratislava – I hope the ladies toilets are as impressive as the gents!
interesting list! I’ve only done the Bruges and Bratislava ones! What about the Eiffel tower? I think nothing can beat those views:))
I was waiting for someone to say that, but I have never been to Paris. One day…!
Brilliant idea for a blog. There was a private function on at the Bratislava UFO when I tried to go there and was not allowed in 😦 I love the Prague one and ever since finding out that they have that hotel in it I think it would be fun to stay.
You better get saving – I just searched for the latest price in that hotel. £782 per night!
Good reason for you to get back to Bratislava – I’ve been to the UFO three times now!
Wonderful – unless you suffer from vertigo (as I do, mildly). Not sure I would describe “In Bruges ” as a comedy though. It certainly was comedic in parts, but not your classic “comedy” as it involves crime and some bloodshed (just to warn people!). Maybe black comedy? Great movie though, I loved it.
Whatever you want to call it, it’ll always have a place in my all-time top ten films!
And I was just wonreding about that too!
What an awesome list Richard, the Žižkov TV Tower is the most bonkers tower ever! And obviously I wholeheartedly agree with your choice to include the view of Reykjavik 😉 I’ve not been to Bratislava before so thanks for bringing the UFO to my attention!
Cheers, and thanks for the Porto pic. You’d like Bratislava, well worth a trip and there are some cheap flights available with Ryanair.
Hi Rich. Really enjoyed, my best empire state building and Moscow TV tower.
Cheers Dad – I must to NYC one of these days.
What an unfit individual! 🙂 I’ve done Torre Clerigo, but sadly not yet made it to Florence. It’s sort of on the agenda for this year. I just haven’t told the other half yet. 🙂 Good post, Rich! I hope you make NYC.
You’ll love Florence when Mike takes you there – it’s home to my favourite football shirt too (Fiorentina).
Great info. I’ve been to one here and I hope to go to the others. I will heading out to Munich later in October. Not going to the Oktoberfest though. Trying to avoid crowds.
You’ll love Munich, a fantastic city. Confusingly, Oktoberfest is in September, so you should miss it.
Yes, you are right. Funny that they call it that when it is held in Sept.
I see you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn additional cash every month because you’ve got high
quality content. If you want to know how to make extra bucks, search for: Mrdalekjd methods for $$$