For centuries now companies and governments have obsessed over having slightly taller buildings than their neighbours. From St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Empire State Building, various esteemed structures have topped the list down the years, and a recent boom in skyscraper construction has created an extremely crowded field.
These are the tallest buildings in the world, and what you’ll see from the top…
1. Burj Khalifa, UAE
A ludicrously large spike piercing 828 metres and 163 floors into the heavens, the Burj Khalifa was completed in 2009 (opening a year later) with the express purpose of not only taking the ‘world’s tallest building’ record, but absolutely annihilating it.
Almost 200 metres stand between the Burj and its closest competitor, Shanghai Tower. Visitors can choose from two observation decks – on the 125th and 148th floors respectively – serving up sumptuous 360-degree scenes of Dubai and the desert beyond.
2. Shanghai Tower, China
Like an enormous strand of DNA, the Shanghai Tower twists and turns 632 metres into the sky, a couple of blocks from the banks of the Huangpu River. Though relegated to second for straight height, it still tops the charts for the world’s highest observation deck (561 metres), and held the world’s fastest elevator record until 2019.
Such is Shanghai’s scale that the building’s best views are of its fellow skyscrapers, particularly the neighbouring World Financial Center, widely nicknamed ‘the bottle opener’. Clear days in Shanghai are not always easy to come by, and many tourists reach the top to be greeted with an impenetrable cloud of grey-white smog.
3. Ping An Financial Center, China
Now, we’ve been a bit bold because the third tallest building in the world is actually the Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. But since much of the world is prohibited from visiting Mecca we’ve skipped straight to the Ping An Financial Center, in the up-and-coming Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Where the Shanghai Tower is first among many, this behemoth looms above its peers like a redwood over bonsai trees, and the view from the Free Sky observation deck leaves a lot of large buildings looking very, very small.
4. Lotte World Tower, South Korea
A relatively recent addition to the record books, the Lotte World Tower broke into the top five on when it opened in 2017, looming above South Korean capital Seoul like the nib of a giant pencil. A mixed use building, it accommodates flats, offices, a shopping mall, and one of the world’s highest hotels.
Effortlessly sleek, the tip of the tower houses Seoul Sky, a seven-storey observatory featuring spacious viewing rooms, vertiginous glass skywalks, and panoramic terraces looking out over the Han River and beyond.
5. One World Trade Center, USA
Our first and only entry outside Asia, the One World Trade Center opened in 2014, surpassing Chicago’s Willis Tower to become the country and continent’s tallest building. 2015 brought the addition of the One World Observatory, a set of viewing platforms spread across three storeys along with three restaurants and a small museum.
The irony of these urban observatories is that the panoramas are inevitably missing the thing you’re standing in, and in the case of the One World Trade Center that’s a pretty big miss. Otherwise, the famous Manhattan skyline stretches away in each direction, with Central Park on one side, and the Statue of Liberty on the other.