12 Elevators You Need to See to Believe
When it comes to elevators, function usually trumps form and the ride is utterly forgettable. Not so with these lifts—some look like they belong in sci-fi thrillers, others could be theme park attractions, but a trip on any one of them will earn you a lifetime of bragging rights.
Usually, a ride on an elevator involves pushing a button and zoning out until the ding for your floor. Pay attention on these lifts, though, or risk missing out on one of the most thrilling rides of your life (even if it only lasts 30 seconds). From zooming up an inside-out London landmark to climbing to a scenic overlook in rural China to an ascent up an American icon, these vertical feats of engineering are about way more than getting from point A to point B.
The Gateway Arch
St. Louis, Missouri
The ascent to the top of America's tallest monument begins in a futuristic, white pod elevator at the base. The mod design feels like something straight out of The Jetsons, but the crowning stroke of genius by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was the addition of glass doors, which reveal the mechanical complexity of the structure's interior as the cars chug up to the observation deck of the 630-foot high wonder. The ride is over in just four minutes, at which point visitors can make their way out to marvel at how tiny the mighty Mississippi River and all of those cars below appear.
Bailong Elevator in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park proves that extraordinary lifts aren't just for cities. In a feat of engineering, glass elevator cars rise nearly 1,070 feet up a sheer cliff as they transport folks to a scenic area overlooking the green-swathed valley below. In two minutes time, guests are treated to some of the park's best scenery, including scenic lakes and the distinct sandstone pillars the region is known for.
How to ride: The scenery in Zhangjiajie is spectacular, rain or shine, but be aware that the lifts may shut down for inauspicious weather. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, 011-86/744-836-2222, $39 for a two-day park ticket, lift is $8.90 per person.
The Falkirk Wheel
Imagine boarding an elevator...in a boat. It's not as crazy as it sounds. The Falkirk Wheel is exactly that—a lift for boats-and it serves a very practical purpose. It opened in 2002, the long-awaited answer to the question of how to link two canals whose inconvenient, lock-ridden connection had been severed nearly 70 years earlier. Not surprisingly, the lift has become a popular attraction, with 50-minute gondola tours that traverse both canals and include two rides, up and down, on the elevator. At the zenith of the Wheel's rotation, visitors can see as far as two miles outside of Falkirk proper and marvel at both the bucolic countryside and the 115-foot tall contraption swooping them gently through the air.
How to ride: Due to the popularity of the Wheel, pre-booking tickets online or over the phone is recommended. Check the weather beforehand—clear days will yield the best views of these pastoral scenes. Lime Rd., Tamfourhill, 011-44/8700-500208, www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk, $12.25 for adults, $7.75 for children 3-15.
It resides in the lobby of Berlin's Radisson Blu Hotel, but the AquaDom goes where few hotel elevators have ever dared venture: the middle of the sea (or close enough, anyway). A lift rising through the hollow center of a cylindrical, 82-foot tall aquarium transports visitors through a full panorama of tropical sea life. Fish festooned with vibrant colors nibble at the aquarium wall inches from their human admirers. Almost a hundred different species, including blow fish, silver moonfish, and humphead wrasse, are represented in the tank, which holds over a million liters of water and is the largest cylindrical tank aquarium in the world. The ride is decidedly leisurely—perfect for reveling in the sensation of floating in an underwater wonderland.
How to ride: The AquaDom is one attraction in Sea Life, an aquarium complex within the same property as the hotel. To ensure quick entry—and to shave a few bucks off the walk-up price—purchase your tickets online. 3 Spandauer Str., 011-49/180-5-66-690-101, visitsealife.com, $15.35 for adults, $9 for children 3-14.