Observation decks come in all shapes and sizes. Although many of them are located in the middle of major cities in the form of telecommunications towers, there are also natural lookout points that people have turned into attractions by constructing platforms and monuments. All across Europe, a mixture of human-enhanced lookout points and soaring skyscrapers offer panoramic views of some of the continent’s major cities and most breathtaking natural landscapes. Between cityscapes and seascapes, these 10 observation decks and lookouts are some of the best places in Europe to get a new angle on the world around you.
10. Avala Tower, Serbia
The Avala Tower in Belgrade has an interesting history. It was first built on Avala Mountain as a telecommunications tower during the 1960s. During the 1990s Balkan War, the tower was destroyed by a NATO bombing. In 2006, Serbia was determined to rebuild the tower, and the current structure was opened in 2010. Over 1 million euros were donated to help in rebuilding the tower, which is the tallest in the Balkan peninsula. It still functions as a telecommunications tower, but now has an observation deck as well. With its antenna spire, the tower is 205 meters high, meaning it’s quite a bit shorter than some of the other towers in Europe, with only 38 floors. Nonetheless, it provides awe-inspiring panoramas of Belgrade and the surrounding area. The tower’s construction is also unusual: rather than being sunk directly into the ground, it uses a triangle cross-section and stands on three above-ground legs.
9. Jubilaum Swarte Lookout Tower, Austria
The Jubilaum Swarte, known in English as the Jubilee Tower, is located just outside of the Austrian capital of Vienna. Sitting atop the Gallon Tzinberg, a forested hill west of the city, the tower juts up 31 meters, with a total altitude of 483 meters above sea-level. Visitors climb a spiraling staircase, 183 steps in total to the observation deck where they can look out over the landscape, seeing up to 60 kilometers on clear days. A tower was originally constructed in 1889 to commemorate Emperor Franz Joseph’s Golden Jubilee, but the wooden structure was quickly demolished in a storm. Another tower was erected, but decayed and was demolished in 1953. The current structure was last renovated in the 1980s, and a small museum dedicated to local ecology is nearby. Admission is free, although the tower is closed during the winter months.
8. Tour Montparnasse, Paris
From the top floor of the Tour Montparnasse in central Paris, you can see 40 kilometers in almost any direction; you can watch aircraft take off and land at Orly airport. The tower, which is an office building, was built in the early 1970s. After its construction, there were complaints about how out of place it seems in Paris and shortly thereafter buildings over 7-storeys high in the city’s center were banned. The result was that, at 59 floors and 210 meters, the skyscraper remained the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011. The top floor is open to the public for viewing Paris, and the 56th floor is home to a restaurant, le Ciel de Paris. A running joke is that the view from the tower is the most beautiful in Paris—only because you can’t see the building, which has been voted the second-ugliest building in the world.
7. Fernsehturm, Germany
Located in central Berlin, Fernsehturm is a television tower that rises 368 meters over the city. As the tallest structure in Germany, it has become a symbol of Berlin and is often pictured in establishing shots of the city in films and TV shows. It is the 4th tallest free-standing structure in Europe, following two TV towers in Russia and one in Riga. Two elevators send guests up to the visitor platform, 666 feet above the ground, in about 40 seconds. The revolving restaurant located above the visitor deck, Telecafe, rotates once every half-hour. Visibility on a clear day is about 42 kilometers in any given direction. Since construction was completed in 1969, tourism has increased and, today, the tower receives around one million guests annually.
6. Torre Jaume I, Spain
Forming part of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, Torre Juame I maybe isn’t the tallest tower on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Standing at 107 meters (351 feet) high, the tower is a steel truss construction, and the second-tallest aerial pylon lift in the world. Built in 1931 by Carles Buigas, it stands near the harbor of Barcelona, providing gorgeous seascape views and panoramas of the city, toward Montjuic. To reach the tower’s observation deck, you ride the cable car across the city, from Torre Sant Sebastia to Torre Alta Miramar on Montjuic and back again. A one-way trip lasts about seven minutes and provides a unique, bird’s eye view of almost all of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks. The Torre Jaume I also serves as a telecommunications tower.
5. Ostankino Tower, Russia
Constructed during the 1960s under Soviet rule and decidedly Brutalist architectural influences, Ostankino Tower in Moscow isn’t much to look at. Between 1967 and 1974, it held the world record for tallest free-standing building, and it remains the tallest free-standing structure in Europe. An observation deck, with indoor and outdoor platforms, offers visitors 360-degree views of Moscow’s Ostankino district, and a restaurant, Seventh Heaven, is located in the tower at a height of approximately 368 feet above ground, but has been periodically closed following several incidents in the tower, the most serious of which was a fire in 2000. Although the tower survived, the Russian government has taken steps to ensure the tower remains intact, especially since it is also a telecommunications station. Elevators carry visitors up to the observation deck at a speed of six miles per second. The tower has also been a popular attraction for BASE jumpers.
4. Istanbul Sapphire, Turkey
Completed in 2011, this skyscraper is the tallest structure in Turkey, and once ranked 4th in Europe, although subsequent constructions have moved it back to 7th. The mixed shopping and luxury residence building rises to a height of 261 meters, including its antenna—which is a design feature, not a telecommunications feature. It has 54 above-ground floors and features an open roof where visitors can get a panoramic view of the surrounding Levent district. It is strategically situated on Buyukdere Avenue, a main thru way, near two major highways and a subway station, which makes it easy to get to. Its central location also means that much of Istanbul near the Bosphorus is visible. Conversely, the tower itself is visible from other districts in the city, such as Khedive Palace across the strait. Since completion, it’s become one of the most recognizable features of Istanbul’s skyline.
3. The Shard, UK
Just shy of 310 meters high, The Shard—also known as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and London Bridge Tower—is currently the highest building in the EU. It was completed in 2012 and its open-air observation deck, located on the 72nd floor, was opened to the public in early 2013. The elevators travel at six meters per second and use multimedia interfaces to create the illusion of the sky receding with the streets of London coming into focus on the way down, and the illusion of rising through iconic London buildings during ascent. The attraction is fully interactive, with lots of information about various landmarks and cityscapes, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Visitors can see up to 40 kilometers from the observation deck, offering excellent views of London. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
2. Tyrol Overlook, Austria
Located at the top of Mount Isidor in Austria, this sculptural outlook was designed by Aste Architecture in 2008. Officially called the “Top of Tyrol,” it blends seamlessly into its environment, becoming almost invisible in the wintertime. Providing access to an observation point most people couldn’t reach otherwise, the Tyrol Outlook is 10,500 feet above the ground. The platform cantilevers 27 feet over the side of the mountain, providing a spectacular—if somewhat dizzying—view. From the platform, you have an unobstructed view of the Stubai Glacier, the Zillertal Alps and the Dolomites. Given the platform’s unique position on the glacier, it also has potential as a monitoring station to check rates of glacial retreat in the summer months. In any season, however, the Top of Tyrol offers an unparalleled experience of the Austrian Alps—even if it is a bit scary.
1. Aurland Lookout, Norway
Towering nearly 2,000 feet above the valleys and fjords of scenic Aurland, this lookout was commissioned by the Norwegian Highway Department. Designed by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen in 2006, it is part of a series of national tourist routes administered by the Norwegian government. Aurland, 200 kilometers inland from Norway’s west coast, is composed mainly of deep fjords, soaring mountains and rolling valleys. The lookout, known as Stegastein, offers visitors an unparalleled view of the valley floor and fjords; it juts out over the edge of a cliff. The 14 by 110-foot wooden platform plunges, but a piece of glass prevents visitors from falling over. Nonetheless, the architects say that the effect is to give people the illusion of “falling” into the landscape—some have even dubbed the construction the “ski jump” or “diving board.”