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.