There’s nothing like a great view of a great city. Tourists in London flock to The Shard, a skyscraper with an observation deck about 70 stories above the city. In New York City, they ride elevators up the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck is the popular spot for admiring the City of Lights from above.
Problem: Although views from these landmarks are impressive, the lines for their observation decks can be hours long, their viewing platforms often are packed and their admission prices can be as vertigo-inducing as their views—often approaching $40 per person.
Solution: There are ways you can get incredible high-up views of popular tourist cities either for free or along with a drink or meal…and without enduring long lines and overcrowding.
Here are the insider ways to get great views of nine cities around the world.
Los Angeles: Visit City Hall. The observation deck on the 27th floor of this historic Art Deco building provides wonderful 360-degree views of the city—and it’s free. This is a government building, so it’s open only from 8 am to 5 pm weekdays—no evenings or weekends. You’ll need an ID to get in. Ask a security guard for directions to the observation deck—navigating this building can be tricky. (200 North Spring Street) LACity.org
Alternative: Visit Griffith Park/Griffith Observatory. This observatory and the surrounding park offer incredible views over LA (including of the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign) from the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. You might recognize the spot from the 2016 film La La Land. Admission to both the park and observatory are free, though parking in the area can cost as much as $8 an hour. (2800 East Observatory Road) GriffithObservatory.org
San Francisco: Enjoy a drink at the top of Nob Hill in The Top of the Mark. The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is among the tallest buildings on Nob Hill, which is one of the tallest hills near downtown in this hilly city. On the 19th floor is an old-school bar called The Top of the Mark. Its 360-degree views take in most of San Francisco including the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge. The cocktails are pricey—you’ll pay $16 for a “classic martini”—but that’s a bargain for the million-dollar view…as long as you don’t visit after San Francisco’s fog has rolled in and hidden the city. (999 California Street) InterContinentalMarkHopkins.com
Las Vegas: Enjoy a drink at the 107 SkyLounge. Tickets to the observation deck of Las Vegas’s Stratosphere Tower typically cost $20 to $25. Instead, stop by 107 SkyLounge, a bar on the 107th floor of the same tower. It offers the same 360-degree views of the city but from a comfortable seat with a drink in your hand and no admission fee. Cocktails start at $15, but they’re two-for-one along with half-price appetizers during the 4 pm to 7 pm happy hour and two-for-one from midnight to 3 am. It’s open 4 pm to 3 am daily. (2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South) StratosphereHotel.com
Chicago: Have a meal or a drink at the John Hancock Tower. Chicago has two popular skyscraper observation decks—the Skydeck on the 103rd floor of The Willis Tower (the building formerly known as the Sears Tower) and 360 Chicago on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building. At either, you would pay $21 to $24 for admission and probably have to stand in line. Instead, visit the Signature Lounge, a cocktail bar in the John Hancock Tower that offers sweeping 96th-floor city views—it’s two floors above the observation deck. Cocktails such as the rum-based “Skyscraper” cost $16.50 to $18.50, but then again, you get to relax with a drink. (875 North Michigan Avenue) SignatureRoom.com
New York City: Eat or grab a cocktail at Bar SixtyFive in Rockefeller Center. This cocktail lounge and restaurant on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza is just a few floors down from the Top of the Rock observation deck where tickets are $30 to $36. Bar SixtyFive provides stunning views to the north, west and south. (There’s an outdoor terrace, too, though securing a table on the terrace carries a $65 per-person minimum, and making a reservation is recommended.) Bar SixtyFive is open 5 pm to midnight weekdays and 4 pm to 9 pm Sundays. It’s adjacent to the Rainbow Room, the historic nightclub that now functions as an event space. (30 Rockefeller Plaza) RainbowRoom.com
Alternatives: Have a drink at the rooftop bar of the Wythe Hotel or the William Vale Hotel—both are tall hotels in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that offer beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline (Wythe: 80 Wythe Avenue…William Vale: 111 North 12th Street) WytheHotel.com, TheWilliamVale.com
London: Visit Sky Garden. This three-story public garden offers 360-degree views from 35 stories above London. Each terrace of gardens has a different theme, from lush prehistoric forest to mountain ravine, creating a varied natural backdrop nearly as impressive as Sky Garden’s sweeping city views. The space includes two bars and two restaurants, but you can visit Sky Garden without patronizing any of them. Admission is free, but it’s a good idea to obtain a ticket in advance through Sky Garden’s website. (1 Sky Garden Walk) SkyGarden.london
Alternatives: Stroll to the top of Primrose Hill in Regents Park for gorgeous views of the London skyline. The surrounding trees are kept low so the view isn’t blocked. (Enter the park from Primrose Hill Road near its intersection with Regent’s Park Road, London.) Or take in the views from the viewing level at the Tate Modern museum (Bankside, London). Both are free. RoyalParks.org.uk
Paris: Stroll through the Montmartre neighborhood. You could stand in line and pay the roughly $28 price to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower…but if you did that, your view would not include the most iconic part of the Parisian skyline, the Eiffel Tower itself. Instead, head to Montmartre, a charming neighborhood in the 18th arrondissement that once was home to the city’s bohemian artist community—former residents include Renoir, Degas and Picasso. This neighborhood soars hundreds of feet above the city—“Mont,” of course, means mountain in French. You’ll find compelling views of Paris from the streets surrounding the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica, which stands near Montmartre’s highest point.
For an even better view, climb the 300 outdoor steps to the top of the basilica’s dome. It’s free, but there’s sometimes a line. (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre) Sacre-Coeur-Montmartre.com
Or enjoy a drink with a sweeping view of Paris on the outdoor terrace of the bar on the seventh floor of Montmartre’s Terrass Hotel. (12-14 Rue Joseph de Maistre) Terrass-Hotel.com
Tokyo: Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. It costs up to $36, depending on the kind of ticket, to visit the observation deck of Tokyo’s famous Skytree tower. Instead, take in the stunning view from the 45th-floor observation decks of this downtown government building—for free. You can see not only most of Tokyo but also Mount Fuji in the distance on a clear day. Unlike most government building observation decks, you can visit late and/or on the weekend—both decks open at 9:30 am and at least one remains open until 11 pm most days. (8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku 2-chome) www.Metro.Tokyo.jp/english
Bangkok: Relax in The Moon Bar. Hundreds of feet above bustling Bangkok, you can kick back and sip a drink at this open-air rooftop bar on the 61st floor of Bangkok’s Banyan Tree Hotel. In the evening, the rooftop is lit mainly by tabletop candles, and guests can take in the city lights far below—it’s tremendously romantic. (21/100 South Sathon Road) BanyanTree.com