Nov. 15, 2013 at 7:29 PM ET
These instant classics — including record-breaking towers, 35-story-tall sculptures, and external building climbs — are worth traveling to see.
SkyPoint Climb and Observatory Deck
Gold Coast, Australia
Talk about the high point of a trip to Australia. In January, the country opened SkyPoint, its tallest external building walk, located about 500 miles north of Sydney on the Gold Coast. To climb SkyPoint, first hop an elevator to the 77th floor of the Q1 Resort, which looms above a 25-mile-stretch of flour-fine-sand and turquoise-blue sea. Make sure you're wearing rubber-soled shoes for the 298 stairs, which rise to a soaring spire. While wearing a jacket harnessed to the building, you'll feel a rush as you spiral 360 degrees, taking in views that range from the surf churning off the Pacific to the impossibly green canopy of rain forest that's just a 30-minute bike ride away. Before you know it, you're 885 feet above sea level, peering down on the neighborhood called Surfer's Paradise, with its epic breakpoints and a shimmering network of canals that wend their way around a range of high-rise resort towers. Best done at twilight, this is how buildings were meant to be climbed. Surfers Paradise Blvd., Surfers Paradise, 253/779-8490, skypoint.com.au. Ninety-minute climb: adults $88, kids 12-15 $68. General admission: adults from $21, kids 12-15 from $12.
Make it a day trip: The Gold Coast, near Brisbane airport, never gets too cold — thanks to the South Pacific current — so outdoor activities are always on tap. Pick up surfing through some classes, or shred if you can. Rent a bike and head to the mountains.
LeMay-America's Car Museum
Before millionaire Harold LeMay died in 2000, he put plans into place to transfer the bulk of his singular, Guinness-record-breaking automobile collection to a then-unbuilt exhibition space. When his LeMay-America Car Museum finally opened in May 2012, it instantly became the country's largest automobile shrine. Underneath a corrugated aluminum roof that gleams like a fender, this sprawling complex displays more than 700 iconic cars, trucks, and motorcycles — such as a 1930 Duesenberg Model J, a 1951 Studebaker, and 1969 Ford Thunderbird — across its three-and-a-half acres of floor space. Feeling less like a gallery than like a well-appointed sales showroom, the museum will host upcoming themed exhibitions, such as ones on iconic British vehicles from the 1960s and racecars that lapped the Indianapolis 500. During warm weather, the pretty grounds outside will do double-duty as an additional display area. 2702 East D. St., 253/779-8490, lemaymuseum.org, adults $14, kids 5-12 from $8.
Make it a day trip: Take the hour-long train ride from Seattle, passing lush mountain-and-sea views. Then walk the few blocks from the Amtrak station to the museum, beside the Tacoma Dome. After your museum visit, hop the Tacoma Link Light Rail downtown to see the city's next-best collection: The Tacoma Art Museum, which features Pacific Northwest works, some modern, some ancient, including the premier permanent collection of native son glass artist Dale Chihuly.
National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement
In 1950-51, federal hearings blew the lid off organized crime during testimony at a Las Vegas courthouse. Just this year, the historic building re-opened following a $42 million renovation and is now officially dubbed the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement. Today it's less dry-as-dust court testimony and more pop-culture fantasy that draws crowds (experience the life of a criminal yourself by taking part in a simulated police line-up). Stories of real mobsters are mixed with movie legends, and sometimes it's hard to tell where Al Capone's legacy ends and The Godfather begins. About 41,000 square feet of exhibits include grim mementos of the mafia's violent subculture, such as a 38-caliber Colt revolver recovered from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a notorious Prohibition-era gangland battle in Chicago that killed seven people. But visitors can also gawk at pop culture memories, such as the Hawaiian shirt donned by TV mobster Tony Soprano. 300 Stewart Ave., themobmuseum.org, adults, $19.95; children ages 5-17 and students ages 18-23 with a valid ID, $13.95; seniors ages 65 and up, $15.95; Nevada residents, $10.
Make it a day trip: It's Vegas, baby, need we say more? That said, if you're feeling paralyzed by the choices, start with a Sin City walkabout. Head round the corner and stroll two blocks to the Fremont Street Experience, four blocks of the city's best concentrations of fashion shops and children's arcades all gathered together under a 90-foot-high transparent canopy. Expect an hourly light show in the evening.
Tokyo Sky Tree
The Japanese capital has begun to rebuild its reputation for futuristic, outsized architecture, defying gravity with the Tokyo Sky Tree — a white steel-and concrete landmark that has seized the title of the world's tallest freestanding tower. The gleaming structure is almost seven football fields high (twice the height of Paris's Eiffel Tower) and it catches your eye in the northeast quadrant of a city that is otherwise relatively free of skyscrapers. The tower, which was under construction during the 2011 earthquake, emerged from the disaster unscathed, giving it the potential to symbolize Japan's recovery from past traumas. Opened in May 2012, the city's TV and radio broadcasting beacon is popular for its twin observation decks, especially the higher of the two, Tembo Galleria, a 1,476-foot-high glassed-in balcony that puts the city's jumbo HD flat-screens to shame for its views of eye-catching grandeur. The floor plan of the indoor balcony somehow conjures the illusion that visitors are walking across the sky. More than a million people visited Sky Tree during its first week of operation. Lines will stay as monumental as that for years to come, so block out more than two hours if you want to get to the top. Tokyo Sky Tree Station, tokyo-skytree.jp/en. Adults from $25 plus an additional $12 to go to the highest observation deck, Tembo Galleria; kids 6-11 from $18, plus $6 for higher deck.
Make it a day trip: The tower is part of the Tokyo Sky Tree complex, which, at its base, is connected to a major eponymous train station and which also includes the new Sumida Aquarium (the country's largest indoor tank), showcasing 10,000 mostly Pacific-based sea creatures that you're unlikely to ever see Stateside, including several fur seals. The Sky Tree complex also has a planetarium and plenty of restaurants and shops selling souvenirs.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Pool
Brooklyn, New York
Both the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty reveal their finest sides from a slight remove, namely, across the East River at the three-year old Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre waterfront archipelago that consists of a half-dozen grassy plazas. In summer 2012, the city opened an above-ground, 3.5-foot-deep public pool a stone's throw from the 129-year old bridge. If the 30-foot-by-50-foot pool gets crowded, cut across the trees to one of the benches set among grass slopes dotted with public artworks, a refurbished 1920s carousel in a pavilion by architect Jean Nouvel, and roving ice cream vendors. The plan is to keep the pool open for the next five summers, at least, meaning plenty of chances to catch a sunset over Manhattan's new One World Trade Center. 334 Furman St., brooklynbridgepark.org.
Make it a day trip: Opt for a (free) walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to take in the glorious views of Manhattan's skyscape. Then explore the Brooklyn neighborhoods of DUMBO and Cobble Hill. Time your visit to catch the sunset over the Statue of Liberty, then linger to witness Manhattan light up at night.
London, United Kingdom
Locals have called London's monument for the 2012 Summer Olympics many things: the Helter-Skelter, the Colossus of Stratford (which refers to the neighborhood's name), and — our favorite — the Eyeful Tower. But the official name of this trumpet-shaped, tomato-red, stainless-steel monument is ArcelorMittal Orbit, designed by Anish Kapoor (the artist behind the so-called Millennium Bean in Chicago's Grant Park) and architect Cecil Balmond. The highest sculpture in Britain, the 37-story monument is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its 300-foot high observation deck allows visitors to peer into the 193-foot-high Olympic Stadium next door. After the closing ceremonies of the Games, the tubular tower was temporarily shuttered while the Olympic Village is re-developed into a sports center for the general public, along with a planned museum dedicated to the three Olympics that London has hosted. In the meantime, the structure will remain a landmark seen far and wide. 2012 Olympic Park, Stratford, arcelormittalorbit.com.
Make it a day trip: London Walks, one of the city's premier tour groups, offers daily tours of the Olympic Park and surrounding area, before, during, and after the Games. Learn about the interesting art galleries and start-up restaurants that have popped up in the past few years as the area renovates. walks.com.
Sea Life Aquarium
Kansas City, Missouri
Landlocked Kansas City landed a big one in April with the debut of a $15 million aquarium, run by the global franchise Sea Life and part of the new downtown complex, Crown Center. Awash with more than 5,000 fish swimming in 260,000 gallons of water, the complex takes visitors on a virtual educational trip, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi and then onward to the Caribbean. Get nose-to-nose with the star attractions: manta rays and sharks. Then simulate the experience of being underwater by wandering through a tunnel between sections of a giant tank filled with a Technicolor cluster of exotic fish . The aquarium's touch pool, an interactive exhibit, lets kids (carefully) pet small animals like starfish. 2475 Grand Blvd., visitsealife.com/Kansas-city. Adults from $18, kids 3-12 from $15.
Make it a day trip: Next door to the aquarium is a just-opened Legoland Discovery Center, with children's rides themed on the popular toys and a building area for kids.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
A stately wooden chapel in a beehive form, the Kamppi Chapel of Silence opened in May in the quiet Narinkka Square in the heart of Finland's capital. The windowless structure captures the essence of Scandinavian design in its use of natural materials and minimalist aesthetics. Think: indirect sun via skylights, a timber roof, oiled alder walls that slope, and a set of spare, solid wood benches. Opened in May 2012, the cozy 2,900-square-foot nondenominational chapel doesn't hold services, but it does have representatives of congregational services and city counseling services on hand, in case any visitor wishes to speak to someone in a hidden room off the main space. The award-winning structure is intended to serve as a place of contemplation without any religious message — a place where stress and heartache go to fade away. Narinkka Square, Simonkatu St.
Make it a day trip: In 2012, Helsinki was the World Capital of Design, and the city showcased the latest in architecture, fashion, and the graphic arts around town. Luckily, the capital is small enough that you can master the lay of the land in an afternoon by rental bicycle.
The Arch Cultural Center
The Arch, or Buen in Norwegian, is a 48,500-square-foot performing arts complex that includes a concert hall, a theater, a cinema, a library, a contemporary art gallery, and a "food laboratory" (or venue for locals to try out unusual new concoctions by national chefs). Designed by Danish architecture firm 3XN, the $30 million building has a low-slung swooping shape that resembles a summer duvet. It was unveiled in April on a river in Mandal, Norway's most southerly village of about 14,000 residents. The structure's white walls are meant to fit in with the white historic wooden houses adjoining it on the waterfront. Factoring in eco-friendly requirements, a grassy roof arcs 46-feet high over the building, beckoning children from this town to play, and making for a fresh contrast with the abandoned industrial zone that previously stood on the site. Tall, southern-facing windows maximize sunlight exposure to the lobby. Under construction is a 525-foot-long pedestrian bridge linking The Arch to the town center across the Mandel River (Mandalselva). Buen Mandal, buen.mandal.net.
Make it a day trip: A four-and-a-half-hour drive from capital city Oslo, Mandal provides an opportunity for visitors to see Norway's rural, un-touristed side. Explore the country's finest stretch of sand at Mandal's 2,600-foot-long beach. The swimming here is invigorating, given that the stunningly clear ocean only reaches the low 60s at its mildest.
Aizhai Suspension Bridge
Hunan Province, China
Stretching three-quarters-of-a-mile more than 1,100 feet above the base of lushly green Dehang Canyon, Aizhai Bridge became the world's highest and longest tunnel-to-tunnel suspension bridge when it opened in March. The grey-and-orange steel bridge links two tunnels that connect the major cities of Chadong and Jishou via a four-lane expressway (two lanes in each direction), chopping travel time in a big way [the accounts vary sharply by how much]. A pedestrian walkway at least partway along the bridge leads to dramatic views of the natural surroundings of the steep-walled box Dehang, which translates as "beautiful valley" in the language of the local Miao people. At night, the bridge shines in the dark thanks to 1,888 white lights. 20 minutes-drive outside Jishou, a city in Hunan. Free.
Make it a day trip: Go beyond the urban experience of China that most Western visitors settle for and see the gorgeous country's natural diversity. Dehang is where Chinese tourists enjoy affordable domestic tourism, with campsites near waterfalls and forested bluffs.
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