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Unique Elevators Across the Globe

suur munamägi observation tower in a winter snowscape

Unique elevators are not your average transportation. Most elevators attract very little attention. Perhaps you may notice unusual wood paneling or a fun retro color scheme, but you will rarely be taking a selfie with an elevator much less remember what it looked like during your ride. But rare elevators do exist around the world that will have you in awe reaching for your camera and sharing your experience on your favorite social channel. These exceptional elevators provide the same basic transportation service that all elevators do, but their form is of more interest than their function because of the creativity, beauty, and feats of engineering that were required to bring these marvels to the real world.

Not your average vertical elevator, SkyView’s two spherical glass gondolas traverse a curved path along tracks mounted on a giant orb affording unparalleled views of Stockholm at the top. The giant orb is actually the Avicii Arena, previously known as Stockholm Globe Arena and Ericsson Arena, and is referred to by locals as Globen, Swedish for “globe”.

The indoor arena is a marvel itself as it is the second largest hemispherical building in the world. Note that it only lost its claim to being the largest on Earth when on July 4, 2023, the Sphere at The Venetian Resort opened near the Las Vegas Strip.

The glass-paned, spherical cabins lift 12 passengers each up the south side of the building to the summit of the arena. Liftbyggarna, a Swedish ski lift manufacturer, built the specially designed glass gondolas.

The Globen building has been around since early 1989. SkyView opened in 2010 after an extensive reinforcement of its roof using 42 metric tonnes of steel. SkyView’s rails weigh 70 tonnes.

The Hammetschwand Lift at 502 ft tall is the highest exterior elevator in Europe. It connects a rock path with the lookout point called Hammetschwand on the Bürgenstock plateau overlooking Lake Lucerne near the northern boundary of the Swiss Alps. The lift operates inside a building attached to a near-vertical cliff on the lakeshore. The building itself is reminiscent of a glass-encased castle turret or some might say a rocket ship.

This video offers some history and insight into just how beautiful the lake and the lift are.

The elevator does not linger for the views as it requires only 1 minute to get to the top. The lift has had many renovations and equipment upgrades since it was first built in 1905. It was innovative for the early 20th century and continues to impress over 100 years later.

Bailong Elevator: Hunan, China

While the Hammetschwand is the tallest outdoor elevator in Europe, the Bailong Elevator holds the Guiness World Record for highest outdoor lift on the planet! Soaring up sandstone cliffs in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, this glass elevator ascends 1,070 feet. Read more about the Bailong and more of the tallest elevators in the world.

Estonia is a Baltic country that, like its neighbors in Eastern Europe, is blessed with many incredible architectural wonders. The Suur Munamägi Observation Tower is one such creation. Built atop a wooded mount 1,043 feet above sea level, the tower vaults skyward another 95 feet making it the highest point not only in Estonia, but all of the Baltics.

This may not sound very tall, but keep in mind that Estonia is very flat…so the “hill” is truly amazing.

This tower is the fifth to be built on this site, completed in 1939 and an additional story added in 1969. The concrete tower has a space age feel with its slender silhouette, white exterior finish, and multitude of glass windows. The tower fades into the landscape in the winters amid the snow-covered trees.

suur munamägi observation tower in a winter snowscape

The tower is reached by climbing a 1500-foot staircase from the parking lot to the top of the hill. Then you can choose whether to take the stairs or ride the elevator. Stairs are half price! Its location affords those at the top a view over the primeval forests and lakes of Estonia, Latvia, and Russia.

But this uniquely located tower was not always a candidate for our list of amazing elevators. The elevator was installed in 2005 along with a nice café at the bottom. Whether you choose the elevator or the stairs, you will be treated to miles of views once you reach the top.

Gateway Arch Elevator: St. Louis, Missouri, USA

This elevator transports visitors to the tallest arch on the planet to the very top. The Gateway Arch is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Note that the tallest man-made self-supporting structure in the world is the Burj Khalifa that was also featured in our tallest elevators article.

st louis gateway arch

Opened in 1967, this uniquely designed elevator or tram consists of eight egg-shaped compartments, each with five seats. As they rise along the arch’s incline, the compartments rotate to keep you level with the ground as they follow the curved tracks. The doors have narrow window enabling visitors to view the arch’s interior structure. At the top of the arch, an observation deck affords views of St. Louis.

The video is a bit long (7 minutes) but gives a lot of insight into the Arch and riding its capsule elevator tram.

Sumitomo Fudosan Roppongi Grand Tower: Tokyo, Japan

The 45-story Grand Tower in Tokyo is home to the largest passenger elevators in Japan with each of the 4 cabins holding 90 passengers each. Though large with a heavy payload, the elevators operate at a speed of 984 feet per second. Two of the four mammoth elevators offer passengers panoramic views of Tokyo through glass fronts toward the building exterior.

sumitomo fudosan roppongi grand tower elevators cabin in tokyo japan

Santa Justa Elevator: Lisbon, Portugal

Opened in 1902, this iron elevator is another testament to the 19th century industrial age’s ingenuity in both mechanics and design. The Santa Justa Elevator, also known as the Carmo Lift, ascends seven stories (about 150 feet) to connect the lower streets of Lisbon’s Baixa district with the higher Largo do Carmo area.

Once a key aspect of capital city’s public transport network, today, it is mostly a tourist attraction. If visiting the Baixa district, take a ride as Santa Justa’s viewing platform at the top of the lift will take your breath away with stunning views of central Lisbon.

Beyond being an engineering marvel and an interesting look into early modern transportation, the Santa Justa Elevator is a work of art. Its exterior structure is adorned with glorious Neo-Gothic arches and geometric patterns and the interior of the lift is two decadent polished wood carriages that transport passengers in Olde World style.

Lacerda Elevator: Salvador, Brazil

The Lacerda Elevator, once called the “Screw” by locals was the first elevator installed in Brazil and the first urban elevator in the world when it opened in 1873. It has the same function as Lisbon’s Santa Justa connecting two neighborhoods, Salvador’s Comércio District and Upper City, with vastly different elevations. Its 235-ft ascension, though a quick 20 seconds, offers visitors incredible views of the coastline and the city of Salvador. When it opened, the Lacerda ran on hydraulics before switching to electricity in 1906. This amazing “antique” elevator transports 28,000 passengers per day!

The 27-foot-tall elevator lights up at night in a rainbow of colors highlighting its Art Deco architecture.

Tarihi Asansör: Izmir, Turkey

In the historic Turkish city of İzmir, the Asansör tower stands sentinel above the breathtaking Aegean coastline. Asansör is Turkish for “elevator” and thus the building’s name is basically Elevator Tower. This elevator is another example of transportation installed in the early 1900s, in 1907, to overcome vertical geographical challenges of 2 parts of Ízmir’s Karatas quarter separated by a 160+ foot cliff.

The elevator was funded by a local philanthropist to save citizens and visitors from having to take the aerobic walk up 155 steps cut into the cliff.  At the top, a viewing platform treats passengers to exquisite views of the city and access to one of the area’s most popular restaurants, Asansör Restoran at the top.

The elevator remains charming in its appearance but was modernized to run on electricity instead of steam in 1985.

asansor elevator in izmir turkey

Oregon City Municipal Elevator

Europe is not the only place that has wide vertical divides within communities. Oregon City is the only place in the US that this geographical conundrum resulted in the construction of a vertical street. When the city was founded, the development was on low elevation land close to the Willamette River. Growth led land on the bluff 100’ above to be utilized for homes, shops, and factories.

A project was conceived to build an elevator between these 2 levels, but in 1912 it failed to be approved. But later that same year, enough support was rallied to pass funding. But the project was opposed by blufftop residents, most notably one who refused to provide land for the elevator project. Ultimately, the resident lost to the city in a Supreme Court case and the elevator was built in 1915.

The elevator is free to the public to use, but an operator must be on duty so it is not open 24 hours a day, but most residents and visitors find the elevator operating when they need it.

The Oregon City Municipal Elevator rises 130 feet next to the cliffside. Its tower resembles a concrete tube with an observation deck at the top in the stereotypical UFO flying saucer shape. The original water-powered elevator was replaced with an electric elevator in 1955.

Falkirk Wheel: Scotland

Far from a traditional elevator, this feat of engineering is the world’s only rotating boat lift. The Falkirk Wheel was built as part of a project to reunite the 2 major cities of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The original Union Canal opened in 1922 and was an intricate system of locks that united the 2 major cities creating an expedited trade route.

But a mere 2 decades later the railway opened and much of the canal traffic dissipated. The locks were dismantled, many filled in, and over the next 60 years, towns were built where the former Union Canal once operated.

When interest formed to restore navigable waters between the 2 cities, it was clear the old route was no longer available. So, in 2002, this rotating boat lift was constructed near the town of Falkirk to lift and lower boats the 69 vertical feet between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s!

The video has some interesting history and information about construction as well as an overview of the ride through the canals using the Falkirk Wheel.

Mercedes-Benz Museum Elevator: Stuttgart, Germany

As you would expect, exquisite examples of German-engineered cars over the decades await visitors to this museum in Stuttgart. But you might not expect the space-age industrial appeal of the unadorned concrete structure with a pill-shaped elevator scaling the wall.

Once aboard the unique elevator, a lit of a window gives passengers a glimpse of the architecture as well as the playing of vintage films showing cars over the decades. It is simple yet quite novel.

Louvre Elevator: Paris, France

Transporting museum visitors inside the glass pyramid of the Louvre is an in genious piston that people ride atop. Without an enclosure except for ample sides to prevent riders for falling off, it is rather like an exquisitely designed and very sleek wheelchair lift.

As passengers rise they thread the center of an ultra-modern winding steel staircase.

The hydraulic lift carries up to 10 passengers offering an unobstructed view of Paris’ most popular museum lobby. Visit this Facebook post to see a video of the elevator in action.

AquaDom: Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin, Germany

Though no longer in action, this recently eliminated elevator is so interesting we had to include it. Sadly on December 16, 2022, the 82-ft cylindrical acrylic glass aquarium ruptured creating a tsunami of water and fish erasing this sensational creation with its elevator core from reality. But it lives on in imaginations. And, luckily, since it burst at 5:45 am, the lobby was not busy and only one guest and one hotel employee were injured by minor acrylic shards. But the wave of water was detected by local seismographs and all but about 200 fish did perish as they squirted out into the streets surrounding the hotel. The survivors were relocated to the nearby Berlin Zoo.

The AquaDom elevator cost about $12.8 million euros (almost $14 million dollars) and opened in 2004. To help you understand just how large this massive aquarium was here are some stats:

  • AquaDom was in Guinness World Book of Records as the largest aquarium in the world.
  • The cylinder was 82 ft tall with a diameter of 36 ft.
  • The elevator was surrounded by 1500 fish of over 100 species swimming in 260,000 gallons of salt water
  • 18 pounds of fish were required daily to feed the aquarium inhabitants.
  • It took 3-4 divers to clean the tank and feed the fish each day.
aquadom in the radisson blu hotel in berlin germany as seen from the 6th floor before the aquarium broke in 2022

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