The Exhilarating Ways Skyscraper Hotels Around the World Put Their Rooftops to Use

Take to the skies at the world's best and most adventurous hotel rooftops

June 15, 2024 10:28 pm
The match between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi atop Burj Al Arab Jumeirah February 2005
The match between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi atop Burj Al Arab Jumeirah February 2005
Getty Images

Staying in a soaring skyscraper hotel offers guests a wonderful perspective of the city they’re visiting, whether it’s New York or Tokyo, Bangkok or Dubai. After all, even in our current age of skyscraper abundance, there’s still a finite number of places where you can check into a luxury property and enjoy that type of vantage point. Why stop there, though? A great view is one thing; being able to truly capitalize on a hotel’s spectacular, outstretched size is another. That means taking to the sky and getting some fresh air, whether it’s for an exhilarating bit of adventure or perhaps a tantalizing but more low-key beverage.

Consider the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, which was the tallest hotel in the world when it debuted in 1999, occupying the upper portions of the 88-story Jinmao Tower. With an architectural design drawing inspiration from traditional pagodas, the Jinmao Tower was the first of a group of three mega skyscrapers built adjacent to one another in the city’s bustling Pudong district. It’s a veritable skyscraper superhighway that still seems as if it’s from a far-off future, with its adjacent siblings — the Shanghai Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center included — in almost shocking proximity.

Ride a high-speed elevator up to the hotel’s glitzy 54th-floor lobby, and then keep on ascending even higher, first to an 85th-floor perch where visitors can look down upon a cavernous atrium that feels like it’s straight out of Star Wars, and then to the 87th-floor restaurant and lounge, appropriately dubbed the Cloud Bar. But don’t stop yet.

On the 88th story there’s an outdoor observation deck offering the adrenaline rush of a clipped-in skyscraper stroll from a height of more than 1,100 feet. The Jinmao Tower Skywalk attraction allows the bold to strap into a safety harness and traverse a four-foot wide glass platform around the building’s upper reaches.

The photo ops alone will be worth overcoming your fears, and the bragging rights aren’t bad, either: it’s the highest sky walk in the world and the only of its kind that’s available at the apex of a luxury hotel. You might check in to the hotel for its prime locale in town, its excellent dining venues offering Cantonese and Shanghainese fare, or its all-around opulence, but the best way to make the most of your stay is to check out that sky walk.

When that first taste of skyscraper adventure only whets the palate, plot out a global hit list with the following hotels as well.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Alright, this is one you won’t be able to take advantage of yourself, but it absolutely must be mentioned for the unforgettable spectacle it created. The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is regarded as one of the most luxurious escapes in the world, and its sailboat facade garners instant recognition. At the top of the building there’s a helipad, because if you can afford to stay at the Burj Al Arab — where your room might be an opulent, golden-ensconced two-story suite with almost 2,000 sq. ft. of space — you can afford to make a grand entrance.

In 2005, the hotel transformed that hovering disc of a space more than 650 feet in the sky into a functional tennis court with an artificial grass surface. Then they brought in a couple of guys by the names of Roger Federer and Andre Agassi to exchange some serves. The photos of their casual tennis session soaring above the beach and the city have stood the test of time, because Dubai is truly one place where the phrase “the sky’s the limit” doesn’t even apply.

That’s not even the only stunt the luxe hotel has pulled. The year prior, an in-his-prime Tiger Woods took to the helipad to take some practice swings, transforming it into the world’s tallest and most striking driving range. More recently, Red Bull partnered with Polish pilot Łukasz Czepiela for an adrenaline-soaked 2023 attempt at what it called a Bullseye Landing of a propeller plane atop the tower.

The open-air bath on the top floor of Hoshinoya Tokyo
The open-air bath on the top floor of Hoshinoya Tokyo

Hoshinoya Tokyo

A stay at Hoshinoya Tokyo is about leaving the real world, and the big-city hustle and bustle of Tokyo, behind. The hotel may be in a 14-story building within the heart of Tokyo’s business district, but it feels as if it’s a world away: in a quieter countryside locale where you’ve stumbled upon a high-end ryokan, but also in a quieter era, an electronics-free time when you could connect with nature and your surroundings, and focus on your personal health and wellness. When guests enter the property, the first thing they do is remove their shoes and don a pair of house slippers for the duration of the stay, and then change into a cozy traditional kimono set to wear around inside.

There are several ways to experience a stunning rooftop perspective from Hoshinoya Tokyo. The first is its open air onsen that transforms its rooftop into a luxurious cave-like setting, with a multistory chimney-like enclosure blocking the outside world. Water is drawn from 1,500 meters below ground, where the aquifer contains saltwater due to the geologic history of the region, and its soothing heat, along with the ritual of the onsen experience, will soothe the body and the soul.

The next morning, start your day with a pre-breakfast rooftop routine unlike any the world over. Enroll in a session of Sky-high Morning Kenjutsu, where you’ll practice martial arts featuring wooden swords while wearing authentic karate gis. From a height of about 525 feet in the air — the Kenjutsu actually takes place on a neighboring building’s rooftop, in full disclosure — you’ll be trained on proper swordsmanship and deep breathing techniques, with a view of Tokyo’s skyline beyond. By all means, pretend you’re Neo in The Matrix, just please don’t attempt to take a running leap off the building’s edge.

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Sky Bar at Lebua at State Tower
Sky Bar at Lebua at State Tower

Lebua at State Tower

The rooftop of Bangkok’s Lebua at State Tower is now recognizable the world over thanks to a cameo in The Hangover 2. But long before the movie premiered, travelers in the know would head to its Sky bar to enjoy a transcendent experience.

It’s the tallest open-air rooftop bar in the world, at an oh-so-casual 820 feet in the air. Ride up to the 64th floor on the building’s elevator, then walk down a grand staircase from a golden domed entrance onto the 63rd-story outdoor bar area. Clear glass barriers around the roof’s edge only extend about halfway up body height, so don’t go overboard with your selfies. The 360-degree views of the whole of Bangkok are more than enough on their own.

The world’s largest rooftop infinity pool
The world’s largest rooftop infinity pool
Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay Sands hotel has become the defining image of Singapore’s skyline, with three towers joined together by a rooftop that appears as if it were a surfboard being held aloft by the structures. That rooftop isn’t just for show though; it’s put to use in several exciting ways.

At 56 stories above the ground, the rooftop is home to the SkyPark Observation Deck. The views are captivating enough, but the space is more than a place to look down; it also includes lush gardens, jogging paths and several dining and drinking venues. And then there’s the iconic swimming pool.

Billed as the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool — at about 478-feet long, it’s almost the length of three Olympic swimming pools — the enormous attraction is exclusively available to hotel guests. So while you can visit the rooftop for a glimpse, if you want to get wet and experience its 475-foot vanishing edge while gazing upon the city-state, you better book a room, too.

Ice Rinks in the Sky

Glice is a manufacturer of synthetic ice rinks for professional arenas, at-home use and public spaces, and their unique technology allows them to be operated with ease anywhere in the world, climate and logistical considerations be damned. They’ve taken advantage of that by partnering with a number of hotels, bringing the novel concept of an ice rink in the sky to the masses. In 2023, they hit the rooftop of the Four Seasons Mexico City, and the year prior, they soared from the rooftop of The View at the Palm in Dubai, at a height of about 800 feet. The same year, half a world away, they had an installation atop the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn. You never know where the Glice guys are going to pop-up next, so go ahead and follow them on Instagram if you want to be kept apprised of their latest and most captivating arrangements.


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