In most major cities, it seems there’s always one well-known spot that is guaranteed to give you a stellar bird’s-eye view of the city. But hitting up those locations also means you can spend two-plus hours of your precious time standing in line. We highlight alternatives in major cities that still offer great photo ops (minus the line).
St. Louis: Instead of the Gateway Arch, which is 630 feet above the ground, buy a ticket to a St. Louis Cardinals game (stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com), at Busch Stadium downtown, in season. The way the baseball park was designed, there is no upper deck in center field, so the view of the arch from up high, over home plate, is gorgeous. You may also want to consider a Skyline Dinner Cruise on the Mississippi River to take in the city at night (gatewayarch.com or 877-982-1410).
San Francisco: Instead of Coit Tower, which crowns Telegraph Hill, climb to the top of the Lyon Street Steps, a mansion-surrounded set of stairs that are popular among marathon runners. There won’t be a line and you’ll have spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts from this Pacific Heights location. Start with the steps at Lyon and Union and continue to Lyon and Broadway. If you get tired, rest on one of the benches halfway up.
Seattle: Instead of the Space Needle, try the open-air observation deck on the 35th floor of Smith Tower (smithtower.com or 206-622-4004), which is located at 506 Second Avenue, in the heart of Pioneer Square. From here, you will have panoramic views of snowcapped Mount Rainier, as well as the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. Tickets for adults are $7.50, versus $18 at the Space Needle. Or, for what locals say is the best free view, climb the 108 steps of the old water tower in Volunteer Park, on Capitol Hill (206-684-4555).
Toronto: Instead of the CN Tower, which attracts more than 1 million visitors each year, reserve a table at Canoe (oliverbonacini.com or 416-364-0054), located on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower. The upscale restaurant specializes in regional Canadian cuisine; favorite dishes include the organic roast suckling pig and the Grandview Farms venison loin. If a formal, seated dinner isn’t appealing, the 19-and-over crowd can stop by Panorama Lounge for cocktails and tapas (55 Bloor Street West, eatertainment.com or 416-967-0000). The sleek space features floor-to-ceiling windows, looking both downtown and uptown from the 51st floor of the Manulife Centre. In the summer, order a Toronto Island Iced Tea or a Summer Breeze.
Florence: Instead of climbing 414 steps to the top of the Campanile di Giotto in the Piazza del Duomo, visit the neighboring town of Fiesole (fiesole.com) and look down over the city. The easiest way to get there, assuming you don’t have a rental car, is to hop the number 7 ATAF Florence city bus. Visit the gardens at Villa Medici (on via Mantellini) for panoramic views of Florence and the River Arno. Buses run until late at night, so have dinner up there before heading back to Florence.
Prague: Instead of the Observation Tower at Petrin Hill, which requires climbing 299 stairs, visit the gardens at Prague Castle. Although there is a fee for admission to the castle, there is no charge to walk through the five public gardens that surround it. The Garden on the Ramparts is said to offer the most breathtaking view of both Old Town and New Town, including the Vltava River and the TV Tower (hrad.cz).