Some destinations are best viewed at a distance. To experience them fully you must remove yourself, if only slightly, and take them in from afar. Sprawling skylines and expansive landscapes can be their most impressive on a macro level. These seven helicopter tours cater to this very notion and offer a bird’s-eye view of some of the world’s best natural and man-made wonders.
Photo by Rob M, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While most visitors consider the views from Victoria Peak to be the best, seeing Hong Kong from the air can’t be beat. With sky-high buildings and a skyline that is among the most famous in the world, Hong Kong is a destination of monumental sites (and sights). An aerial tour will provide views of not only the skyline, but Victoria Harbour and the surrounding mountains and beaches.
Photo by Dix_pics1, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Covering an approximate area of 133,000 square miles and containing nearly 3,000 individual reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef and the biggest structure built by living organisms. It has well earned its designation as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is as striking from the air as it is from beneath the surface, and both views give a unique perspective. Many helicopter tour operators offer mixed itineraries that pair your aerial ride with a glass-bottom boat tour or scuba and snorkeling excursions.
Photo by Antonio Garcia, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There is no shortage of ways to take in the Grand Canyon and its surrounding national park, including by river raft or the nerve-racking Skywalk. At 277 miles long, and in parts up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep, the best way to experience it fully is from the air. Helicopter tours take you both above and down into the canyon for the full perspective. To see it at its most enchanting, be sure to book a sunset tour.
Photo by opacity, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The most quintessential way to view Hawaii’s oldest island and one of its most beautiful is from the air. All of Kauai, but especially the N?pali Coast, offers breathtaking ecological and geological sights, from the rugged and ridged cliffs that stretch into the sea to waterfalls, rainforest and valleys. Helicopter tours include flyovers of attractions like the Hanapepe Valley, Manawaiopuna Falls (often called Jurassic Park Falls), Waimea Canyon, Waimea Canyon and Hanalei Bay.
Photo by UB66, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Norway is a country of stunning and extreme landscapes, from its fjords to its glaciers. Among its most famous sights is the UNESCO World Heritage Geiranger Fjord and the surrounding Ålesund, which has been called Norway’s most beautiful city. Helicopter tours offer expansive views of this majestic fjord and include the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
Photo by Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0
A helicopter tour over New York City will put you close enough to the Statue of Liberty that you’ll feel like you can high five the lady. You’ll also get to see many of the city’s most iconic attractions, from its bridges and buildings to Ellis Island and Central Park. Manhattan pulses with an energy that is nothing short of exhilarating, but to retreat to the skies and see it in a more peaceful setting is a must on your itinerary.
Photo byPius Mahimbi, CC BY-SA 2.0
Victoria Falls is a spectacular sight from any perspective, but to fully appreciate the world’s largest waterfall opt to see it from above. From the window of a helicopter, you will see both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides of the falls, as well as the two national parks that surround it. If your timing is right, you might catch a glimpse of the animals that roam the parks, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions and leopards. The best time to book a tour is in April at the end of rainy season when water levels are at their highest.
Top photo: Josh Janssen, CC BY-ND 2.0
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.