Dizzying attractions perched up high
Tianmen Mountain Road, China
The ancient fortress town of Bonifacio has centuries of crashing waves to thank for its precarious position – the limestone cliffs below have been gradually eroded away to the point that the citadel looks poised to topple into the sea. Located on the southern tip of the French island of Corsica, it’s the island’s oldest town, having been founded in AD 830.
River House Ruin, Utah, USA
Shrouded in centuries of mystery and desert dust kicked up by countless intrepid explorers, River House Ruin in Utah was built by ancestral Puebloans between AD 900 and the late 1200s. The rocky dwelling, nestled within vibrant sandstone rocks around 12 miles (19km) southwest of the town of Bluff, is covered in ancient cave drawings known as petroglyphs which give a fascinating insight into Utah’s ancient history.
Check out our guide for more tips on what to see and do in Southern Utah.
Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Italy
With its higgledy-piggledy streets, Baroque cathedral and abundance of characteristic little houses, Sant’Agata de’ Goti packs all the charm you’d expect from a medieval Italian town. But with a twist. This historic gem perches delicately on a steep, sheer bluff above a river gorge, giving it a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world.
Tiger’s Nest Temple, Bhutan
Clinging to the edge of a cliff with panoramic views over the Paro valley in Bhutan, the Buddhist monastery of Paro Taktsang – also known as Tiger’s Nest Temple – is a sight to behold. Built in the 17th century, the sky-high temple rises a perilous 9,843 feet (3,000m) above the valley floor.
Meteora Monasteries, Greece
As clifftop monuments go, the Meteora Monasteries in Greece’s Thessaly region are about as famous as they get. And it’s not hard to see why. Perched upon 60 million-year old sandstone megaliths which rise an average of 1,000 feet (305m) into the air, these Byzantine monasteries are the rocks’ crowning glory. Built between the 14th and 17th centuries, today the area is one of the most visited in Greece, although visitors must climb 200 dizzying steps to reach Roussanou, the most famous of the monasteries.
Khardung La Pass, India
Khardung La Pass in Ladakh, India, is the highest motorable road in the world. At an altitude of 18,379 feet (5,602m), this dizzyingly high road carves its way up the mountains and into the Nubra and Shyok Valleys, encompassing plenty of breathtaking panoramic views and more than a few twists and turns along the way.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Towering some 650 feet (200m) above the surrounding forests, it seems fitting that Sigiriya – which looks equal parts majestic and perilous – translates to “lion’s rock”. The rocky plateau, formed by volcanic magma, is home to a fortress built in the fifth century AD by King Kashyapa I, who ruled the native Sinhalese dynasty, the Moriya.
Guoliang tunnel road, China
Guoliang Village, China
Mount Popa monastery, Myanmar
Illuminated by rays of sunshine peeking through the clouds in this striking shot, Mount Popa monastery in central Myanmar certainly has an otherworldly feel to it. Built by a hermit in the early 20th century, it has become a key site of worship for Buddhists within the Nat tradition. Yet accessing it is no mean feat: visitors must traverse 777 steps from the base of the pedestal to the top, some 2,500 feet (762m) above the ground, as well as dodging some Rhesus macaque monkeys along the way.
Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona, USA
Despite looking almost as though it’s been squished into the cliff face, Montezuma Castle is surprisingly spacious, containing 20 rooms spread over five stories. The monument near Camp Verde, Arizona was built by Sinagua Indians sometime between 1100 and 1350 AD, although it gained its name from Aztec emperor Montezuma after early white settlers falsely assumed the structure was built by the Aztecs. Check out these other ancient ruins in the USA you probably didn’t know existed.
Abano Pass, Georgia
An adrenalin junkie’s delight, Abano Pass in Georgia is among the most dangerous roads on Earth. Situated in the Tusheti region in the central pass of the Great Caucasus Mountains, reaching altitudes of more than 9,000 feet (2,743m) above sea level, the pass is often draped in mountain mists which lead to poor visibility. In some sections of the road, just a few feet separate drivers from a sheer drop below. See more of the world’s dangerous roads here.
Cliff Palace, Colorado, USA
Sitting under a perfectly formed natural shelter of sandstone rock, the 150-room Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado was once home to a population of around 100. The settlement was built by Ancestral Puebloans in the 13th century and was constructed from sandstone, mortar and wooden beams, as well as small pieces of stone embedded in the mortar to strengthen it. Today, it’s the largest and one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.
In the Middle Ages, pilgrims traveled from all over Europe and climbed more than 200 steps to reach the site of Rocamadour, to see the relics of Saint Amadour who made it his hermitage. Balanced on a cliff which rises almost 400 feet (120m) above the valley below, topped by vertiginous spire of the Citadel of Faith, Rocamadour continues to enthral and amaze all those who set eyes on it. In this mist-draped shot, the village looks plucked straight from a fantasy novel.
Thiksey Gompa, India
Perfectly framed by the awe-inspiring Ladakh mountains, the 12-story Thiksey Gompa monastery looks as though it’s been poured out of the sky and tumbled onto the side of the steep, rocky promontory. The hilltop monastery, located 11 miles (17km) south of the historic town of Leh in northern India, is associated with the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism and was built in around AD 1430.
Haid Al-Jazil, Yemen
Three Level Zigzag Road, India
Draped in elegant spirals which traverse the rugged lower Himalayas, the Three Level Zigzag Road is as dizzying as it is breathtakingly beautiful. The treacherous trail starts at the village of Dzuluk and climbs up the mountain to Thambi View Point at 11,200 feet (3,400m) above sea level, complete with a stomach-churning 100 serpentine bends over the course of just 19 miles (30km).
Norway has its fair share of knife-edge peaks and deep gorges, but few are quite like Kjeragbolten. With a boulder measuring 177 cubic feet (5 cubic metres) wedged between a 3,200 foot (970m) deep abyss, the suspended rock has become a much-photographed spot as well as a popular location for base jumping.
Corte Citadel, Corsica
Zoji La Pass, India
Sky Caves, Nepal
Hanging Temple of Shanxi, China
A cluster of towering houses built on an overhanging rocky crag in the Manakhah district of Yemen, Al-Hajjarah was founded in the 12th century and served as an important fortification during the Ottoman Empire. The mountain village’s stone buildings merging almost imperceptibly with the cliffs below make for a mesmerizing sight.
Trosky Castle, Czech Republic
In case the volcanic landscape, basalt cliffs and endless fields of the Czech Republic’s Český ráj region weren’t stunning enough, at its heart lies a storied Gothic fortress. Trosky Castle comprises two towers which each stand atop a basalt plug: a smaller, wider one nicknamed “Baba” (old woman) and a taller, thinner one nicknamed “Panna” (young girl). Despite significant fire damage, the ruins remain a striking sight and tend to attract many thrill-seeking visitors, eager to gaze over the castle’s edge.
Fairy Meadows Road, Pakistan
The Swallow’s Nest, Ukraine
A marvel of engineering, the Neo-Gothic Swallow’s Nest cathedral teeters on the edge of the Cape-Ai-Todor cliff above the Crimean Sea, with parts of the structure extending beyond the cliff face. Situated just outside the town of Gaspra on the Crimean Peninsula, the castle was built in 1912 for a wealthy German oil baron. In this stunning shot, the fairy tale castle surges out into the ocean, looking almost as if it might topple over at any moment.
Katskhi pillar, Georgia
In the remote Imereti region of western Georgia is arguably the most isolated and inaccessible church in the world, sitting on top of the 130 feet (40m) tall natural limestone Katskhi pillar. Surrounded by miles upon miles of unspoilt countryside, it’s as breathtakingly beautiful as it is fear-inducing.
Now discover the world’s most stunning clifftop towns
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