Image: Hammetschwand Lift, Bürgenstock, Switzerland
Courtesy of Hammetschwand Lift
The 500-foot-high peak of Bürgenstock —a famous Swiss plateau-cum-lookout point known for its stunning views of Lake Lucerne — is easily reached by a metal-and-glass elevator, which opens onto a viewing platform that extends over the plateau's edge.
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updated 3/13/2011 12:59:05 PM ET 2011-03-13T16:59:05

In the famous elevator scene from the movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” the wacky candy maker treats golden ticket-holder and company heir apparent Charlie Bucket to a trip aboard his glass elevator. This lift travels “sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways ...” Ultimately, it shoots right through the roof and soars over city rooftops.

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Of course, elevators of this sort don’t exist — at least not right now, anyway — but there are plenty of lifts that can turn a boring few minutes staring at metal (or worse, mirrored) walls into an exhilarating thrill ride. Thanks largely to the clear glass sides, passengers are rewarded with amazing views that literally put the outside landscape on display.

Slideshow: World's greatest elevator views

These elevators are a far cry from the pulley system–based contraptions used as far back as late 200 B.C., or even the “modern elevator,” introduced in the mid-1800s for moving freight (the first passenger lift debuted at an NYC department store in 1857).

Today, following the same basic design (with some safety and technological improvements), elevators are everywhere, moving the masses up and down. Many are even well-known features in iconic landmarks, like those found in the Eiffel Tower’s legs and main shaft. The City of Light’s famed metal tower has lifts that haul travelers to the top lookout point, some 540 feet (or 54 stories) off the ground, where they’re greeted by bird’s-eye views of the Parc du Champ de Mars and the equally famous Arc de Triomphe.

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Other elevators aren’t as public. The Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco is home to a set of lifts that offer some of the best views of Union Square, from as high as 32 stories. (The elevators are technically for guests, so you should at least try to act like one.)

And while all of the elevators have the propensity to incite a bit of heart-pounding excitement, none has the ability to make its riders as prone to panic attacks as the cliffside Bailong Elevator, which can cart dozens of people nearly 1,100 feet off the ground. Just try not to freak out while watching the ground slowly disappear below!

Acrophobics, beware: it’s probably a good idea for you to sit these out. But if heights don’t bother you and you’re looking for a thrill, read on for some of the best elevator views from around the world.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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