Teetering above the treetops – and in some cases, among the clouds – these precarious places balanced on cliffs and mountains seem to completely defy gravity. From clifftop castles and citadels to sky-high serpentine roads carved into steep slopes, scroll through to see 30 of the most perilous attractions on the planet.
Snaking around the Tianmen Mountain in the Hunan Province of central China, this deadly-looking road is also known as the 99-Bend Road, for the fact it contains a whopping 99 twists and turns spread across seven miles (11.3km). For visitors wishing to keep their breakfast down, a cable car typically operates between City Garden downtown and the mountain’s summit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The only way that cars can access the village of Guoliang, perched high in the Taihang Mountains of the Henan Province, is via this terrifying-looking 0.75 mile (1.2km) stretch of a tunnel carved into the rock. Before 1972, the village was only accessible via a steep footpath. That year, a group of 13 villagers took to the task of carving a tunnel themselves, using up a colossal 4,000 hammers and 12 tonnes of steel drill rods and taking five years to build it.
Those who are brave enough to drive through the tunnel will reach an equally vertigo-inducing attraction: the village of Guoliang itself. Sitting at an altitude of 5,577 feet (1,700m) atop razor-sharp vertical cliffs, the tiny and remote village is home to around 350 people, although it’s reportedly becoming more of a tourist hotspot.
Trollstigen is a scenic road in northwest Norway that snakes its way up the steep mountainside to Stigrøra, some 2,800 feet (858m) above sea level, encompassing 11 hairpin bends along the way. Not one for the faint-hearted, visitors who make it to the top typically go to the Trollstigen platform, which offers panoramic views of the Stigfossen waterfall and steep-sided valley below.
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.
Despite looking almost as though it’s been squished into the cliff face, Montezuma Castle is surprisingly spacious, containing 20 rooms spread over five storeys. 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.
An adrenaline 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.
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 travelled 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 that rises almost 400 feet (120m) above the valley below, topped by the vertiginous spire of the Citadel of Faith, Rocamadour continues to enthrall and amaze all those who set eyes on it. In this mist-draped shot, the village looks plucked straight from a fantasy novel.
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 around AD 1430.
In the heart of Yemen’s desert valley, known for its intensely hot and dry climate, lies the extraordinary little village of Haid Al-Jazil. This 500-year old settlement sits on a boulder that rises 350 feet (107m) above the ground, making it one of the most isolated yet strikingly beautiful places on Earth. Even more incredible is the fact that as recently as 2004, when the latest census was taken, 17 people still called Haid Al-Jazil their home.
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).
You can see why artists and writers flocked to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, a village which inspired poet André Breton so much that he said, “Here, I’ve stopped wishing myself elsewhere”. The village, which sits on a steep rocky escarpment dangling precariously above the Lot river, certainly looks like the stuff of Surrealist paintings. As well as its contemporary art trail and International Artists’ Residence, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is home to 13 listed historic monuments.
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.
The highest point of Corsica’s Corte Citadel is a château known as Nid d’Aigle, meaning ‘Eagle’s Nest’ – which seems fitting given its position, a precarious overhanging perch with sweeping views over the valley. The historic building is the oldest part of the town, built-in 1420 by the Viceroy of Corsica. As well as being a picturesque viewpoint, the town is home to the Museum of Corsica and was once the seat of the independent Corsican government.
Considered the gateway to India’s Ladakh region, Zoji La Pass is a treacherous mountain road with plenty of sheer drops and tight hairpin bends, bordered by the Kashmir basin on one side and the Drass basin on the other. This narrow section of road is located some 11,500 feet (3,500m) above sea level and is thought to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world, frequently blighted by harsh winds and heavy snowfall.
On a dusty, windswept, and remote edge of the Tibetan Plateau lie the aptly named Sky Caves, a set of around 10,000 human-built caves which are at least 1,000 years old. Draped in mystery, the area has fascinated and confounded archaeologists for generations – several dozen bodies have been found which date back 2,000 years, but no one knows exactly who built the caves.
The phrase “defying gravity” seems apt in the case of the 1,400-year-old Hanging Temple of Shanxi in China. The supposedly “hanging” building, created during the late Northern Wei dynasty, is supported by a multitude of beams inserted into the rock face of Mount Hengshan and includes 40 rooms linked by labyrinthine passages.
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 mesmerising sight.
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.
Don’t be fooled by its whimsical name – Fairy Meadows Road is a terrifyingly dangerous road. This 10-mile (16.2km) gravel stretch in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan travels to altitudes of more than 10,800 feet (3,300m) and includes unpaved and uneven sections, sheer cliff drops, and sections that are only just wide enough for a jeep to get through. It’s enough to make you nervous just looking at it.
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.
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.