Top 11 Strangest Elevators in the World

From elevators in huge cruise ships to city hotels, these designs will give you second thoughts before getting on a regular one.
Christopher McFadden

Elevators have one deceptively simple task: moving passengers or objects between levels. While this may sound mundane, that doesn't mean the design has to be. Some elevators from around the world have become tourist attractions in their own right. Either because of their uniqueness, unusual looks, or experience.


When were elevators invented?

Elevators, or lifts for British readers, are designed for the specialized task of, as previously mentioned, lifting people or objects between levels. The earliest known reference to an elevator is in the works of the Roman architect Vitruvius.

He reported that Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) built his first elevator probably in 236 BC. Some sources from later historical periods mention elevators as cabs on a hemp rope powered by hand or by animals. Such early elevators were operated with pulleys and ropes coiled around a winding drum using levers. This basic method of lifting objects continued into the industrial revolution.

The first true modern elevator, designed as a passenger lift, came in 1743. It was made exclusively for King Louis XV of France. Called the Flying Chair, it looked nothing like modern elevators. It was placed outside the King's balcony and used by King Louis to travel from floor to floor. As you'd expect, it was operated manually upon the King's command.

strange elevators
Source: Gideon Tsang/Flickr

Otis, the modern household name in elevators, was founded around 1850. These were the first hydraulic and steam elevators. Elisha G. Otis introduced the very first safety elevator. His solution solved the challenge of rope failure with a ratchet that would pop open and catch on racks that ran alongside the shaft, stopping the car's descent almost immediately.

From these humble beginnings, elevator design has risen to ever greater heights.

What are the weirdest elevators in the world?

And so, without further ado, here are some of the strangest elevators in the world. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The AquaDom in Berlin is a pretty strange elevator

strange elevators aquadom
Source: lamhkczbb/Flickr

Bored of staring into open spaces or lobbies as you travel between floors? The AquaDom in Berlin is an 82-foot (25-meter) tall cylindrical fish tank with a built-in, transparent elevator inside it - truly one of the world's most unusual elevators. Located in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Berlin Mitte, AquaDom is very unique. The DomAquaree complex also contains hotels, offices, restaurants, and the Sea Life Centre.

The tank is filled with 1,000,000 liters of water, and contains 1,500 fish of 50 different species. Divers clean the tank and feed the fish daily.

2. Luxor's Inclinators in Las Vegas are very cool elevators

strange elevators Luxor
Source: Bart/Flickr

The Luxor Hotel's Inclinators move guests up the sides of the iconic pyramidal shape at a 39-degree angle. Unlike the other strange elevators on this list, its "cars" lack transparent observation windows.

In the spirit of Las Vegas, however, these inclinators are all about standing out from the crowd. The inclinators transport guests to the top floors of the modern pyramid. At night, the views are stunning.

3. Another unique elevator is the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand

strange elevators sky tower
Source: Big Blue Ocean/Flickr

Taking forty seconds to travel to the observation level, this elevator has a transparent front, as you'd expect. What you might not expect is the transparent floor, giving you a slightly vertiginous experience. The thrill of seeing the ground rush away on ascent, or speed toward you as you descend is a sight to behold.

Frankly, the thought of riding this one is enough to put off all but the bravest travelers.

4. The Rising Tide Elevator on the Oasis of the Seas is another weird elevator

Top 11 Strangest Elevators in the World
Source: Atlas Cruises and Tours/YouTube

We know what you thinking: Why hasn't anyone thought of putting a bar in a lift? Well actually, they have. The Rising Tide Elevator is the first seagoing, traveling bar in the world.

It carries 35 passengers, staff, and a fully serviced bar. It serenely rises up and down through the atriums in Royal Caribbean's flagship cruise liners. The bar operates throughout the day, providing one of the must-do onboard experiences.

5. Another cool elevator is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland

cool elevators Falkirk Wheel
Source: johnmcgrevey/Pixabay

Not meant for humans, but a beautiful piece of engineering none-the-less, the Falkirk Wheel is a novel rotating boat lift located in Scotland. It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal and is named after the nearby town of Falkirk.

Its construction and opening in 2002 were designed to replace the dilapidated series of 11 locks that had fallen into disuse.

6. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, USA contains a strange elevator too

strange elevator st louis
Source: redlegsfan21/Flickr

Feeling like something out of 1960's sci-fi, the pod elevator of the Gateway Arch allows you to scale one of America's most iconic monuments in style. Designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, the elevator "pods" have glass doors to reveal the complex mechanical structure of Arch's interior.

The ride takes around 4 minutes to complete and its unique design fully entitles it to be on our list.

7. The Paternoster Elevator is an interesting elevator concept

strange elevator peternoster
Source: David McKelvey/Flickr

Featuring no buttons or doors, this addition to the list constantly loops around and around. The cars never slow down but travel at much slower speeds than conventional elevators.

This allows passengers to embark and alight safely while the elevator remains in motion. Despite their quirky design, Paternosters have a huge fanbase, which explains their continued existence mainly in Germany and the UK.

8. Another interesting elevator is the Bailong Elevator in China

strange elevator bailong
Source: Alex Berger/Flickr

Thought to be the tallest outdoor elevator in the world, Bailong Elevator is built onto the side of a cliff in the Wilingyaun area of China.

The name means "Hundred Dragons Elevator" and rises up the cliff 1000 feet (305 meters). Views of the area's massive quartzite sandstone pillars are said to be awe-inspiring and rise over 2,592 feet (790 meters).

9. The Autostadt in Germany is another weird elevator

strange elevators autostadt
Source: Wolfgang/Flickr

The Autostadt, meaning "car city" in German, opened in May 2000 adjacent to VW's manufacturing plant in Wolfsburg. It attracts two million visitors every year.

The Autostadt includes a hotel, restaurants, a museum, and other attractions. The facility actually includes two iconic car silos that act as elevators for cars. Each of the fully automated silos has space for around 400 vehicles. New cars are rolled over from the neighboring Volkswagen plant using a robotic-pallet mounted on rails. Two "car shuttles" then load the cars into the towers and fetch them. Each shuttle system serves half of the silo.

Interestingly if you arrange to purchase a VW direct from the factory with the pickup, you can take delivery directly from these vending machine-like displays.

10. The Globen Skyview in Stockholm is another unique lift

strange elevators ericson
 Source: kallerna/Wikimedia Commons

The Ericsson Globe is the largest hemispherical building in the world with a height of 279 feet (85 meters) and a diameter of 361 feet (110 meters). Tagged onto the outside are the Skyview gondolas that give riders a 20 minute trip along the curve of the building.

One of the strangest elevators in the world, Skyview gives fantastic views of the skyline of Stockholm.

11. The Santa Justa elevator in Portugal is pretty cool too

strange elevators lisbon
Source: Maria Eklind/Flickr

And finally, the Santa Justa elevator in Portugal gets on the list. Also called Carmo Lift, this elevator is located in the civil parish of Santa Justa in the historical city of Lisbon.

This elevator connects the lower streets of the Baixa to the higher Largo do Carmo region of the city. It was built in 1901 and has since become a very popular tourist destination. 

The entire structure is beautifully designed, and on its uppermost floor is a kiosk and lookout that provides amazing views of Lisbon. Believe it or not, the entire structure is built from iron which is stylized in the Neo-Gothic style architecture.

Can you think of any other interesting or strange elevators around the world?

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