Beaches, national parks or ancient temples be many folks’ idea of an ideal tourism destination, but for others, nothing beats oohing and ahhing over a marvel of modern engineering. There are plenty of engineering triumphs on the standard tourism list — the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge — but for travelers who’ve already been there and done those, below are 10 other modern engineering marvels that are well worth a visit.
Keep in mind that such structures sometimes require significant maintenance and repair efforts that might shut down the facility and/or cancel tours, so check ahead of time for any closures. Also, many of the projects have had considerable environmental and social impact on their communities that is still a point of debate in some cases. It’s worth knowing about these issues when you decide to visit these modern engineering marvels.
Millau Viaduct; Millau, France
This incredible bridge, which is not open to pedestrians, is the tallest bridge in the world at 1,125 feet. You will certainly want to drive over it, but you’ll get a better view from the roads and villages nearby, and best of all from the footpath that descends from the visitor center on the northern side of the bridge.
Hoover Dam, Nevada
The Hoover Dam is almost too well-known for its own good, but that doesn’t diminish what an extraordinary engineering feat it is. Tours take visitors 530 feet down through the canyon wall to a viewing point where 90,000 gallons of water whoosh past every second, providing electricity for three states. The dam tour gets bonus points for inclusion in the Percy Jackson book series; you can check out the engineering, and your kids can picture scenes from the book.
Palm Islands, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Talk about a planned community! It’s hard to say if these unique islands appear more utopian or dystopian, but there’s no denying the ingenuity involved. They’re best seen from the air, either by hiring a seaplane or helicopter, or from the restaurant on the 52nd floor of the nearby Harbour Residence and Spa Hotel.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Another viewing point for the Palm Islands is the observation deck of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Why go see it? The building is more than a half-mile high and has more than 160 stories; visiting the observation deck is an almost dizzying experience.
Langkawi Sky Bridge, Langkawi, Malaysia
I love pedestrian-only bridges because you don’t have to deal with pollution, noise and traffic when you walk across them. My favorite is Langkawi Sky Bridge, a spectacular span that curves over Malaysia’s Machinchang Mountain, offering expansive sea and jungle views. The cable car to the top is an experience in itself.
The Channel Tunnel, English Channel
This is among the easiest modern engineering marvels to bag during your travels — you can take a car, bus or train right through. It mostly looks like, well, a tunnel, but it’s still worth skipping the plane to experience. Completed almost 200 years after it was first proposed by Albert Mathieu in 1802, the 31-mile tunnel goes 250 feet under the sea bed to connect England to France (or France to England, depending on your perspective). The tunnel is equipped with cell antennae to boot, so you don’t even have to go off the grid.
Large Hadron Collider; Geneva, Switzerland
The Large Hadron Collider is the rare scientific research structure that is almost a household name, such is its stature among engineering feats. The 17-mile-long collider is used to accelerate sub-atomic particles such as the Higgs boson, or so-called “God particle,” to reveal information about how these particles behave. The collider is located more than 500 feet under the ground straddling the France-Switzerland border.
In 2013, CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research) opened the accelerator to tours for the first time. Tours of the actual accelerator occur only when it isn’t in use, the next instance of which will be winter of 2018, according to a CERN spokesperson. However, there’s a visitor center where you can learn more about the accelerator and CERN’s work.
Panama Canal, Panama
If a ride through the Panama Canal is on your bucket list, you’ve got plenty of choices; dozens of cruise ships traverse this 48-mile, entirely manmade waterway each year. The cargo ships that also frequent the canal are modern engineering marvels in themselves; in fact, many are specifically constructed to be the maximum size that will fit through the canal locks, and have been given the name “Panamax” ships as a result.
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Louisiana
Bridges that pass over long expanses of water can be at first disorienting, then strangely calming; it’s like being well out to sea, without all the pitching and yawing. My favorite such bridge is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world’s longest. It spans nearly 24 miles of Lake Pontchartain in Louisiana, including a stretch of 8 miles where you cannot see land at all.
An Amazon fulfillment center, Various locations
If you want to see the future of work and business, a visit to an Amazon fulfillment center might be all you need. The extensive use of robots alongside previously unthinkable levels of efficiency is a perfect display of how our world works right now. Go to AmazonFCTours.com to schedule a tour.