Why Do We Love the View From High Above?

The view from the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Source: Andrea Bartz

One of the first things I do when I check into a new hotel is fling open the curtains and admire the view. I’ve looked out over emerald-green rice fields and rushing rivers, busy streets, and just the buildings next door. But my favorite vantage point stays the same: from high up, above the landscape—looking down at the destination, spread before me like a miniature city.

Flicking back through some old travel photos, I noticed just how many of mine were taken through hotel windows. What is it about staying a few thousand feet in the air, I wondered, that makes us fall in love with the view? What exactly is the appeal of visiting Top of the Rock or nabbing a hotel room on the 119th floor—why do we find that panorama so pleasing?

A number of psychological forces are at play, according to Sally Augustin, PhD, an environmental psychologist and a principal at Design With Science. Evolutionary psychology is one of them. “First, being on the 100th floor, with a view of the nearby world, gives us prospect and refuge—that means we have a view out over a nearby area from a secure location,” she explains. As a species, we’re very comfortable in this situation. Think back to our caveman ancestors, she adds: “When we had prospect and refuge, we could see hungry carnivores who might want to eat us approaching, for example, and could act accordingly.”

Then there are our more 2017 associations. “We link things that are higher with more power and importance,” she says. “Think about CEO offices on the top floor of buildings, for example. Having a feeling of power is generally pleasant.” Thirdly, and relatedly, higher perches in buildings are often more expensive and seen as more desirable—generally because they offer privacy and control over our experiences. “Not many people can see into our windows when we’re on the 100th floor, and there’s probably no one nearby making annoying noises, either,” she says. Even for those who are visiting an observation deck instead of checking into the penthouse suite, being at a belly-flipping altitude is an unusual experience, and we as humans tend to enjoy novelty. (Well, most of us, anyway: People who are afraid of heights, for example, wouldn’t enjoy the view one bit.)

Need a little skyscraping travel inspo? Here are some of the pictures I snapped out of the windows at high-elevation hotels around the world.

So Sofitel Bangkok 

This super-hip spot overlooks Bangkok’s lush Lumpini Park. There’s also a massive infinity pool on the 10th floor with a similar view, so you can splash around above the treetops.

Source: David Cowan/The Brandman Agency

The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong 

Situated on the banks of the Huangpu River, this 58-stories-high building has jaw-dropping views of the nearby Oriental Pearl Tower and the city skyline. This snap is from Flair, the highest al fresco dining venue in the country. (I was only in town one night and forgot to take my own picture, but this is exactly what you see from the breezy balcony!)

The Westin Lima 

Peru’s capital is better explored at ground level than from high above, since its charm lies in its whimsical architecture and whacky-colored buildings. Still, I was glad to be up on the 26th floor, where I could watch the bustling city of nearly 10 million (!) mill about.

Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria 

The government limits the height of Roman buildings, so that skyscrapers don’t shoot up and obscure views of the Eternal City. But at the elegant Rome Cavalieri, nestled into Rome’s surrounding hills, I found this sweeping vista, with St. Peter poking its head up, as always.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

I was totally unprepared for Hong Kong’s beauty (islands! Rivers! Lush, forested hills!), and there’s no better spot to enjoy it than from this hotel at the top levels of an 118-story skyscraper. Also worth a stop is OZONE, its rooftop cocktail bar perched at a heart-stopping 1,600 feet above sea level.

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