Top 10 Engineering tourist attractions


The Milau viaduct
The Milau viaduct

Short on inspiration for where to go this summer? Let PE fill the gap with this list of some of the top attractions around the world for engineers

Most lists of tourist attractions that would interest engineers tend to follow a familiar route, usually the Great Wall of China via the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.

We've tried to do something a little bit different compiling this list. We've stuck to modern engineering – anything built after 1900, and looked internationally. We've tried to strike a balance not just geographically but also interest-wise. It would be all too easy to compile a list of skyscrapers, dams and bridges.

Maybe one of these places could provide the starting point for a trip or provide a diversion for one already booked. If there is anywhere you think should be included or have experience of those listed, please comment below.

1.Millau Viaduct, France

Despite this not be a list of skyscrapers and bridges, it's difficult to find a better place to start than this cable-stayed road bridge in the South of France, which is the tallest in the world, 343m at its highest point.

The bridge was conceived by the French engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster. Part of the A75, the €400 million consists of seven slender pylons from which the stays support the 40,000 ton metallic deck. The design is said to be reminiscent of a huge yacht.

There is a £6.30 toll to travel over the 2460 metre long bridge, and a free exhibition at the rest area with models and a film. If you want more information there is an information centre under the bridge which offers guided tours of the inside of one of the viaducts massive pillars. Or for the really adventurous it's even possible to canoe underneath it or handglide over it.


2. Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

The Falkirk Wheel

This impressive and ingenious piece of engineering works using Archimedes theory of displacement. As boats enter the upper gondola they are lowered along with the water into the basin below. Simultaneously an equal eight rises up in the other gondola.

Each gondola weighs 500 tonnes when carrying both boat and water, but thanks to precise balancing and a system of cogs, the wheel is powered by just ten hydraulic motors that require just 1.5kWh of electricity per turn.

The 35m high, 27 wide wheel replaced a flight of 11 locks between the Union Canal and the Forth & Clyde canal and offers great views of the Scottish countryside from its highest point. It attracts some 500,000 visitors a year and costs £9 to travel on.


3. Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates

The Burj Khalifa

It goes without saying that the tallest building in the world at 829.8m is an awe-inspiring sight and if travelling through or to Dubai is difficult to miss.

The 163 floor skyscraper took six years to build and was opened in 2010 at a cost of £960 million. The “Burj”, which means tower in Arabic, is a Y shape based on the shape of a desert flower. The shape spirals upwards to help airflow around the building and increase its stability against high wind speeds. A new method of pumping concrete under pressure was invented to build the high sections of the tower. Another challenge is the air conditioning system, which is so large it creates 15 million gallons of condensation a year which is stored under the building and reused.

Tickets to get to the top cost between £20 and £90, depending on the time of day and whether or not you want to “fast track” any queues. An audio tour, which includes information about the engineering and construction challenges of the tower, is available.


4. Grand Canyon Skywalk, US

The Grand Canyon Skywalk

A transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge over the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk opened to tourists in 2007.

Apart from the stunning views of the Grand Canyon the bridge offers, the technical accomplishment of hanging 21.3 metres away from the edge of the Grand Canyon is difficult to ignore.

The Skywalk, which hangs 1220 metres above the Colorado River, can support up to 822, 90kg people at a time and is designed to withstand an earthquake of up to 8.0 on the Richter scale. Drilling for the foundations took one and a half years. The box beams the bridge uses are built up from two-inch thick plates, creating hollow shapes of 81cm wide and 183cm deep. The bridge deck consists of five layers of composite glass, a total of 7cm thick.

A visit to the Skywalk is normally sold in packages that include a meal and transportation to the site from Las Vegas, and start at around £50.


5. Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

The Trans Siberian Railway

For those that believe the only way to travel is by rail it can't get much better than taking a ride on one of the world's most famous train routes. The Trans-Siberian railway does more than just connect Moscow with the eastern city of Vladivostok, which spans a whopping seven time zones, 87 cities and two continents. It is in fact just one part of a network of connecting railways stretching from London to South East Asia.

Despite the mainline Moscow-Vladivostok route being built more than 120 years ago it remains the world's longest railway line at 9,289km. It is an impressive feat of engineering, having been built over large Siberian rivers, permafrost and water-clogged ground, and has seen the construction of tunnels through mountains in the Baikal region and railway bridges to traverse canyons across mountain rivers.

Certainly one to tick off the bucket list. However, be sure to get your visas sorted before travelling and book tickets in advance through a travel agency or local Russian agency such as Prices vary depending on routes so its advised to shop around for the best deal.

BMW plant, Germany

If you happen to find yourself in Munich this summer then be sure to make a pit stop in the north of the city to visit the BMW Groups home plant. For a mere £5.70 you can get a guided tour around the facilities to view the infamous automotive brand's manufacturing processes, from the press, body and engine shops to final assembly.

The plant as it is known today was built in 1922 but it wasn't until after WWII in 1948 that the site turned to motorcycle production, with the assembly of automobiles recommencing at the plant three years later. Iconic models, from the saloon 500 series to the first model of the 1961 “new class” BMW 1500 were manufactured at the plant. Today it produces the BMW 4 Series Coupé and variants of BMW internal combustion and diesel engines as well as high-performance power units for BMW M-models.

Also located on site is the BMW museum, which boasts 125 iconic cars, motorcycles and engines, and BMW World which hosts exhibitions on BMW cars past and present.

7. Boeing Aviation Centre, US

The Future of Flight Aviation Centre and Boeing Tour is just an hours drive from Seattle, in Mukilteo, Washington. The tour gives you entry into the Boeing Everett Factory where guests can view all the construction stages of aircraft, including the 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner.

The visit includes a trip to the main assembly building, which was opened in 1996 to build what was the world's largest jet airliner at the time, the 747. The mammoth manufacturing complex holds the Guinness World Record for the largest building in the world by volume, measuring in at 472 million cubic feet (13.3 million m3), and covers 98.3 acres (398,000m2).

The Future of Flight Aviation Centre plays host to a range of exhibits in which visitors can stroll around full-size GE90 777 and Rolls-Royce Trent 1,000 787 engines, compare the design of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner fuselage to an actual section of fuselage from a 707 or even sit and operate switches and controls in a genuine 727 cockpit. Adult tickets costs £11.52.


8 Bailong Elevator, China

The Bailong elevator. Credit:

If you've ever suffered from vertigo, then this wonderful Chinese tourist attraction might not be for you.

Measuring an incredible 330 metres from bottom to top, the Bailong Elevator is the world's tallest full-exposure outdoor lift. Attached to the side of a huge cliff in the Wulingyuan area of Zhangjiajie in the south east of China, the £12 million steel and glass structure can carry up to 50 people at a time at speeds of 3m/s, offering tourists staggering views of a mountainous region known for its undulating beauty.

Construction of the Bailong Elevator began in 1999 and was completed three years later. It was designed and built to take the pressure off well-worn nature trails across the Wulingyuan area.


9 Itaipu Dam, Brazil, Paraguay

The Itaipu Dam. Credit:

Snaking its way along the border between Brazil and Paraguay is the Itaipu Dam, a gigantic hydroelectric facility with an installed generation capacity of

14GW. At its heart, 20 generating units provided 700 MW each, with a hydraulic design head of 118 metres. In 2013 the plant generated a record 98.6TWh, supplying approximately 75% of the electricity consumed by Paraguay and 17% of that consumed by Brazil.

The Itaipu Dam might be an operational facility, but tourists are allowed on organised trips to see how it works. Two and a half hour trips enable visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the dam, before being given the chance to go inside to view huge ducts that transport a combined 700,000 litres of water per second. The central command room, where technicians and engineers control the power plant's operation, can also be seen from a viewing gallery.


10 NEWater Program and Visitor Centre Singapore

The NEWwater exhibition. Credit:

The NEWater Visitor Centre in Singapore had an educational remit from its conception, being developed as an international resource for public understanding and acceptance of water reuse. The centre marries advanced technology with a public information strategy, combining digital technology, computer games, visual images, and videos to explain water use and reuse in a fun, stimulating, and interactive manner.

In addition to the digital and static exhibits, visitors can safely view the production of NEWater from an adjoining facility from the safety of an elevated glass-encased walkway.

The learning is done in imaginative ways. Visitors are equipped with lab coats, hard hats and an iPod Touch, taking on the role of NEWater scientists and engineers. Meanwhile, an outdoor classroom enables visitors to learn more about water processes through classroom experiments that include building mini rain-gardens through to discovering the principles of osmosis.


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