Image: Peter Morgan
Probably nothing inspires quite like the view from the top a cliff because the often long and steep hike is forgotten as soon as we glimpse the world from atop where we rest, birdlike, drinking in the scenery and ready to spread our wings. Join us on a tour of some of the most incredible cliffs around the world.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, a cliff is “a very steep, vertical, or overhanging face of rock, earth, or ice.” The term comes from the Middle English word “clif”, which is derived from the Old High German “klep” and the Old Norse “klif”. The latter is interesting because to this day, some of the most spectacular cliffs have names inspired by Norse mythology.
The Cliffs of Moher, on the Atlantic coast of County Clare in Ireland, looking north from Hag’s Head towards O’Brien’s tower:
Though there are many more breathtaking cliffs worldwide, we have tried to zero in on either the ones with the most beautiful views or that have some other highest, tallest or steepest attribute.
Cliffs in Europe
Along the coast of England can be found a range of stunning white cliffs that owe their striking white colour to a composition of chalk, interrupted only by streaks of black flint. The chalk consists of the remains of shells from millions of microscopic creatures which lived on the seabed over 70 million years ago. So the next time you walk or cycle one of the cliffs’ paths, you are truly treading on fossils!
1. The White Cliffs of Dover stretch east and west from the town of Dover in the British county of Kent. The up to 106-m-high cliff face can be clearly seen across the English Channel from France.
Close-up of the cliffs from the walk along the ridge:
Image: Michael Rowe
2. Beachy Head is the name of chalk cliffs on the south coast of England, close to the town of Eastbourne in the county of East Sussex, immediately east of the Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs close to the English Channel.
Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 m (530 ft) above sea level.
Image: Sue Wallace
3. The Cliffs of Moher near Doolin in County Clare, Ireland, rise 120 metres (394 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, their lowest point, and 214 metres (702 ft) north of O’Brien’s Tower, their highest point. The scenic beauty makes the cliffs a popular tourist destination in Ireland that draws about one million visitors each year.
Looking north from the Cliffs of Moher:
4. The mountain with the highest cliffs in Ireland is Croaghaun in County Mayo. At 664 m (2,178 ft), they are also the third-highest cliffs in Europe. The Croaghaun Cliffs loop around the uninhibited northwest of Achill Island and are accessible only by climbing to the top of the mountain. Hikers are then rewarded with breathtaking views of a vast array of sheer rock faces.
Croaghaun is Europe’s third-highest cliff:
5. The southern part of the Madeira Islands, belonging to Portugal, are home of Cabo Girão, a 589-m-high and 1 km long sea cliff that is a popular lookout point:
Image: Gerard Janot
The mild climate even allows for vineyards at the foot of the cliff:
6. Prekestolen or Preikestolen is a massive cliff 604 metres (1982 feet) above Lysefjorden, opposite the Kjerag plateau in Forsand, Norway, about one hour away from the town of Stavanger. The closest hike to the top of the cliff is 3.8 km (2.4 miles) long and rewards climbers with a 25 x 25 metres (82 x 82 ft) square and almost flat plateau perfect for resting one’s tired limbs and enjoying the spectacular view. This famous tourist attraction is also called Pulpit Rock or Preacher’s Pulpit and attracts almost 100,000 visitors in the summer!
Preikestolen offers breathtaking views:
Preikestolen’s plateau is perfect for resting tired limbs:
7. Directly opposite Preikestolen is another breathtaking cliff, Kjerag or Kiragg. Its highest point is 1,110 m above sea level and its northern drop is 984 m (3,228 ft). It is popular with many hikers who prefer Kjerag to the more crowded Preikestolen and with BASE jumpers who dive off the cliffs.
Lysefjorden as seen from Kjerag:
Image: Ove Hetland
Another popular pastime is jumping on the Kjeragbolten, a 5 cubic metre big boulder wedged into a crevasse of the Kjerag mountain. Though the ones who dare can climb onto the boulder without any equipment, there is a direct 1,000 m drop below down into the Lyjse Fjord.
Would you dare to go there?
Image: Ivarne Bruker
8. As we have seen, Norway is a whole treasure trove of cliffs and Ramnjefellet in Styn, Nesdalen, is no exception. This mountain even has the famous Ramnjefellsfossen waterfall at its summit. Its total drop is 818 m (2,685 feet) over five free-leaping cascades.
Ramnjefellsfossen is the 11th-highest waterfall in the world:
Image: Sindre Jacobsen
9. Troll Wall or Trollveggen in the Romsdal Valley on the Norwegian west coast is, at 1,100 metres from base to summit, the tallest vertical rock face in Europe. The wall can be climbed via one of 14 official routes but is recommended for advanced climbers only. Troll Wall used to be popular with BASE jumpers, especially in the eighties, but the sport was banned in 1986 after a series of casualties with difficult rescue operations. This suits the trolls, who are said to inhabit the mountain massif, just fine…
Troll Wall is Europe’s tallest vertical rock face:
Image: Mountain Master
Cliffs of North America
10. Norwegian mythology has also influenced Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park, many thousand miles away on the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. Asgard is said to be the realm of the gods in Norse mythology and looking at this twin peaked mountain with its two flat-topped cylindrical rock towers separated by a saddle, one could call it a fitting abode for the gods.
Mount Asgard’s 1,200 m (3,900 ft) tall twin peaks featured in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me when a stuntman performed a BASE jump off the top:
Image: Ansgar Walk
11. Auyuittuq National Park is also home of Mount Thor or Thor Peak. It is popular with climbers because at 1,250 m (4,101 ft), it is the world’s greatest purely vertical drop, with an average angle of 105 degrees. Just like Mount Asgard, Mount Thor gets its name from Norse mythology and Thor, the god of thunder, specifically. Did you know that Thor even influenced our Thursday, which used to be called Thor’s Day?
Mount Thor is the greatest vertical drop on earth:
Image: Peter Morgan
12. Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park in California. Its granite crest stands more than 1,444 m (4,737 ft) tall above the valley. Called “perfectly inaccessible” at the end of the 19th century, the cliff today is ascended by thousands of climbers each year, via a 13.7 km (8.5 mi) trail, aided by steel cables over the final metres.
The aptly named Half Dome in Yosemite National Park:
Image: Jon Sullivan
View from the edge of Half Dome:
Image: Direct Cutter
13. The Kalaupapa Cliffs in Hawaii are the highest sea cliffs in the world, dropping about 1,010 m (3,315 ft) into the Pacific Ocean. The Kalaupapa peninsula was created during the eruption of the underwater Kauhako Volcano, and the small village of Kalaupapa is nestled right at the base of the cliffs.
The lush green cliffs of Kalaupapa as seen from a plane in 2006, with the village on the left:
Cliffs of South America
14. Next up is Auyantepui or Devil’s Mountain in the Canaima National Park in Bolivar State, Venezuela, where Angel Falls (Santo Angel in Spanish) drops from a cleft near the summit. Angel Falls is the world’s highest waterfall at 979 m (3,212 ft), with the height of the longest drop 807 m (2,647 ft). As a comparison, the Angel Falls are more than 19 times higher than the Niagara Falls.
Angel Falls as seen from Isla Raton:
Cliffs of Asia
15. The Trango Towers, a group of granite spires of the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan, are known for their large cliffs and therefore challenging climbs. Their highest point is the summit of Great Trango Tower, which stands at 6,286 m (20,608 ft).
The Great Trango Tower’s east face is the world’s tallest near-vertical drop: