19 Breathtaking Cliffs to See in Your Lifetime

There’s nothing more epic than standing high above the ocean on a cliff. Here are 19 places to experience that feeling around the world.

South Point on the Big Island is the most southern point in the United States. The cliffs were ancient mooring places for canoes belonging to the first settlers on the Big Island. Fishermen still use this place to cast their lines, and adventurous locals dive into the turbulent but clear waters below (not recommended for tourists who are not aware of ocean currents, as the undertow is usually quite strong and has swept many lives away in the turquoise clear waters). Several miles up the beach (toward the Hilo side of the Island) is the Green Sand Beach colored by olivine that formed as part of the volcanic eruptions long ago. It is worth hiking to (or paying for a local to drive you in their 4x4). Green Sand Beach is one of only four green beaches in the world.
1298 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
Swami’s Beach, off hwy 101 in Encinitas, has some of the best surfing in the nation, especially during the winter months. Due to the competition for the waves, mostly expert surfers and locals are found in these waters. In this photo- Swami’s beach is actually the furthest point on the beach. So called “Swami’s” because of the Self Realization Fellowship Center located on the cliffs above. Even if you don’t surf, this part of the CA coastline is gorgeous. After enjoying the beach, you can head down the road to have lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants that line hwy 101.
Lighthouse Rd, Port Antonio, Jamaica
There’s a reason Blue Cave Castle (affectionately dubbed “BCC” by return visitors) has a following. Designed in the shape of a castle, it’s impossible to miss this dominating blue structure on Negril’s cliff side. Tower rooms offer dramatic views 50 feet above the sea, and yet surprisingly, rates start at $50 night and go up to only $120 for a stunning 2-floor “penthouse” suite on the top floor. Blue Cave is one of the West End’s best-kept secrets. Going to sleep in a castle to the immediate sound of crashing waves is a unique experience. Even if you don’t get to stay here, be sure to stop by the on-site Hideaway Eatery, owned and run by Chef Teddy, for a delicious lobster dinner.
Horn Head, Largatreany, Co. Donegal, Ireland
This short 13km drive is worth taking for the panoramic views of the northwest coast, stretching from the Rosguill Peninsula to the Bloody Foreland, and out to Tory Island to the north. There’s plenty of seabird life on the cliff ledges, with puffins, storm petrels, gulls and guillemots. When you get to the tip of Horn Head, walk to the viewpoint at Faugher, for views of the cliffs and the ruins of a signal tower from the 17th century.
Unnamed Road
If you’re looking to go real remote, Folegrandos is the island to do it. Although this island isn’t fully developed for the tourism industry, the slow lifestyle is ultimately part of its charm. Here you’ll find wild coastline interspersed with tiny white homes clustered cliff-side, terraced fields for farming, and endless white beaches. Come here if you need some downtime, especially if you’re looking to meet some friendly locals.
On the north coast of Donegal, take a drive on part of the Wild Atlantic Way around the Fanad Peninsula and Rosguill Peninsula for some spectacular coastal scenery. There’s a mix of golden beaches, rolling farmland, and dramatic rocky headlands before you reach Fanad Head itself, where the Atlantic waves often bash the rocks of the photogenic Fanad Lighthouse, built in 1817. On the adjoining Rosguill Peninsula, an exhilarating seven-mile route called the Atlantic Drive has more spectacular views of cliffs, headlands, and white sandy bays around every hairpin bend. Stop along the way to take in the views over Tranarossan Bay, one of the drive’s highlights.
1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz, New York
A historic New York state resort, Mohonk Mountain House first opened in 1869 in the Hudson Valley, about 90 miles from New York City. This Victorian castle has welcomed five U.S. presidents (including Bill Clinton) in addition to countless artists, authors, and actors. Surrounded by thousands of acres of nature, the resort is perched on a cliff overlooking Mohonk Lake. Guests travel specifically for the dramatic, vibrant fall foliage and expertly manicured gardens. Rates are all-inclusive and comprehensive—all meals and activities are included for a single nightly rate. Yoga classes, boating, tennis, horseback riding, and rock climbing are all popular activities. During the winter, ice skating and cross-country skiing lure guests into the great outdoors. Rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and a huge spa with heated indoor and outdoor pool create a peaceful retreat.
1610 Fylkesveg 491
One of Norway’s most iconic images is of a traveler dangling his legs over a cliff, a glistening fjord below his boots. Preikestolen, known in English as Pulpit Rock, is that cliff, and it can be reached only by a two-hour hike from the nearest car park. That doesn’t stop thousands of people from undertaking the journey from April to October, however. If you decide to join them, bring sturdy shoes, plenty of snacks and water, and warm clothing no matter what the weather. For a less strenuous day, take a ferry from Lysefjord to Stavanger—you’ll get to see the cliff from below and taste the water from the Hengjande waterfall.
Chapmans Peak Drive, Cape Town
Cape Town already feels like it’s at the tip of the world, but the sensation is magnified at Tintswalo Atlantic, where guests get cozy in suites just a few feet from the ocean. Park in the lot just off famed Chapman’s Peak Drive and take the hotel van, which winds its way down a steep road and drops guests at a collection of semi-detached units. Each is themed after a different island—Zanzibar, Antigua, Sicily, and, oddly enough, Robben (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned). The details are thoughtful, however, from the elaborate, wood-carved headboards to the seashell-encrusted bathroom walls and idyllic paintings. It’s hard to find a setting more romantic and remote. In the unlikely event that you want to venture out, there’s a shuttle that whisks guests to Cape Town, just over 30 minutes away.
1090 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA
San Francisco’s seven hills and extensive coastline offer plenty of impressive views; why not enjoy them with a delicious meal or bubbly drink? The Burger Bar on the top floor of Macy’s and the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus overlook Union Square. Bay-side eateries like Epic Roasthouse offer travelers water views, while the Cliff House (shown) and the Beach Chalet are right on top of Ocean Beach. To see the city glittering at night, visit the Top of the Mark bar at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel or the Americano at the Hotel Vitale, in full view of the Bay Bridge’s Bay Lights.
Surprisingly enough, you can round the point at Point Dume and discover your own hidden nooks to spend the day. With cliffs at your back and a private beach with decent size waves in front of you, it’s not a bad place for a picnic.
Jungmun-dong, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is perhaps the most well-known example of seaside columnar basalt cliffs...and here on this green volcanic island on the other side of the world is a less well-known locale where you can find this geologic phenomenon. (Hint: it’s subtropical and regionally famous for its tangerines and diving women.) Early European maps referred to this as “Quelpart” island. Dutch sailor Hendrick Hamel was shipwrecked here in the 1600’s and wrote one of the first European accounts of this place, which served, for a time, as a penal colony for what came to be called “The Hermit Kingdom.” Have you guessed where “Quelpart” is yet? These are the Jusangjeolli cliffs, (pronounce approximately like joo-sahng-jolly), a dramatic 2-km-long stretch of the southern coastline of Jeju-do ("-do” means island), off the coast of South Korea, where the Yellow Sea becomes the East China Sea. Last year, the New7Wonders Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland named this island one of the ‘new 7 wonders of nature,’ along with places such as Iguazú Falls and Halong Bay... Development is happening quickly, but Jeju island is still a bit off the beaten path for most Westerners in Asia--if you’re willing to rough it a bit, rub shoulders with Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian tourists, and try some so-fresh-it’s-scary seafood, you’ll enjoy your island-time here. For more info: http://nature.new7wonders.com/ http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=256109#7
47900 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
For more than 30 years, the Post Ranch Inn, which sits along a cliff 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, has been a go-to retreat for devotees who believe well-being starts with a place that honors its natural environment—and treads lightly on it, too. Big Sur architect Mickey Muennig designed the 40 guest rooms that rely on solar power; all were fashioned out of recycled wood, and the structures blend in with the Santa Lucia Mountains. Views through enormous windows face either the Pacific Ocean or the mountains. Wellness plays a role in every experience on offer, whether it’s a reflexology treatment, a shaman healing session, a doctor-led sleep program, or a private guided hike or meditation session in the nearby ancient forests.
8 Route des Sanguinaires, 20000 Ajaccio, France
Young and poor, but frequent-flier-mile rich, my wife and I were able to go to Corsica for our first anniversary...Staying with friends always helps...They lived in Ajaccio, (birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte), and at sunset one evening, they took us for a drive a couple of miles to the west of the city. Dotting the island’s coast are the distinctive Genoese towers, fortifications built during the 16th century, and here is the view from one of them, from La Tour de la Parata, perched on cliffs at what feels like the end of the world...Ahh, to be newly married and in the Mediterranean...
A national park off the east coast of Tasmania, Maria Island offers an unparalleled combination of wildlife, scenery, and history. The Maria Island Walk is the only outfitter that leads trips across the island and offers tent cabins and gourmet food and wine along the way. A private boat ferries guests from Triabunna to Cape des Tombeaux, known for aboriginal burial sites discovered by early European explorers. The landscape changes from Dr. Seuss–like rolling hills to the orange-and-white-striped Painted Cliffs (pictured) to the rugged peaks of Mount Maria, Bishop, and Clerk. By sunset, the island crawls with such animals as forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, wombats, and spotted Cape Barren geese. There’s also a new, albeit elusive, population of Tasmanian devils, free from the facial tumor disease that’s plaguing the species on mainland Tasmania. Beyond hiking, Maria’s car-free trails are great for mountain biking; ride through the UNESCO township of Darlington—which features a penitentiary that’s been converted into a hostel—up to Fossil Cliffs and the surrounding coastline that’s as wild and green as Scotland. The last night of the Maria Island Walk comes as a reward. Guests stay at the colonial Bernacchi House, outfitted with Victorian furniture and wood-burning stoves, and enjoy a comforting dinner of panko-encrusted salmon paired with local wines like Milton Point pinot gris. Inside, you feel warm and cushioned, but the wonders of Maria call from every window.
Carretera Federal, Cancun - Chetumal Km 230, 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
While not as large as other ancient Mayan cities in the region, Tulum draws in visitors for its stunning setting of centuries-old temples perched on a cliff by the Caribbean Sea. You’ll pass a large market with souvenirs, a casual Mexican restaurant, and even a Starbucks before reaching the entrance, where a train can take you to the site if you’re not up for the 10-minute walk. It’s advisable to hire a guide to fully understand each structure’s significance and the history behind the ruins; informative signage is all but nonexistent. Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, as the site encompasses a white-sand beach with soothing waves and beautiful rock formations that’s reached by a long wooden staircase.
Hilo, HI, HI, USA
Living in Honolulu, nothing feels better than to leave the City for a few days; even if it means heading to the North Shore of Oahu or another island for a short reprieve. On this particular occasion, I booked a ticket to the Big Island of Hawaii; my first time off work in five months. After the rush to the airport, my delayed flight casually took off for the short island hop. On our decent down the coastline of the Big Island, into Hilo, I realized the flight wasn’t delayed—but perfectly timed with the sinking sun. I had a brilliant glimpse of what the windward side of the Island has to offer: GREEN. The sun rays shone through the clouds on a patch of tropical farmland that could have been Ireland with its super-saturated landscape and cliffs into the ocean. I spent the last of my three-day mini vacation driving through this lush landscape. It is green for a reason, and I was rained on nearly my entire drive down this side of the island and back to the Hilo airport.
San Diego, CA, USA
Just a short drive north from downtown San Diego, the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers an idea of what Southern California looked like before its coastlines were developed. Experience the area by taking a short walk from the parking lot to the bluffs overlooking the ocean, or hike a longer loop around the entire reserve. You can enjoy great views of La Jolla from here—sometimes you can even spot hang gliders or pods of dolphins swimming along the coastline. If you’re lucky, you might even see the peregrine falcons that keep a nest in the cliffs. Note: If you’re hanging out at the base of the cliffs by the ocean, heed the KEEP AWAY FROM CLIFF signs. They’re made of sandstone and do crumble.
Lislorkan North, Co. Clare, Ireland
Fancy yourself a brave one, do ye? Aye, aye, then the Cliffs of Moher are right up your alley. Ireland‘s most popular tourist destination does not disappoint, though visiting during the middle of the day means you’re going to have to share the walking paths with plenty of other folk - most of them American visitors in their finest Notre Dame Fighting Irish t-shirts. Come early in the morning or late in the afternoon and you’ll have the cliffs, beautiful light, and ancient rock monsters all to yourself. That’s right; rock monsters. That’s one giving tourists the finger right there in the ocean.
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