8 of the World's Best Climbing Walls

Person climbing up a rock wall with a huge stained glass window in the background

 Manchester City Climbing Centre

Climbing draws thrill seekers and people who put a premium on personal achievement instead of competition with others. Climbers might take up a small portion of the adventure sports world, but there is enough interest in this niche to support the creation of tall artificial walls and expansive indoor climbing gyms.

Purists might tell you that real climbing takes place only on natural rocks. But artificial walls have made this sport more accessible to people who would not otherwise be able to climb at all. These human-made structures also offer a more-controlled environment in which to learn the skills necessary to attempt natural rock formations. And some of the highest of these faux mountains are as exciting to look at as they are to climb.

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Excalibur, Netherlands

Bjoeks Climbing Center.

This is probably the most visually stunning climbing structure on our list. Stretching more than 120 feet into the Dutch sky, the vaguely S-shaped Excalibur tower has sections that are past vertical (meaning that climbers have to negotiate overhangs that have angles of more than 90 degrees). The centerpiece of the Bjoeks Climbing Center in Groningen, this outdoor wall is certainly a challenge for serious climbers. However, the towering structure has routes on both sides, so gentler climbs can be found on the face that is directly opposite the severe overhangs. There are smaller climbing walls at the Bjoeks facility, so novices can cut their teeth before attempting the 120-foot giant.

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Basecamp Outdoor Wall, Reno, Nev.

Basecamp Outdoor Wall.

The tallest artificial climbing wall in the U.S., Reno's BaseCamp outdoor wall routes are over 160 feet long. There are shorter routes as well, but the headlining two-pitch ascent starts out from a deck on the side of the building and rises to the roof, which, when measured from street level, is 200 feet tall. Two routes lead to the roof, with two platforms for belaying after the first pitch. Children's walls and bouldering facilities are located at BaseCamp, making it one of the premier artificial wall climbing destinations in the West.

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Diga di Luzzone, Switzerland

Plattens/Wikimedia Commons.

Though it is not a purpose-built wall, Diga di Luzzone stands as the Everest of wall climbing. The route from the base to the top of this dam in the Alps stretches for more than 500 vertical feet. Exposed to the elements and climbing higher above the ground than on any other human-made route, people who tackle Luzzone have to negotiate five pitches, each one more challenging than the last. Though climbers won't have much time to enjoy the view, it is undeniably scenic here, with the dam surrounded by Switzerland's trademark mountain landscapes. Unlike many of the other walls on this list, Luzzone does not have nearby options for novice climbers. For those seeking the ultimate non-natural climbing challenge, however, there is no other wall that comes close to this one.

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Cooling Tower at Wonderland Kalkar, Germany

Koetjuh/Wikimedia Commons.

Originally built as a nuclear power plant (but never put online), this site in the far west of Germany has now been repurposed as an amusement park. The old cooling tower has the distinct shape that characterizes nuclear facilities around the world, with one noticeable difference: a large mural of a mountain landscape painted on the side. Look closer and you will see that the tower is also decorated with climbing routes. Standing about 130 feet high, this wall might not be one of the most challenging human-made climbs in Europe, but it certainly is one of the tallest. Get to the summit of the tower and you will come face to face with a large aerial swing ride. Wunderland is probably the best option in Europe if you want to find some after-climb fun. The surrounding park has bars, clubs and restaurants in addition to its climbing wall and rides.

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Historic Banning Mills, Georgia

Historic Banning Mills/Facebook.

According to the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records, the wooden climbing tower at Historic Banning Mills in rural North Georgia is the tallest free-standing climbing wall in the world at over 140 feet (Reno BaseCamp is taller, but was constructed on the side of an already-standing building). A number of overhangs, traverses and other features mean that this tower can challenge even the most skilled climbers. Banning claims to have a route classed as 5.12, one of the most difficult grades in the climbing world. The tower is certainly a headline-stealer, but this adventure destination has other attractions as well. Banning has one of the world's longest zip-line tours. Kayaking, an aerial challenge park, horseback riding and even falconry experiences are also part of the offerings.

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Edinburgh International Climbing Arena

Les Ailes du Desir/Wikimedia Commons.

This massive complex in the Scottish city of Edinburgh is the largest climbing gym in Europe in terms of overall area. The arena features climbing routes for people of all ability levels. There is even a separate bouldering room with challenging problems for even the most advanced bouldering fanatics. The arena's tower route stands "only" 95 feet tall (that is still a forearm-burning undertaking for even the most in-shape climber), but the sheer number of routes and features inside this facility makes it an obvious choice for our list. Both the British Climbing Championships and the World Youth Climbing Championships have been held here, so Europe's and the world's best have scaled the Arena's walls. If you have no-climbing members in your party or if you want to relax after a morning of climbing, the on-site spa, large children's play area, cafe and ceramics studio provide plenty of opportunity for non-climbing fun.

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Ice Factor Ice Wall, Scotland

Ice Factor/Facebook.

Another Scottish entry on our list is located in the Highlands town of Kinlochleven. This venue has a 50-foot indoor ice wall made of over 500 tons of snow and ice. The structure has several route possibilities, from severe overhangs to gentler slopes for novices who are just learning to use crampons and picks. The ice is made by following the natural freeze-thaw cycle that takes place when such ice walls are formed outdoors, so the conditions are as close to natural as possible. Instructors are on hand to help new climbers become familiar with equipment and techniques of this climbing niche.

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Manchester City Climbing Centre, England

Manchester City Climbing Centre.

One of the criticisms of indoor climbing gyms is that they lack that same kind of scenery that climbers get to enjoy when they reach the top of outdoor routes. That criticism does not really apply to this indoor gym in the English metropolis of Manchester. Built inside a 19th-century cathedral complete with stained glass windows and domed ceilings, there is plenty of atmosphere here to accompany your vertical endeavors. With the highest route stretching to just over 60 feet, Manchester does not challenge many of the other walls on our list in terms of height, but the location is most certainly unique and there are no fewer than 75 climbing lines to choose from, so the variety here is impressive.