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You probably already know the highest mountain above sea level (Mount Everest) and the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai). But how much do you know about the runners-up for these distinctions? If you’re looking to increase your knowledge of all things second-best, here are 18 of the second-largest landmarks and landforms around the world.
Second-Tallest Mountain: K2 (China/Pakistan)
The second-highest mountain on Earth, K2, is located in the Karakorum range, on the border of China and Pakistan. At 28,251 feet above sea level, the peak is 781 feet shorter than Mount Everest. Despite its second-place status, K2 is considered far more challenging to climb. In addition to a more technical ascent that requires hiking on a glacier, the weather on K2 is known to be more unpredictable than on Everest. As a result, K2 is often a more coveted summit among professional mountaineers.
Second-Tallest Building: Shanghai Tower (China)
Although it's 643 feet shorter than the Burj Khalifa, China’s Shanghai Tower still soars above most buildings in the world. Standing at 2,073 feet high, this incredible feat of modern engineering contains 128 floors. It’s the second-tallest building in the world, but it boasts the highest observation deck on the planet at 1,843 feet high. Upon its completion in 2015, it was awarded LEED Platinum certification, which is the highest green rating available for sustainable architecture.
Second-Longest River: Amazon (South America)
At 4,000 miles in length — roughly the distance between New York City and Rome — the Amazon River is considered to be the second-longest river in the world after the Nile. However, the Amazon’s second-place status is often disputed since scientists have traced the river’s source to snowmelt from a peak in southern Peru. The massive body of water crosses nearly the entirety of South America, starting in the high Andes of Peru and flowing through Ecuador, Guyana, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil before ending at the Atlantic Ocean. With more than 1,110 tributaries and a drainage area of 2,270,000 square miles, the Amazon is often considered the largest (if not the longest) river in the world.
Second-Largest Lake: Lake Superior (United States/Canada)
Lake Superior holds two significant titles: the second-largest lake in the world (behind only the Caspian Sea) and the largest freshwater lake in the world. At 160 miles wide and 350 miles long, this Great Lake has a surface area of 31,700 square miles. Formed over one billion years ago during the North American Midcontinent Rift, Lake Superior is renowned for its magnificent shorelines, dozens of orchid species, and thousands of migrating birds. During the winter, the lake is famous for its big waves, which are popular among expert surfers who aren’t afraid of the cold water.
Second-Longest Road: Highway 1 (Australia)
Nicknamed the “Big Lap” for its circuitous route around Australia, Highway 1 is the second-longest road in the world, after the Pan-American Highway, which extends from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina. At 9,009 miles in length, Highway 1 broadly links seven out of Australia’s eight capital cities. Adventurous road trippers are drawn to this roadway since it delivers everything Australia has to offer: small coastal towns, lush rainforests, white-sand beaches, and the notorious outback. This type of road trip requires a lot of preparation and supplies, including a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the highway’s most remote sections.
Second-Tallest Tree: Menara (Malaysia)
Deep in the Malaysian rainforest lies Menara, the second-tallest tree in the world. At a height of 331 feet, this yellow meranti tree is 49 feet shorter than Hyperion, the renowned Californian redwood believed to be the tallest tree in the world. However, Menara does own the distinction of being the tallest tropical tree in the world. “Menara” is derived from the Malay word for “tower,” which is appropriate since its staggering height is equivalent to five bowling lanes stacked on top of one another!
Second-Deepest Canyon: Cotahuasi Canyon (Peru)
At approximately 11,595 feet deep at its lowest point, Peru’s Cotahuasi Canyon is nearly twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona. Although it is quite a bit shallower than Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon (which reaches depths of up to 17,000 feet into the Earth), Cotahuasi Canyon is impressive in its own right. Most visitors flock to the town of Arequipa to witness the incredible depths of Cotahuasi. The area is also known for the Andean condor, a bird with a wingspan of 10 feet that can often be spied flying over the canyon.
Second-Tallest Statue: Spring Temple Buddha (China)
For 10 years, China’s Spring Temple Buddha had the honor of being the tallest statue in the world. But in 2018, when India finished the 597-foot Statue of Unity, the Spring Temple Buddha was demoted to second place. Although it’s no longer the tallest in the world, the 502-foot-tall Buddha is still undeniably colossal. Made of copper, gold, and steel, the giant statue cost roughly $18 million to construct. For an extra fee, visitors can climb hundreds of steps to touch the Buddha’s massive toes for good luck.
Second-Largest Rainforest: The Congo (Africa)
Home to gorillas, buffalo, and elephants, the Congo in Africa is the second-largest rainforest in the world, behind the Amazon in South America. The Congo Basin is so large, in fact, that it contains 10,000 species of tropical plants, 400 species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds, and 700 species of fish. The ecosystem of rivers, forests, swamps, and grasslands has also been inhabited by humans for more than 50,000 years. Spanning across the countries of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo, the rainforest is currently home to 150 ethnic groups, including the Baka people, who have lived as hunter-gatherers in the region for thousands of years.
Second-Largest House: The Biltmore (United States)
Excluding palaces from the category of private residences, the Biltmore earns the title of the largest house in the U.S. and the second-largest house in the world. (At an astonishing 400,000 square feet, Antilia in India is the largest.) Although it’s considered a private residence, the Biltmore is more akin to a castle than a house. At 175,000 square feet, it contains 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Commissioned by George Vanderbilt as a country retreat, the Biltmore took six years to construct; Vanderbilt finally opened his not-so-humble abode to family and friends on Christmas Eve, 1895.
Second-Largest Botanical Garden: Berlin Botanical Garden (Germany)
Second to the Royal Botanic Gardens in England, the Berlin Botanical Garden began as a kitchen garden in 1679. Over time, it evolved into the second-largest botanical garden in the world, with 20,000 flowering plants on site. Comprising 106 acres of land, the garden is divided into three distinct sections: the arboretum, plants from geographical destinations, and systematic botany. The grounds also feature a 100-year-old greenhouse filled with tropical plants and a botanical museum.
Second-Largest Ocean: Atlantic Ocean
Named for the Greek god Atlas, the Atlantic Ocean is certainly massive in its own right. At 41 million square miles, it covers roughly 20% of the Earth’s surface. Despite its enormity, however, the Atlantic Ocean is significantly smaller than the Pacific Ocean, which covers 63 million square miles. As the second-largest ocean basin in the world, the Atlantic plays an important role in the Earth’s ecology. Most notably, the global ocean conveyor belt, which regulates our planet’s climate, begins in the North Atlantic before encircling the globe.
Second-Longest Suspension Bridge: Yangsigang Yangtze River Bridge (China)
In 2019, the Yangsigang Yangtze River Bridge was completed in Wuhan, China, making it the second-longest suspension bridge in the world. Spanning 5,577 feet, the double-decker bridge took five years to construct and was built to expedite traffic across the river. Although it isn’t as long as the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan, the 12-lane suspension bridge has the largest capacity in the world. In addition to its vehicle lanes, the bridge offers a wide footpath for visitors to enjoy the river’s scenery and the cityscape.
Second-Largest Island: New Guinea (Southwest Pacific)
Excluding the continental landmass of Australia, New Guinea is the second-largest island in the world, after Greenland. At 317,150 square miles, this large island is also one of the least densely populated places on the planet. The island itself is divided into two nations, with the western half being a province of Indonesia and the eastern half comprising a large part of the nation of Papua New Guinea. The island is also home to the third-largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon and the Congo.
Second-Largest Dome: Gol Gumbaz (India)
The largest dome in India happens to be the second-largest architectural dome in the world, behind Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. With a diameter of 124 feet to Saint Peter’s 136 feet, Gol Gumbaz is an impressive piece of architecture that is supported by interlocking arches. Construction for Gol Gumbaz, which was built as a mausoleum for Sultan Mohammed Adil Shah, began in 1627, not long after the sultan came into power. When he died 29 years later, construction was still underway. In addition to the massive dome, the mausoleum’s most impressive feature is the whispering gallery, an echo chamber that amplifies and repeats sounds.
Second-Largest Grassland: The Great Plains (North America)
Grasslands, also known as prairies, savannas, or pampas, are defined as naturally occurring areas with continuous coverage of grass. While the largest grassland in the world is the Changtang Grassland in Nagqu, Tibet, the second-largest grassland is located in North America. Covering an impressive 1,125,000 square miles, the Great Plains stretch across 10 states and four Canadian provinces. These vast grasslands take up roughly one-third of the U.S. and are bordered by the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Canadian Shield to the east, the Mackenzie River to the north, and the Rio Grande to the south.
Second-Largest Desert: Arabian Desert (Middle East)
Discounting polar deserts, the Arabian Desert is the second-largest desert in the world, behind the Sahara in North Africa. The non-polar desert covers almost the entirety of the Arabian Peninsula and extends into seven countries, including Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. At 900,000 square miles, the Arabian Desert contains the largest continuous area of sand in the world, called Rub'al-Khali, which translates to “Empty Quarter.” This particular area is dry, barren, and beautiful — fascinating to archaeologists, geologists, and travelers looking for adventure.
Second-Largest Church: Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida (Brazil)
Second only to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida is the second-largest church in the world. According to legend, the gigantic church was built at the site of a sacred shrine. In 1717, three Brazilian fishermen found a broken statue of the Virgin Mary in their nets, with the head separated from the body. After building a shrine for the miraculous statue, they named it “Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida,” which translates to “Our Lady of the Appeared Conception.” Eventually, a massive church with a floor plan of 129,167 square feet was built onsite and named for Lady Aparecida.