No visit to London is complete without enjoying views of London from above. The good news is that you don’t always need to spend a fortune. Do you want to learn more? Then, continue reading.
Note: The places below are listed in the order that I visited them (oldest first).
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link marked with [AD] and proceed to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The London Eye
One of the most famous attractions in London. From there you can see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the other Westminster buildings unfold along the River Thames. It has 32 capsules that run non-stop while the attraction is open and each can carry up to 25 passengers at once. The entry is a bit pricey, so make sure you book your entry time in advance to skip the queues and also benefit from the online discounted prices.
The View from the Shard
The tallest building in London (308 m) has everything from offices, to restaurants to apartments and hotel rooms. Of course, it also has a viewing platform (that’s for the many of us that can’t afford to pay £8,500 for a night in their luxury suite – or at least £450 per night for a simple room). Your ticket allows you to travel with their fast elevator at three observation points, one on floor 68, one on the 69th and the last one on level 72 outside. So, get a jacket especially in cold days. I visited the Shard a Friday evening in late November, and it was freezing up there! Remember to book in advance to ensure entry.
Buy your ticket for The View from The Shard from AttractionTix by following this link [AD].
Don’t forget to book in advance for a FREE entry (yes you read correctly, a FREE entry) to Sky Garden, the building at 20 Fenchurch Street. Tickets are on sale up to 3 weeks in advance, but be quick as they sell out super-fast, especially during peak periods (weekends, around Christmas and in summer). Upon entry, you are given 1 hour to grasp as much as you can from there. The highlight of your visit is not only the view but the inside garden as well. Hence the name. There is a lovely cafe (this is where you get to pay), two bars, two restaurants and a brasserie (need to book in advance and a full wallet).
Up at the O2
Do you know the O2 arena? That’s where all the big concerts happen. Up at the O2 experience gives you the chance to literally “walk above the stars”. How does it happen? Simply, you are given a harness, a pair of climb shoes and climb clothes. Then, you put all your belongings (except your phone and your compact camera) in lockers, and you start an “urban mountaineering” to the top of the O2 while at the same time big stars may be performing underneath your feet. If you haven’t quite get it up to now, you don’t get an elevator or climb the stairs, but you walk! The whole experience is approximately 90 minutes including the safety introduction, a 20-25 climb up, 15 minutes at the top and a 20 minute down! There are also sunset and twilight climbs, but they cost a few pounds more.
A bit further from central London (it took me 50 minutes to get there from my South Kensington base), but you should give it a try. Situated at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, next to the huge Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. The best part of it: the slide! How does it work? Once you arrive, you put all your stuff in lockers (except your tickets) and take the lift to floor 1. From there you can slide the “world’s largest tunnel slide”. Then, you take all your belongings, go back to the lift and this time get off on floor 2. There, is the main observation deck with views of London and the nearby area. When you finish, take either the 455 stairs or the lift to go down! If you have time, go for a walk in the park or allow yourself some time for shopping!
Emirates Air Line
This cable car runs from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. It is next to the Emirates Aviation Experience (you can get combo tickets) and the O2 arena. There are different types of tickets available including discounted rates with Oyster card. If you purchase a Return ticket, then you don’t need to get off at the other side. From the cable car, you can get excellent views of the River Thames and Canary Wharf. You can spot the Shard and even the London Eye, just wait for the right moment!
Get a (value for money) combo ticket for both the Monument and the Tower Bridge for two more magnificent views of London. Ascend the 311 steps of the Monument of the Great Fire and arrive at a small viewing platform. Despite being small, the platform offers fantastic views of the nearby area, including the Tower Bridge and of course the Shard! If you want to get a ticket from the ticket office, remember that only cash is accepted.
The Tower Bridge
One of the most recognised landmarks of London. Get up the bridge (take either the stairs or the lift) and marvel the River Thames. Once you get to the top, there are two pathways one on the east side of the bridge and one on the west. Both of them allow you to see the respective part of the river and also feature a glass floor! Informative videos are played in the hall before entering each pathway. In the end, don’t forget to visit the Engine Rooms, a 2-minute walk from the ticket office.
St Paul’s Cathedral
I haven’t been there yet (inside part), but as it is a famous point of view, I have decided to put it here. If you are in the area, enter the cathedral (paid entrance) and climb the 528 steps to get to the Dome.
Also, on my do to list is a Breakfast/Lunch/Afternoon Tea/Dinner/Whatever at one of the other famous tall buildings in London. Just to name them here:
- The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe)
- The Heron Tower
Maybe not as popular as the others but once you reach the highest point at Greenwich Park, just before entering the Royal Observatory, look back and admire the view. You can see a panoramic view of the National Maritime Museum and behind that is the whole of Canary Wharf. Last but not least, the Parliament Hill at Hampstead Heath and the Primrose Hill at Regent’s Park offer great views of London. At least, that’s what people say!
Small tip: Check the weather forecast for a (partly) sunny day. I know this is not ideal if you want to plan early, but if you leave it last minute (2-3 days before), it’s a good indication of when to go. That’s what I did for Up at the O2, ArcelorMittal Orbit and Emirates Air Line. However, this is not a good practice if you are short on time or it’s high season, and we are talking about Sky Garden. On the other hand, cloudy views of London are a “more authentic” representation of the city.
If you’ve been to any of the above, let me know what you think about them in the comments below. 🙂
Enjoy the view!
P.S. The Shard and the London Eye can be seen from various locations at ground level. For example, from Hyde Park (proof below). For scenic views walk along the South Bank or cross one of its many bridges. I suggest the Millennium Bridge or London Bridge.
You can see The Shard and The London Eye while in Hyde Park, Sony ILCE-5100 [AD]
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