The London Eye
The London Eye is one of the most famous attractions in London, where you can see views of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and other Westminster buildings unfold along the River Thames. It has 32 capsules that run non-stop when the attraction is open, and each of them can carry up to 25 passengers at once. The entry is a bit pricey, so make sure you book in advance to benefit from the online discounts and skip the queues.
The tallest building in London, at 306m, the Shard has everything – from offices and restaurants, to apartments and hotel rooms. Of course, it also has a viewing platform (that’s for those of us who 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 take their fast elevator to three observation points on floors 68, 69, and 72. The last one is outside so get a jacket, especially on cold days – I visited the Shard on a Friday evening in late November, and it was freezing up there! Also, remember to book in advance to ensure entry.
Don’t forget to book in advance for free entry (yes, you read it correctly – free entry) to the Sky Garden, located inside the infamous Walkie Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street. Tickets go on sale up to three weeks in advance, but be quick as they sell out super fast, especially during peak periods (on weekends, around Christmas, and in summer). Upon entry, you are given one hour to grasp as much as you can from there. The highlights of your visit will not only be the view of London but also the indoor garden. There is a lovely cafe, two bars, two restaurants, and a brasserie. Booking in advance is advised.
The O2 Arena
The O2 Arena is a venue in Greenwich, where most of the biggest concerts happen. The ‘Up at The O2’ experience gives you a chance to “walk above the stars”. How does this happen? You are given a harness, a pair of climbing shoes, and climbing clothes; then, you put all your belongings (except your phone and compact camera) in a locker and start “urban mountaineering” to the top of the O2; at the same time big stars may be performing under your feet. If you haven’t quite got it so far, you don’t get an elevator or stairs – you walk straight up the side! The whole experience is approximately 90 minutes, including a safety induction, a 20-25 minute climb, 15 minutes at the top, and a 20 minute descent. There are also sunset and twilight climbs but they cost a bit extra.
Situated in Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, next to Westfield Stratford City shopping centre (a bit further from central London – took me 50 minutes to get there from my South Kensington base), the ArcelorMittal Orbit is really worth a try. The best part of it is the Slide! How does it work? Once you arrive, you put all your stuff in lockers and take the lift to floor one, where you can descend the “world’s largest tunnel slide”. Then, you take all your belongings, go back to the lift, and this time get off on floor two with the main observation deck, offering the views of London and the nearby area. When you’re done, take either 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’s next to the Emirates Aviation Experience (you can get combo tickets) and the O2 Arena. There are different types of tickets available, and you can get discounted rates with your Oyster card. Also, if you purchase a return ticket, you won’t have to get off on the other side. During the ride, you can get excellent views of the River Thames and Canary Wharf. You can also spot the Shard and even the London Eye, just wait for the right moment!
Tower Bridge is one of the most recognised landmarks of London, but check its lifting times before going. You can get to the top of the towers (take either the stairs or the lift) and marvel at the River Thames. There are two walkways connecting the towers, 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 in the middle! Informative videos are played in the hall before entering each walkway. At the end of your visit, don’t forget to pop into the Engine Rooms, situated two minutes away from the ticket office.
You can get a value-for-money combo ticket for both Tower Bridge and the Monument to the Great Fire of London for more of the magnificent city views. At the Monument, ascend the 311 steps to arrive at a viewing platform, which, despite being small, offers fantastic views of the nearby area, including the Tower Bridge and, of course, the Shard! However, if you want to get a ticket from the ticket office, remember that only cash is accepted.
A few other famous tall buildings in London include the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), the Heron Tower, the Tate Modern, and St Paul’s Cathedral (paid entrance allows you to climb 528 steps to the dome). Another good spot, though maybe not as popular as the others, is the highest point in Greenwich Park, just before entering the Royal Observatory on the hill, where you can look back and admire the view. You can see a panoramic view of the National Maritime Museum and the whole of Canary Wharf behind it. And last but not least, Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park also offer amazing views of London.
Check the weather forecast since you want a (partly) sunny day. I know this is not ideal if you want to plan the trip early, but if you leave it to the last minute (two to three days before), you’ll get a better indication of when to go. That’s what I did for ‘Up at The O2’, ArcelorMittal Orbit, and the Emirates Air Line. However, this is not a good practice if you are short on time or it’s the high season and you want to go to the Sky Garden. On the other hand, cloudy views of London are a more authentic representation of the city.
Ed: For more travel stories and tips, visit Elina’s blog at empnefsysandtravel.com/.