It’s fair to say that London has a sight or two you want to see. The various locations around the City offer the perfect opportunity to experience the bustling streets from a greater height. There are so many locations offering a sightseeing platform, but which one is the best? Depending on whether you are looking for a full-bodied experience or that beautiful riverside skyline of London, you will find many suitable viewpoints. Spanning a few trips to England Capital City, this article looks at the different areas offering a view in order to discover which is better, the views we pay for or the views we can see without paying a penny.
St Paul’s Cathedral – Over an inside view of the whispering gallery and two upper outdoor viewing floors, a ticket to St Paul’s set me back the price of £14. This buys you not only a tour of this historical cathedral and crypt with audio guide as well as giving you a healthy workout if you take the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery. The Whispering gallery showcases the inside of St Paul’s domed top with the acoustics enabling you to hear whispers from the other side of the gallery. If you decide to take the spiral stairs to the levels above, you will find resting points all the way up. Pause at the 2nd level to catch your breath and look through the porthole down to the Cathedral floor below. There are different type of steps from this point up and the curling staircases are a little challenging for the more height aware. But if I can do it, you can too and the view of the City when you reach the top is worth the climb. What I liked about St Paul’s is that you are high enough to see all the main sights and not so high that you feel above the action. The balcony surrounding the Golden Gallery ensures you feel completely safe and the stone seats give you a chance to sit and enjoy the unique scenery from inside the heart of the City. Climbing time – approx 30-40 mins if you spending 10 minutes at each level. Rating 7/10.
Tate Modern – The free viewing level at the Tate Modern is an extra bonus to the bright art galleries of this engaging museum. Taking the lift to level 10 can cost you a little time (they are busy!) but the viewing square, once you’re there, allows you to see a good chunk of the City. Admittedly it doesn’t have the same elegant feel or the St Paul’s window archways, but it does give you a riverside view with a close up of St Paul’s Cathedral included. You will find a lot of the gallery exhibitions inside the Tate Modern are also free and so it is definitely worth checking in to see what’s on before your visit. Rating 5/10.
The Shard – At £30 for an adult ticket, the Shard is by far the most expensive of the attractions I visited. But at 8800 feet it is definitely the highest viewing point I found in London. The whole sightseeing experience is very polished from the moment you enter the glass entrance doors. The first elevator ride is extremely smooth considering you are heading skywards at 2 floors per second with the only sign of how quickly you are moving being the indicator on the digital screen and the popping of your ears. Another gliding elevator ride and a couple of flights of stairs, and you find yourself at Level 72, (final elevator available for disabled ticket holders). At this height, you really do feel on top of the world with the Shard tips above your head revealing an open ceiling to the sky. There is a Shard-top bar for drinks at an extra charge. You may well need one as the view from this floor look almost unreal! It might surprise you to learn that the average visit time to the Shard is only 15-30 minutes, but with the experience falling a little flat information wise perhaps this is understandable. You are given very little information about the building itself, the construction or the designers which I found a little disappointing. Really you are only paying for the view at the top, albeit a stunning one but if this is all you are after then you are in for a treat. Rating: 7/10.
Sky Garden – Google maps shows the unique Sky Garden to be an eight minute walk from Monument underground station. Although I did get to see find some unseen sights I would not have otherwise seen, my suggestion here is to put the maps away and focus on getting to the building that looks like a giant mobile phone with mirrors on the front. Do not let the exterior of the building put you off. Inside and a short elevator ride up you will discover a spacious viewing floor and 360° views of London City with all its main attractions from a lesser seen spot. The space is busy, but large enough to have an air of quiet and calm as visitors relax and take in the views from a choice of cafe, bar, brasserie and free seating. Dual staircases take you to an upper viewing level alongside a slope of lush greenery, giving the whole area a fresher feel. With a visit here being booked in for free, the Sky Garden really cannot be beaten for its style, atmosphere and outstanding city views. Rating 9/10.
Tip: You’ll need to be quick at booking a slot. Tickets are released three weeks in advance and are often booked up by the end of release day.
OXO Tower – Along the popular South bank area of the river Thames, the Oxo tower stands out as a recognisable trademark icon of London’s industrial past. This gem of the City along with the old factory building underneath is enjoying a new lease of life. Recreated into an art gallery and independent shopping centre, modern artists are now queuing for exhibition space at The Barge House which offers both free and special galleries. The tower itself houses a cocktail bar, restaurant and cafe, allowing guests the opportunity to enjoy a freshly shaken drink whilst enjoying the Thameside views and making this a popular spot with hen parties. Rating 6/10.
Still to come…. I brave the heights on the Tower Bridge glass floor walk, explore the Great Fire of London Monument and enjoy another 360 degree view in one of the Emirates Cable cars