/ Travel & Leisure

Is the view from The O2 the best in London?

You can now walk over the roof of The O2 arena, one of London’s most iconic landmarks, and view the city in a whole new way. But does it offer the best view in London?

Last week I found myself wearing a rather unflattering jumpsuit standing beside The O2 dome at North Greenwich, London. I had a safety harness on, sensible walking shoes, and had just signed a document to say that I was medically and physically fit. I had confirmed I weighed under 20 stone, was taller than 1.2 metres – and was ready to climb Up at The O2!

Yes, I was indeed up for an adventure and about to experience London’s newest visitor attraction, but are the views at the top worth all the effort and the £22 price tag?

Bring on the adrenaline rush

If you’re a bit of a daredevil, there’s no denying that Up at The O2 should be on your thrill list. Climbing up over this iconic London landmark with its distinctive yellow masts on what feels like a big blue trampoline is certainly something a bit different – though, unfortunately, you’re not allowed to bounce.

That said, when you are clinging on to a rope (gloves are provided) and trying to pull yourself up the first part of the climb, the last thing you really want to do is bounce. And I certainly didn’t want to bounce on the even steeper descent down.

The tensile fabric walkway that you go along is suspended 52 metres above the ground, and visitors – in groups of no more than 15 – climb with an enthusiastic guide whose main priority is your safety. The 90-minute experience is fun, it’s exciting, but when I was safely back down with both feet on the ground, it wasn’t really the views that I was raving about.

Views from the top

When you reach the summit and the viewing platform, visitors are able to unclip their safety harness, relax and take in the views. You’re allowed to take mobile phones (in a special compartment in your jumpsuit) so it was cameras at the ready. It wasn’t the clearest of days (it was wet and windy), but I could still make out the Olympic Village across the Thames, London City airport, the Shard and the Thames Barrier.

But can you see similar sights from the top of the London Eye, and save yourself £7 and the bother of safety checks and waiver forms? And what about all those tall buildings you can get to the top of, in the comfort of a lift, for free? I have friends who work at the Blue Fin building on the Southbank and the views from IPC’s roof garden are every bit as impressive.

Of course, I don’t think you’d go to all the effort of climbing The O2 just for the views, but the experience has left me wondering; where can you get the best views of London?


What about the new cable car crossing over the Thames? Did you try that on your dome ascent?

I remember some years ago, when walking along a shopping street in Muswell Hill, north London, and crossing a side turning, I had to look out for traffic emerging so I looked to my left and saw the most amazing panorama of London open up between the flanks of the main road buildings. It only lasted a few seconds as I crossed the side road. Perhaps it was the light at the particular time of day, or the severity of the steep escarpment on which the street was perched, or just the unexpectedness of the vista, that made it magical. I went past it again in the opposite direction on the top of a bus but it didn’t seem quite so dramatic as on that first occasion. I have been up most of the highest buildings in central London over the years and in my opinion the London Eye gives the best view because of its excellent location – height alone is not enough . . . there has to be something worth seeing down below. I think The Shard might just beat it but the Dome is in the wrong part of town.

I’ve been on the London Eye three times, initially to see the views for myself and twice with visiting relatives. All three trips have been on gloriously sunny days, so if another relative visits with a burning desire to take a spin on the Eye, I’ll suggest a night flight.

I’ve also eaten at Galvin at Windows (check me out!) on one of the higher floors at the Hilton in Mayfair, which offers great views of Buckingham Palace but is rather pricey!

If you’re looking for the best view of the Thames, then Millbank is good – a tower that I was lucky enough to get up for a press event. It may be open to tourists, I’m not sure.

For me, however, the best London view I’ve had is from the Willis building in the City. I went up it during one London’s Open House events, and what I liked about the view is that you could see all the buildings you so often marvel at from ground level, such as Lloyds and the Gherkin.

I found going to the top of the Willis was a bit like going up the Rockefeller in New York instead of the Empire State Building. While the Rockefeller isn’t as impressive as the Empire State Building, the view from the top contains the Empire State Building. Without it, the view doesn’t seem quite as New Yorkish.

I’d like to give the O2 view a go – and I’d also like to go up the newly reopened Monument.

As another place with a great view of a London landmark I recommend the National Portrait Gallery bar – Nelson on his column is just outside the window, with a view down Whitehall. Food, drinks and cocktails are good there too.

I went up the Monument before the refurbishment, you can get a combination ticket to go up that and Tower Bridge (also a good view). The Monument looked boxed in by buildings but had a fantastic view once you were up, a bit like St Paul’s does, but with ticket prices a lot cheaper.

I used to work in Millbank Tower and agree with Ben that it was a fantastic view! But my favourite view of London is completely free and can be seen from the top of Greenwich Park, very close to the Royal Observatory. There’s a look-out point there and the view is really quite amazing.

Primrose Hill isn’t bad either.

After seeing the official inauguration of The Shard yesterday on TV, this will presumably offer the best view over London – but we’ll have to wait until February next year to be able to visit. But I’m not sure I’d be prepared to fork out the £25 to enter, even if there will be multimedia displays to go with the view itself.

In the meantime, I went on the new Emirates Air Line cable car ride across the Thames when it opened, and it definitely has better views than the O2 roof – because you look down onto the O2 from the cable car. Good views across to Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park and Thames Barrier, and not too pricey at around £4 one-way, but just a shame it couldn’t have been more central where there would have been more iconic landmarks within sight!

Thanks Jonathan. I thought the cable car would be a good vantage point, and the view is both dynamic and circumferential as well. Did you happen to note whether it was traversible on an Oyster card? Even if not, £4 seems pretty good value to me.

Hi John.

You can get a discount with an Oyster card. It’s actually even less (£3.20) with an Oyster Card, or £4.30 without.

I’ve become a bit of a London view fanatic. So last night was not a good one, as I tried to see the laser light show for the Shard’s opening from Honor Oak Park, from where you could see very few lasers, lights or anything special at all.

For me the winner of the London tall buildings is Centre Point. For the (of course highly inflated) price of a pint you can sit in the bar and take in the West End, Westminster, South Bank, City, Canary Wharf and so on with no other tall buildings around to get in the way. You can even sit in chairs with floor to ceiling glass in front of you, which I love.

Tower 42’s also pretty good, but a bit hemmed in – and the bar itself is fairly cramped.

The Pan Peninsula out at Canary Wharf’s got the pros of being high (48th floor) and having an outside balcony, so you can get the wind in your hair, but the cons of being a bit far from central London to see its buildings in much detail. You do get great river and Canary Wharf views though.

John Ward says:
15 August 2012

I’ve completed up at the o2… and as the tagline states ‘climb an icon’ – I now totally get it. You’re right if it’s views you wanna see… get the cable car of london eye… this is CLIMBING THE O2!!!!!!

If you want to feel the sense of achievement, embrace a shared experience and mark of something from ‘the bucket list’. This is it, it’s worth far more than £22, I think they’ve priced it too low. This is a once in a lifetime WOW.

amazing idea, well done O2 (or whoever probably owns it).

I live near the O2 and the Emirates Cable Car and think they’re worth a visit, but taking up on Ben Steven’s plug for the natural and free thrill of Primrose Hill, why not try the top of Shooters Hill (London SE18), outside The Bull Public House for the unimpeded views of Wembley, The Shard, the Eye, Canary Wharf and New Year’s firework display. Then move round to Eaglesfield Road (three hundred yards) and climb up Eaglesfield Park, stand at the top and see the boundary of Greater London and Kent snake along the Thames. Fabulous by day, but magical on a clear night any time of the year. Then move off to Plum Lane where the brow of the hill meets Nithdale Road on the corner of Shrewsbury Park. From there you see the whole sweep of riverside NW Kent, Canary Wharf, the City (see if you can spot St Paul’s Cathedral which before 1970s was the only prominent building until GPO Tower emerged etc.), the bend in the River Thames and part of City of Westminster, all the way round to Wembley. Best views are in mid-winter when trees have shed their leaves. Enjoy.

Further to my previous comment, this magical free panorama is within a couple of miles of the O2 and the O2 Cable Car Station. If anyone is interested in how to park for free and/or use public transport to achieve all sites in a day, leave me a message in this forum, saying “Car to O2 and Shooters Hill” or “Public Transport to O2 and Shooters Hill” and I’ll provide details of free legal parking and best buses to circulate.

Sausage says:
19 May 2013

“Car to O2 and Shooters Hill” or “Public Transport to O2 and Shooters Hill”.

HI Jo. Very interested in details of free legal parking and buses get these fantastic views across London.

Are there places to stand on New Year’s Eve to get good views of the firework display.

Thank you.

Tayla says:
7 November 2012

Would you be able to see anything when it is dark? Light will you see lit up builinds or anything at all???

Tayla, you asked what you could see in the dark. I assume you mean from the top of Shooters Hill? According to Wikipedia entry, Shooters Hill is 129 metres (423 ft) high. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooter%27s_Hill. This means that you are high enough to see metropolitan Kent to the east towards the Weald, the north and south River Thames Bank areas, the City of London and the City of Westminster,plus of course the areas of Greenwich and Deptford.

By day, you see all the panorama laid before you from the various spots I’ve mentioned, most at 270 degrees of vision. By night, you see a real fairyland of lights and lighted buildings. Follow this Youtube link for a taster from the top of Plum Lane.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDyxIv06xr8.

The whole route from The Bull Public House at top of Shooters Hill, along Plum Lane to the brow of its hill, where it flanks Shrewsbury Park is spectacular. Look down every roadway on the left as you do it and you’ll see spectacular views.

You can get brilliant views at any time of the year, but, from Plum Lane/Nithdale the best is after the leaves have fallen off the trees just below the brow of the Plum Lane hill.

Also in the area are Oxleas Woods (untouched woodland since Roman times plus own folly in Castle Wood http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severndroog_Castle.

And, while you’re in the area check out the Royal Artillery Barracks, the longest uninterrupted Georgian facade in the world! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Artillery_Barracks.

I’m getting inspired now and will go out with my video camera and get some day and night shots from the points I’ve mentioned. Might even try to arrange a walking tour if anyone is interested?