/ 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?

Comments
Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

Primrose Hill isn’t bad either.

Member

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!

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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