There are few cities in the world that look quite so alluring as London from above. The river Thames, the site of many famous historic events, winds its way through a mishmash of highly recognisable regions, from the greenery of the West, to the tradition of Westminster, to the gleaming City and finally out past the centre of time at Greenwich and the centre of money at Canary Wharf.
If you are lucky enough to be flying into Heathrow from the East on a clear day, you will follow the route of this life-giving serpent and your mouth will drop at the sight of it.
But what if your feet are already firmly on the ground? Well the obvious choice is to head to The View at the Shard. But this is nothing less than an attack on the bank account, at a devastating price of £25.
So, for all you Cheapos out there, here is a selection of just some of the cheap and free views of London that offer both spectacular vistas and irresistible value.
Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath – Free
Starting from the North, at 98m high, Parliament Hill is one of the highest natural points in London, and thankfully it also offers a completely free and uninterrupted view of the capital. Perfect! Especially as you won’t have to walk very far to get there—it’s just a short (10 minutes) and shallow incline away from Hampstead Heath Station (on the Overground).
As you reach the summit (if you can call it that), the whole of London opens up before you and your eyes will feast upon such jewels as Canary Wharf, the controversial cityscape of the Square Mile, the towering Shard (wave to those chumps spending 25 pounds looking back at you), St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye. Even the rolling hills of the Kent countryside can be seen in the distance on a clear day.
The Arcelor Mittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford – £8-12
This viewpoint holds a special place in my heart and, I’m sure, in the heart of many a Londoner, for it is perhaps the only ugly legacy (in a charming kinda way) that was left by the 2012 Olympics. Hey, we Brits love an underdog.
Situated in pride of place in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, right next to the stadium that was home to Jess Ennis’, Greg Rutherford’s and Mo Farah’s golden heroics on Super Saturday, this monumental sculpture was designed by Anish Kapoor and is the tallest in Great Britain, at 114m.
The truly panoramic views from the two viewing platforms are breathtaking, and an ascent of this piece of artwork costs only 10 Great British pounds if you book in advance, 12 if you buy on the day, and 8 if you are lucky enough to live in East London. This paltry price gives you not just one ascent, but unlimited access for a full year—now that IS value!
What’s more, the longest and highest slide in Europe is currently under construction at the site, so you’ll be able to helter skelter your way down from the spring of 2016.
The Emirates Airline, North Greenwich – £3.50
Back in 2011, East Londoners began to notice three mysterious white columns rising up from the banks of the Thames, close to that iconically resuscitated white elephant, the Millennium Dome. It turned out that this was the beginning of the audacious construction of a cable car running from North Greenwich to the little known Royal Victoria station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR); part of the East London regeneration grand plan. Today it is the tallest river crossing in London (90m) and affords fantastic views of said Dome (now the 02 Arena), Canary Wharf and the river Thames extending into the Estuary to the East.
It is treated as very much a part of the Transport for London system and so a single journey (on your Oyster card) is only £3.50. An absolute bargain considering you will be soaring above the Thames for a full 6 minutes—or longer if you’re lucky/unlucky (depending on your tolerance of windy conditions). And remember to keep an ear out for the fascinating commentary on the history of the area as your eyes goggle out towards the horizon.
Right, that’s it for my recommendations for now. But this list is not exhausted. There are many more cheap heights to scale, including the Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie, the Tower Bridge Exhibition, the Tate Modern and King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park. Curious? You should be!
I will return soon, with three more towering viewpoints that do not need a towering salary.
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