Three Ways to Enjoy Panoramic Views of London3 min read
London is massive, with nearly 9 million people spread across more than 600 square miles. Since the terrain is mostly flat and the streets in Central London are compact, it can be hard to fully appreciate the city’s scale from street level.
One of the best ways to experience London — and any city, for that matter — is by seeking out high vantage points that offer sweeping views of the skyline and streets below. Sure, you can pay a hefty fee to get the best views in London without lifting a finger or climbing a step. The London Eye, for example, takes you high above the River Thames. The View from The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building, offers a vantage point nearly twice as high.
It is far more gratifying, however, to put some sweat equity into it and earn your views. Here are three excellent viewpoints in London that you have to work for.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
You’d better start training on the StairMaster — it’s a 527-step climb up to the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Fortunately, you can break up the stair climb into three shorter sections to make it more manageable. Take a short break after 259 steps at the Whispering Gallery and pair up to test out whether a whisper on one side of the dome really can be heard on the opposite side. From there, climb another 119 steps and soak in the views from the Stone Gallery, the first of two outdoor areas. Continue on to the highest vantage point at Golden Gallery for some of the best panoramic views in London. Be sure to check the cathedral’s website before you visit, as the topmost galleries are occasionally closed for scheduled maintenance.
Standing at 160 feet, The Monument is a soaring Doric column commemorating the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed much of London. The only way to the viewing platform is to ascend 311 steps along a tight spiral staircase. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Tower Bridge spanning the River Thames, modern glass architecture contrasting with historic buildings in the City of London, and The Shard soaring over South London. From that vantage, you can also discover rooftop terraces and private courtyards invisible from street level. Be warned, however, that views are partially obstructed by wire mesh enclosing the viewing platform.
Skip the fully accessible lift and climb 206 steps up the grand Victorian staircase to the Tower Bridge’s high-level walkways overlooking the River Thames. For a true bird’s eye view, step onto the Glass Floor and peer down at the pedestrians, cars and red London buses crossing the bridge directly below your feet. If you time your visit right, you might even get to see Tower Bridge open for a passing ship. Once you’ve taken in the view, descend the South Tower and follow the “Walk of Fame” to the Engine Room to learn more about the bridge and explore the permanent exhibit.