Observation Decks in London

By Stuart Bak

Gazing across the London skyline now, it’s difficult to believe that St Paul’s Cathedral – a shrimp at 364 feet – held the title of tallest building in town for over 250 years, only being superseded in the 1960s when the likes of the BT Tower and Millbank Tower sprang up. Nowadays, of course (and especially following the noughties’ skyscraper boom), you can barely throw a stone without hitting some sort of superstructure. The race ever skywards may not look so pretty from ground level, but one happy side effect is the proliferation of observation decks it has spawned, from the View from The Shard to the ArcelorMittal Orbit and, of course, the London Eye. Got a head for heights? Climb aboard for our tour of the best observation decks in London.

The London Eye

View from the London Eye

The South Bank’s massive Ferris wheel requires very little introduction. Once the world’s tallest, it was later ousted from its perch by the likes of the Singapore Flyer, Las Vegas’s High Roller and, perhaps most notably the Ain Dubai, which stands at almost twice the London Eye’s 443 foot height. None of which diminishes its impact as one of the best observation decks in London (ok, so it’s a wheel, not a deck, but let’s not split hairs). Step aboard one of the 32 capsules for the half-hour rotation, which promises unparalleled views of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and, on a clear day, even the distant turrets of Windsor Castle.

Lift 109

Battersea Power Station

After years in decay and disrepair, Battersea Power Station has been reborn as a thriving community hub packed with green spaces and hip new shops, bars and restaurants. But the main event at this revived icon of the industrial age is Lift 109. Board the elevator in the stunning Art Deco turbine hall for a thrill ride that launches you to the top of one of the iconic chimneys faster than a puff of smoke. Your destination: a 360-degree glass observation deck with far-reaching views across Battersea, Lambeth and beyond from more than 350 feet up.

Up at the O2

Close-up of London's O2 Arena against the city skyline

If you prefer to work for your views, we have just the thing for you. Up at the O2 is a 90-minute experience that requires you to scale – yes, scale – the Greenwich landmark. A guide will ensure you’re suitably well versed in safety procedures, as well as being suited, booted and harnessed before you begin the ascent to a not inconsiderable 170 feet above terra firma. Intrepid climbers are rewarded with sweet views of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park, Greenwich and Old Father Thames, which look particularly magical on sunset climbs, with city lights illuminating the skyline.

Tower Bridge

London's Tower Bridge

At over 130 years old, Tower Bridge is one of the oldest London observation platforms on our list – and also the most photogenic. Pap your souvenir snaps from the banks of the Thames then make for the glass-floored walkways up top of this extraordinary feat of Victorian engineering. Not only do these provide views of the red double decker buses and black London cabs crossing the bridge far beneath your feet; time it right and you might even get a bird’s eye view of the bridge’s bascules rising to let a boat pass through. You can also expect fine views of landmarks including the Tower of London, HMS Belfast and St Paul’s Cathedral. 

Entry to the glass platforms at Tower Bridge is included with The London Pass, which can save you money when taking in multiple London attractions, tours and activities over a few days.

ArcelorMittal Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit illuminated red at night

Britain’s largest piece of public art, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is the looping, swirling Anish Kapoor-designed behemoth that forms the centerpiece of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. Ascend 260 feet up to the observation deck for views that take in the Shard, Big Ben and the O2 Arena, as well as the very tracks where Olympic records were made back in 2012. But you don’t go to the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit for the views alone. No! You can also take the fast lane back to ground level via the planet’s tallest and longest slide, an awesome 12-loop beast designed by maverick German artist Carsten Höller. Those of a more delicate constitution may of course choose to descend via the stairs or elevator.

The Sky Garden

The Sky Garden at the top of London's Fenchurch Building

London’s highest public garden is free to enter, but you’ll likely want to book your slot in advance to avoid disappointment. This one’s up top of The Fenchurch Building (better known as the Walkie-Talkie due to its distinctive shape), and couples lush greenery with panoramic London views that include Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral, The Shard and many more. Grab a sundowner at the Sky Pod Bar or treat yourself to a posh fish dinner at the fine-dining Fenchurch restaurant, and note that guests with restaurant reservations need not book a time slot!


The Monument to the Great Fire of London

Built in the 1670s to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the Monument stands 202 feet tall, the same as the distance from its base to the spot where the devastating 1666 blaze began on Pudding Lane. Complete the 311-step climb to the observation platform near the top of of this Portland stone monolith, where you’ll be rewarded with fine views across the city and Thames, as well as an official certificate to prove you made it all the way to the top! Entry to this, London’s oldest ticketed attraction, is included with a London Pass.

View from The Shard

Man taking a photo of The Shard on his phone

Well, whaddya know: we’ve saved the loftiest for last. And what better way to conclude this list of the best observation decks in London than with one of the best on the entire planet? Scoot up to the 72nd floor of the UK’s tallest building in just 60 seconds and, once you’ve got your breath back, step out onto the partially open-air deck that towers an epic 1,000 feet (give or take) above the streets of Southwark. This architectural masterpiece (or monstrosity, depending who you ask) contains some 11,000 panes of glass and 36 elevators as well as boasting, on clear days, panoramic views that stretch for up to 40 miles, taking in the Thames Estuary, the South Downs and everything in between. Epic and also, it just so happens, included with The London Pass.

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Interesting Facts About Bonfire Night & Guy Fawkes

Bonfire night is a special time of year around the UK, especially in London. Read on to find out fascinating facts about this iconic date and the man behind it. Remember, remember, the 5th of November... So starts a poem that resonates around many a school here in the UK. But why is the 5th of November so important and so iconic? And who on earth is this Guy Fawkes chap? You’ve no doubt seen the mask, but how did it all start, and what are these celebrations about? Discover more with these fascinating facts about Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes... Guy Fawkes was born on the 13 April 1570. Ruling at this time was the Tudor dynasty; more precisely, King Henry VIII. Born a Protestant, at the ripe old age of 16, Guy converted to Catholicism, which was considered a troubling religion at the time. Fighting on the side of Catholic Spain, he became involved in conflict abroad, where he picked up the nickname Guido. This conflict was known as the ’80 Years War’. When Guy was arrested in London, he was forced to sign a document confirming his identity. He initially refused, but after torture, he buckled and signed. Interestingly, he signed with his acquired name, Guido. Bonfire night essentially celebrates the foiling of a plot by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. We celebrate this by burning an effigy of Guy and launching a whole bunch of fireworks into the sky in a spectacular display. Some would argue that there’s little better than looking out over London and watching the copious fireworks displays light up the night sky. Guy Fawkes wasn’t hung, drawn and quartered, as was the fate awaiting him. Instead, Guy actually committed suicide in order to escape this extremely grizzly end. Following his untimely death, his body was subsequently quartered, and spread to the corners of the country. This was to serve as a deterrent for any would-be perpetrators. 36 barrels of gunpowder were used during the plot – which some argue would have been plenty to blow up Parliament at the time – but others claim that the gunpowder was too old and wouldn’t have exploded as expected if it had been ignited. At Bonfire Night, it isn’t just fireworks that light up the evening, we also use copious amounts of sparklers. Sparklers can be five times hotter than cooking oil, and rocket fireworks have been known to reach speeds of up to 150mph. That’s impressive! Up until 1959 – yes, 1959 – it was illegal to not celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain. However, there was a school in York (coincidentally the school that Guy himself attended) that was an exception to the law. To this day, they still, perhaps rightly so, refuse to burn this effigy that’s representative of one of their former pupils. No headmaster is that cruel, right? It’s alleged that the first meeting between the conspirators was in the Duck and Drake pub in the Strand, so it probably started as one of those discussions you have with your friends whereby you claim you’re going to go for it, and you’re going to make that big bold move. Except these guys didn’t wake up the next day with ‘the fear’ and they actually followed through – well, almost - with their plan. Other traditions around Bonfire Night include Penny for the Guy and apple bobbing, which are great fun and truly encapsulate a family and fun-loving spirit. If you don’t know what Penny for the Guy is, think trick-or-treat, but with a home-made Guy doll for company. Those pesky kids won’t give up in their pursuit for that hard-earned cash! Guy Fawkes was arrested while he was guarding the explosive barrels planted under Parliament, and he was tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow conspirators, along with finally offering up his real name, as we know. Well Guy, ahem, Guido, you got caught in the end, and the potentially nation-changing event was avoided. Just. Whatever you get up to, Bonfire Night is full of rich history, celebrations and it’s fun for all the family. Whether you're heading to one of the many public events, or if you’re planning to celebrate with friends, it’s a truly magical time to come and visit London. Did we miss your favourite Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes facts? Let us know in the comments!
Vanessa Teo

Where do French tourists like to go in London?

Looking at London Pass users from over 150 countries last year, we collated some interesting facts and figures. With popular attractions being Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the Thames River Cruises we found that by nationality, each country had their own favourite sights and attractions depending on their cultural interests. We’ve seen before that American London Pass customers tend to steer their sightseeing more towards the royal-family-related, and while Germans favour football and feats of engineering, our French customers last year proved that they come from a background where high culture and art prevail. Voilà! Indulging in their passion for creativity, style and beauty it’s no wonder London’s art galleries and museums drew impressive numbers of French customers, compared to say, anything to do with the British monarchy. Our French visitors were particularly fond of the Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House, in Greenwich; a collection of medieval and Renaissance works of art housed in a stunning redbrick Georgian villa. Other popular galleries visited by our French London Pass holders were the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, which houses best-loved artworks from the Renaissance to the 20th century; as well as the iconic Tate Modern whose collection of modernist and contemporary art attracts millions of visitors a year. Continuing on this art trail experience of London, our French visitors also loved the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square. With hundreds of the finest paintings and portraits in the world hung in these neighbouring prestigious galleries, join in on a tour and grab an audio guide to experience the collections to the fullest. It’s no surprise that the French put the Brits to shame when it comes to artistic appreciation; last year’s records show a considerable difference in sightseeing behaviour. When it comes to what type of attractions British people visit, we’re clearly not as civilised as the French, it seems. Instead, British London Pass holders prefer outdoor and family-orientated activities and attractions, favouring places like London Zoo or the WWT London Wetland Centre over art galleries and cultural museums. It must be an age thing, as our British customers also made up a healthy chunk of numbers at Pollock’s Toy Museum and the Cartoon Museum. Contrastingly, our French London Pass visitors also made up a considerable proportion of tours at Twickenham Stadium last year (more than the British!) From exclusive access to backstage areas including the locker room and players’ tunnel; to the victories and defeats of the English team explored in the Rugby Museum, you might think there’s bit of friendly rivalry going on. It’s clear London’s got it all; from rugby to Renaissance, and our French customers prove there’s plenty to see and do to suit their needs.
Vanessa Teo

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