Many of London’s most world-famous tourist attractions offer fantastic views of the city–the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the view from the top floor of the Shard are all wildly popular among tourists.
These views are, of course, some of the best on offer–but you will pay for the privilege. London Eye tickets are upwards of £23 per person, St. Paul’s is £18, and entrance to the “View from the Shard” is a staggering £33.
However, you can find equally breathtaking views of the city (and save yourself boatloads of cash) at any of these four publicly accessible spots.
Since opening an extension in 2016, the Tate Modern modern art gallery offers one of the best views in central London.
Entirely free to access, the large viewing gallery tops a new tower rising behind the 70-year-old riverfront power station, offering clear panoramic views of the wide river Thames.
To the North lies the Millennium walking bridge over the river towards London’s main cathedral, the massive St. Paul’s. Rising to the East are the modern skyscrapers in the old City of London district, and to the West lies the solar-powered train station straddling the river at Blackfriars.
You can also look down onto the Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s famous theatre, as well as dramatic monolith of the Tate Modern building itself.
Tip: the viewing gallery, although covered with a roof, has no glass in the windows. Keep your coat with you in case of strong winds at the top.
Sunday to Thursday 10:00 – 18:00
Friday and Saturday 10:00 – 22:00
For a free panoramic view of the entirety of the London skyline, there is no better viewing point than Primrose Hill. The landscaped, idyllic beauty of Primrose Hill park is itself worthy of a visit – but its comprehensive view of London makes it a must-see.
After a short climb up tranquil paths through lush grass and trees, you’ll find yourself presented with perhaps the single best view of the London skyline. Looking South over central London, there is a clear sight-line from Westminster Cathedral all the way in the west, to the towers of Canary Wharf in the east. The sweeping hills of South London fill the horizon, interrupted by the rising peaks of Big Ben, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Shard.
Being popular with young families, dog walkers, and twenty-something couples, you will struggle to find yourself alone with the view. But you may find yourself the only tourist among the myriad of locals.
Tip: Being just a 15-minute walk from Camden Lock Market, Primrose Hill and the surrounding park is a perfect spot for a picnic. As with all London experiences, be prepared for outbursts of rain even on the sunniest of days.
05:00 – near sundown. Open daily. Click here for more details.
The Sky Garden
Opened in 2014, the ‘walkie talkie’ is the unofficial nickname of the skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London. However, the top floor of the building is a very official viewing gallery and bar open to the public, called the Sky Garden.
The Sky Garden is in the perfect position for a 360-degree, top-down view of London. From the gallery, there is clear view of the river Thames, the iconic Tower Bridge, the ancient Tower of London, the vast high-rise district of the City of London, the world-famous Shard, the grand St. Paul’s Cathedral, and even the London Eye some two miles to the west.
To manage overcrowding, entry to the Sky Garden is ticketed (but entirely free). Advanced booking is made with this easy-to-use website. Tickets are released every Monday for the next week (tickets released Jan. 15 will serve the week of Jan. 22-28). Tickets have timed entry, so you must arrive at the correct time shown on your tickets to get in.
It is also possible to just turn up without booking tickets in advance, but you may not be able to get in if it is a busy day. It is best to book ahead.
Tip: Make an event of it – drinks are served all day, and are good value for such a premium location.
Monday to Friday 10:00 – 18:00
Saturday and Sunday 11:00 – 21:00
Finally, Greenwich Park offers stunning views over London from the southeast.
The Greenwich area is worthy of a visit in itself regardless of the spectacular views. Greenwich town, a bustling hub characterising the vibrancy of modern-day Southeast London, is popular with tourists due to its well-preserved historical legacy.
The preserved spice clipper, Cutty Sark, headlines Greenwich’s attractive riverfront area, alongside the former Royal Palace and former Naval Academy, the premier training ground for British sailors during the 18th century.
The Royal Observatory, atop the summit of nearby Greenwich park, offers sweeping views over the Naval Academy, Royal Palace, the River Thames, the Canary Wharf district to the north, and the distant City of London to the northwest.
Like Primrose Hill, this spot is popular with locals, and you will seldom find yourself alone with the view. However, unlike Primrose Hill, the hilltop at Greenwich Park is large enough for everybody to find some personal space.
Tip: Greenwich can be fiddly to get to from central London, but there is a day’s worth of activity to do once you get there.
06:00 – near sundown. Open daily. Click here for more details.
This list of course by no means exhaustive – there are many other spots offering free, good views of the city. Alexandra Palace, Hampstead Heath, Crystal Palace, Peckham Rye, and Waterloo Bridge are just a few other examples. Londoners and tourists alike are spoilt for choice in how they might take in this global metropolis.