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I never get tired of all the beautiful views in London. Even though I would not like living in a city where the views are a never-ending cluster of buildings, high and low, ancient and modern, I sure love looking at it from all the multiple perspectives and viewpoints during our vacation in London.
During our 10 day trip to London, we experienced what we think are some of the best views in London. We know there are many spots we missed, let us know in the comments what London views we need to experience next time?
The River Thames winding through the city enhances the view as do the verdant glimpses of the many London parks and gardens.
Most striking are the ubiquitous views of St Paul’s Cathedral as you wander about.
In fact, as we learned on our London Eye River cruise, the reason many of the modern London skyscrapers are funny shapes (and aesthetically pleasing) is because, by law, St Paul’s has to be seen from eight separate places in London. Therefore, new buildings are designed so they do not obstruct these views.
Isn’t that so cool? I love how history and tradition is persevered and revered in England.
Our list of the top views of London are a mixture of free and paid experiences.
Many of the paid attractions are on the London Pass by Go City, which is a great money saving discount tourist card for a select number of days or attractions.
Depending on your math, you could either use it for all the attractions you want to do, or use the card for the most expensive and then purchase separate tickets for the cheaper attractions individually. (We were gifted a 3-day city pass)
Piercing the sky above is the needle-like structure of the Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe.
It’s quickly becoming a London icon, especially for the incredible views from its 72nd floor open-air platform. There is an enclosed viewing platform on level 69 as well.
The Shard View is an expensive thing to do in London, but the 244m high sweeping London views make it worthwhile. You get a fantastic perspective of the Thames snaking through the city east to west.
To really feel just how high you are, look up to see how close the planes are flying overhead! (Not scary just WOW)
We visited right on sunset and I loved it more than I thought I would. I really want to return during the day but we couldn’t make it work.
Aim for about an hour before sunset, so you can experience the dusk golden light views, sunset panoramic views, and nighttime views when those London lights sparkle.
There is a rooftop bar up here with seating areas, so grab your choice of cocktails, and relax. I’d walk around with a drink in hand to soak up the views from all the different angles.
Want to experience 5-star luxury with these views? The Shangri La Hotel is located on Level 34 of the Shard. Each room has floor-to-ceiling windows providing spectacular views of the city, and maintains the theme of Oriental elegance found throughout the hotel. Check availability and book your stay here.
The London Eye
- Location: Riverside Building, County Hall, London
- Closest Tube: Waterloo Station
I was worried the London Eye would be an over-hyped tourist attraction. It wasn’t. The panoramic views of London from here are phenomenal.
You get 30-minutes to take it all in as you slowly rotate with views of many of London’s most iconic sights: Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and of course, the River Thames.
I also loved looking down upon the other London Eye pods from the very top. It felt a little unnatural and made my stomach flutter a little, but once I distracted myself with the views, I didn’t feel nervous at all.
At 135 m tall, The London Eye is the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel. It opened as a temporary celebration of the new millennium and was so successful they decided to keep it. It’s now London’s top paid attraction.
The Lastminute.com London Eye hosted us in a private pod, which only enhanced the experience as we did not have to compete with others for viewing windows and it meant Savannah could rock out as many dance moves as possible. You can see more in our London Eye Reel.
An Instagram follower told us the views from Sky Garden were unmissable and a free alternative to The Shard.
Known as the Walkie Talkie building for its shape, it is currently the 5th tallest building in the city of London at 160m tall. I love how it faces the Shard on the North side of the Thames.
It’s known as being London’s highest public garden and has an open-air terrace with lush plants and uninterrupted panoramas of the city’s skyline.
It also has two restaurants and bars.
The tip is to reserve a table in the restaurant for a special dining experience with views. This also gives you access to the Sky Garden. The prices aren’t too bad when you compare it to London restaurants on street level.
You must reserve a ticket in advance (free) to visit the Sky Garden and enjoy the best free views of London
We could not reserve either a free viewing ticket or place at the restaurant for any of our available times while in London. (Reserve yours here.)
As they sometimes allow walk-ins if they have space, we attempted on a Monday. But, unbeknownst to us, the first Monday of the month is when they close the Skygarden for maintenance – now you know!
The doorman gave us a great tip on a good London viewpoint just around the corner.
And that was….
The Garden at 120 Fenchurch St
120 Fenchurch St is another high rise in London with a sky garden and an impressive 360-degree views. You get fantastic views of the Sky Garden from here, so we could kind of pretend we went there.
As it’s only 15 stories high, some of the other nearby skyscrapers may block some of the view but you can see Tower Bridge from here, the Shard and Canary Wharf in the distance.
I loved looking down upon the little Indian Pale Ale Pub, which is where my brother and friends once worked and a pub I’d frequently walk past after a shift at the pub I worked in at nearby Liverpool St.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Not only is St Paul’s an exquisite architectural gem, a London icon and top attraction worth visiting, it’s also a place to get a magnificent view of London.
We had limited time on our guided tour, so did not get to see the view from the top of St Paul’s (111m high), but I did do it while living in London over 20 years ago. It is stunning!
To get there climb the 378 steps to The Stone Gallery and a further 528 steps to the Golden Gallery for far-reaching views of the city, including the River Thames, Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre.
Want another cool view in St Paul’s Cathedral?
Ask the attendants if they can take you to the spiraling Harry Potter staircase. This staircase in St Paul’s was used as the “Divination Stairwell” located in the North Tower of Hogwarts Castle for the Harry Potter films, .
Many thanks to our tour guide from Monograms travel who gave us this tip on our half day tour of London.
Oxo Tower is a residential building on the southern banks of the River Thames.
On the top floor (8th) is a restaurant and public viewing gallery. They don’t make this known so it really is a London local secret.
The restaurant and bar both look like a top spot for an afternoon drink, or even a meal. But, if you want the budget view experience, you can go out to the small public viewing area for a peak.
Another top free view of London is from the Tate Modern art gallery. Opened in 2000 in a dilapidated old power station on an industrial stretch of the River Thames southern shore, it has completely revitalized this area, making it completely unrecognizable to my 22-year-old self living in London in 1997.
It’s not just a place to admire world-class art, but the two London viewpoints it offers.
Head up to the enclosed 6th floor Kitchen and Bar in the Natalie Bell Building for striking views of the Thames, Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.
Apparently, the views from The Viewing Level, an open viewing terrace on the top floor (10th) of the Blavatnik Building are equally impressive, although currently closed, so we missed it. From here you can see across the River Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral, and as far as Canary Wharf and Wembley Stadium.
I think tea and scones would match perfectly with the views from the Tate Modern!
The Founder’s Arms
After your visit to the Tate Modern, walk out the front, turn left and grab a table at the riverside pub, The Founder’s Arms.
We absolutely loved the street level views from here of the River Thames, Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s, and the North Bank.
Fingers crossed you can snag a table outside, especially if the sun is out and you have a rare t-shirt weather day. (Luck was in our favor!)
They have floor to ceiling views from inside through their glass windows so you can’t go wrong even if you are stuck inside.
Pimm’s & Lemonade is the drink to match this London view. And this would be a great spot for a pub lunch as well.
I was more than happy with my chips and mayo – a favorite London dish I ate almost daily. For the Americans, that’s chips as in fries.
The next London view is an easy 10 steps away.
Those stunning St Paul views continue as you cross over the Millennium Bridge, with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral growing in front of your eyes with each step.
Look behind for views of Tate Modern, and to the right for Tower Bridge views, and views of life on both banks of the river.
The Millennium Bridge opened in 2000.
It’s also known as the Wobbly Bridge as when it was first opened an engineering defect caused it to shake and wobble when people walked across it. They had to close it down for two years to fix it.
It’s now perfectly safe. I love its warped, futuristic style.
Be sure to look down. An unknown artist frequently comes by and secretly creates artwork out of the dried-up gum. Gross but cool.
Harry Potter Fans: London Boys School (on the left as you approach the north side) was where Daniel Radcliffe went to school. Remember when the Death Eaters attack London in the scenes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? They were filmed on the Millennium Bridge.
The Golden Jubilee Bridges
- Nearest Tube: Embankment / Waterloo
Another spot for beautiful London views is the Golden Jubilee Bridge, which spans the River Thames between Embankment and Southbank. There are two of these pedestrian bridges on either side of the Hungerford Bridge.
If you take the side closest to the London Eye you will have splendid views from the side of the London Eye and Big Ben.
As you cross over the bridge turn left and walk along the north side of the river for more views of the London Eye back over the river.
Moored on the Thames is the Tattershall Castle, a former passenger ferry turned pub that has views of the London Eye.
We didn’t get to step in for a drink as it was always busy, and we weren’t sure how family-friendly it was.
I think drinking a Pimm’s here on a warm English afternoon with those views would be a memory.
Big Ben and Winston Churchill
One of our favorite iconic London photos we captured on our trip – that even local Londoners didn’t know about – was that of Winston Churchill looking out upon Big Ben.
Parliament Square is next to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. It has statues of well-known statesmen including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.
Thankfully, we visited when most of the scaffolding was off the Big Ben tower so we could capture this perfect view from behind Winston.
The Tower Bridge
London’s most famous bridge, with its two turreted towers and light blue suspension cables is NOT London Bridge. It’s an easy common misconception when it’s such an iconic symbol of London.
It’s called Tower Bridge and sits right beside the Tower of London, one of the city’s top attractions. London Bridge in comparison is nondescript.
You can walk across Tower Bridge for free and get splendid views overlooking the Thames and back over the Tower of London.
You can also go up and inside the towers for higher views and to learn more about the bridge. It is a paid attraction and is included in your London attraction pass.
Check for times when the Tower Bridge will raise up its bridge arms so boats underneath can pass by. They do have to book it 24 hours in advance so you can plan ahead for this cool experience. On average, Tower Bridge opens its bascules around 800 times a year, that’s around twice a day. Check opening times here.
We timed it perfectly for when we finished our Tower of London experience and crossed over to get lunch at Borough Markets.
We were stuck on the Tower Bridge side, which was not the best side for the noonday sun. Optimal light would have been on the Southern side. Consider that if you’re planning to see the bridge rise.
The views of Tower Bridge from the southern side of the Thames are also great.
River Thames Cruise
Another way to experience the beautiful views of London is from a guided commentary cruise on the River Thames. We did the 40-minute cruise aboard the London Eye just before our London Eye experience.
I learned a lot about London history and life with a few funny stories thrown in.
Here’s one that made me laugh. The Ministry Defense, which is opposite the London Eye, took the observation wheel to court to try and shut it down. They feared spies would ride up to the top and peak into their windows with binoculars to steal all their secrets.
The judge’s response: “You’re the Ministry of Defense. Go buy some blinds!”
You will sail past some of the world’s most famous landmarks including The Shard, Tate Modern, St Paul’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, The London Eye, Tower of London and under Tower Bridge.
Another river cruise option is the new ‘View from the River’ cruise from The Shard in partnership with Uber boats by Thames Clipper. They run twice a day from Wednesday-Sunday leaving at 2pm and 3:15pm. This one has a fully stocked bar and seasonal treats.
We were devastated to miss the launch party of this by five minutes. Although we left with plenty of time to make departure, our tube was stopped mid-ride due to someone trespassing on the tracks.
We had to finish the rest of the journey by sprinting along the Thames riverfront missing the boat only by minutes. It was the most perfect London weather too, with clear skies, warm weather, and the most beautiful sunset light.
That’s the only regret I have from our two weeks in London. Those views would have been glorious!
The Uber by Thames Clipper boats are a mode of public transport in London. So, you can get those river views simply by getting from A to B.
A ride is more expensive than the tube however and you want to be quick getting on and off. It’s a fast-moving commuter experience that waits for no one.
Blackfriars Bridge at Sunset
We stumbled upon this London sunset view accidentally as we sprinted for our Shard View evening sunset cruise. Seeing a spectacular sunset like this in London is a rarity due to the ever-hanging low gray clouds.
This evening was perfectly clear and the sun a giant orb as it sank down behind the city casting an orangey pinky glow over the entire city.
I turned for a quick snap as I was running. It’s not a great photo as a result, but you can see this is a beautiful London view worth seeing.
If you time it right head down to the Southern banks of the Thames. I think the Blackfriars Bridge will give you one of the best views, but I’m sure there are many other great sunset spots along the Southside of the river.
We couldn’t time it to get down there on another evening when the skies were clear.
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
One of the best views in London has to be from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
You look out across the leafy greens of Greenwich village and Greenwich Park, the old hunting park behind the palaces. Looking beyond that is the stunning buildings of the Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College, likened to architectural splendor of the Palace of Versailles.
Putting the icing on the cake, is the view behind of the glittering modern skyscrapers forming the Canary Wharf skyline in front of the Thames.
It’s the perfect encapsulation of the modern and ancient worlds that London has evolved through to become this incredible city we love so much.
More Top Views in London
Here are a few other places in London for top viewpoints. We ran out of time, but they are on our list for our next trip to London!
- Primrose Hill, just north of Regents Park has extraordinary views of the city skyline from the 63m summit.
- Sawyers Hill in Richmond Park offers views of Central London
- Emirates Air Line Cable Car: we were planning to return from Greenwich via the 10-minute cable car ride going above the Thames from Greenwich to Royal Victoria Dock, but the weather messed us up. You can pay with your oyster/contactless card.
- Up at the O2 Arena is a London attraction for the daredevils. Harness up and climb 52m above this famous London arena for 360-degree London views. Book a tour here, or it’s part of the Go City Pass.
- ArcelorMittal Orbit – this funky new addition to the London Skyline has become famous for its spectacular views of London. It’s located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, which hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s also included on the Go City Pass.
Map of the Best Views of London
To help make your travel planning easier, I created a map with these London viewpoints marked. Click this link to save a copy for yourself and edit as you need.
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