London is evolving. When I moved here seven years ago, the skyline was limited. The London Eye, Gherkin, and St Paul’s Cathedral were pretty much all that punctuated a low-lying architectural landscape. But not long after I landed, a flurry of construction began that has changed the skyline irrevocably. From the Shard to the Cheese Grater, these new buildings not only have quirky names, but also great views. But they’re not the only places that offer sweeping panoramas, and today I bring you A Lady in London’s 9 best views of London—the last one will surprise you!
Best Views of London
1. Walkie Talkie
– Best Garden View of London –
The Sky Garden sits at the top of the Walkie Talkie, a London skyscraper that has turned its highest floors into a covered forest with expansive views of the City and its surroundings. I snagged a ticket last week—they’re free—and headed to the top with a friend to check out the scene. The garden itself slopes downward from back to front, housing three tiers of restaurants in the center. The biggest is an airy cafe at the bottom, from which the outdoor viewing platform is easily accessible.
The views themselves are stunning, covering everything from Tower Bridge and City Hall to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard. It’s worth spending an afternoon there sipping a coffee or glass of wine while watching the world go by in miniature.
2. The Shard
– Best View of London from a Skyscraper –
At 1,004 feet (306 meters), the Shard is the tallest building in London. As its height suggests, it also has some of the best views in London. Tickets for its viewing floors aren’t cheap, but they offer 360-degree panoramas of London that incorporate the HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. It’s the perfect place to sip champagne to celebrate the view—or in my case, quell a fear of heights—and toast the tallest habitable building in Europe.
3. Greenwich Park
– Best View of London from a Park –
Back on the ground, the best view of London is from the top of the hill in Greenwich Park. Looking down at the beautiful historic architecture of the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, it surprisingly trumps the fact that the world-famous Prime Meridian and home of Greenwich Mean Time is just steps away. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the historic buildings of Greenwich and the towering glass skyscrapers of Canary Wharf behind them adds an exciting old-meets-new element to the view.
4. London Eye
– Best View of London from an Attraction –
Back in central London, one of the city’s most popular sightseeing attractions offers some of my favorite views of London. A ride on the London Eye offers close-up views of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace, all from the comfort of a giant bubble. My fear of heights caused me to avoid the London Eye for years, but when I finally conquered it to see what all the hype was about, I understood why it’s such a popular attraction. The views are unbeatable.
5. St Paul’s Cathedral
– Best View of London from a Church –
Across the Thames, one of the most visible landmarks in London also offers some of the best views of the city. Like the Duomo in Milan or the Notre Dame in Paris, St Paul’s Cathedral has a viewing platform at the top of its iconic dome that offers visitors a chance to look out over London while others look out onto them from the likes of the Walkie Talkie and Shard. The view of Paternoster Square is particularly pleasing, and makes walking up all the narrow staircases worth the effort.
6. City Social
– Best View of London from a Restaurant –
For dining with a view, there’s no better restaurant in London than City Social. Located on the 24th floor of Tower 42, it has spectacular views to go with Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred food. The fact that it’s not as high up as some of its nearby culinary counterparts—ahem, Duck & Waffle—also makes it easier to see the details of everything from the Thames to the Tate Modern. Then again, that makes it challenging to focus on the food instead of the view. First world problems.
7. The Monument
– Best View of London from a Landmark –
Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of 1666 is the world’s tallest isolated stone column. The Monument stands 202 feet high and is positioned 202 feet from the spot in Pudding Lane on which the Great Fire is said to have started. Climbing the 311 spiral steps to the top is not only an excuse to skip the gym (trust me, I did it yesterday!), but also a great way to see sights like the Tower of London and the Gherkin.
8. Natural History Museum
– Best Interior View of London –
London’s Natural History Museum may not have a viewing platform, but it has the next best thing: great interior views. The building was designed to be a cathedral to nature, and the sight of the central hall from the balcony on the second floor shows just how spectacular such a cathedral can be.
9. The Holiday Inn Kensington
– Best Unexpected View of London –
I’ve heard it said that the best views of a city are from its ugliest building, if for no other reason than that you don’t have to see said building in the skyline.
The Holiday Inn in Kensington is a great example of this. A 27-story concrete behemoth, the not-so-attractive hotel may dominate the skyline in South Kensington, but it also offers spectacular views of west London. Given the lack of tall buildings in the area, it’s one of the few places to get a good areal view of the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and the skyscrapers in the City.
Wherever you find your favorite view of London, a good camera will help you capture it. I’ve written about the camera I use and my photography tips, and I hope they help you take great pictures of the city.
How about you? Where have you found the best views of London?