Top 5: Spots to see London from above

Jack Oughton explores five different ways to get a birds eye view of the capital.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 16th May 2012

London is many things. Full of life, history, sights, interesting people and experiences to be had. It comes as no surprise then that London can be awe inspiring to see from above.

Perhaps you want a romantic backdrop, a chance to admire the architecture, a sense of perspective, or you just want to watch the bright lights of the city as the sun sets behind Greenwich. Either way, as anyone who's done it will tell you, it's well worth seeing it from above. And bringing your camera.

Unfortunately, and compared with many other cities boasting an impressive array of high rises, many of London's ivory towers aren't open to the general public, being accessible only to those who work within them. All this can make sightseeing from up high a little more difficult than it should be in our fair capital...

But it's not impossible. And with this said, here are five very different ways to get a bird's eye view of 'The Big Smoke' in all its sprawly glory.

1. The London Eye

So we'll start with the most obvious first. And we mean obvious in more ways than one. The world's biggest Ferris wheel is pretty hard to miss, and is designed mainly with observing London in mind. You know the drill; get aboard one of the  observation capsules and observe London as you move . In the 30 minutes of time you get up there, you'll get a stunning view St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the bridges above the Thames, and more.

As well as an intimate view of the beating political heart of the UK, on a good day you'll get about 40km of visibility at the top - so you can see into many of the other outlying boroughs as well. Feeling extravagant? You can also book a private capsule, one that caters to children's parties, romantic intentions or business functions. There's gotta be something said for drinking champagne in a glass booth, high above London town.

Where: South Bank, SE1 7PB

2. The Monument (To The Great Fire of London)

The Monument reminds us that the Great Fire of London was pretty crap, and that we could do without this sort of thing again. It does this by presenting you with an endurance challenge. 311 steps , which are enough to induce a strange form of motion sickness and/or vertigo amongst some people who ascend them (you go round and round and round and round...). But when you do arrive at the top, the view provides its own reward. And, just in case you were wondering, children of 13 years or younger must be accompanied by an adult. 

Where: 18 Fish Street Hill  The City, London EC3R 6DB

3. Altitude 360 London

Altitude 360 is a five star rated conference and events space located high up on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower, right near the London Eye. With 8300sq feet of space, the venue is rented out for private parties and large corporate events. Booking a business function? Asides from 360 degree views (as the name would imply), the venue features minimalistic white and black decor, wi-fi and 60" plasma screens dotted about the place. Some patrons have described as something like a posh office with a restaurant inside it. At times it certainly feels a little like you are the big cheese in your top floor office, about to discuss financial instruments with the board of advisors. Hmmm...

So, moving from financial instruments... Altitude 360 also has a live Gospel choir (for Gospel Music Brunch, obviously!), which is certainly a unique touch. They'll even sing you happy birthday, along with modern covers and various pop classics such as Bob Marley and the Beatles.

The menu is familiar, providing English culinary stapes such as sandwiches, scones and the like. But caveat emptor, reviews of the place are mixed. Considering the pricey service, a number of patrons have commented that the food, service and drink quality does not meet expectations. Some reviews are a little angry (though many are not). Still, the views are undoubtedly spectacular, and so near to Westminster, Altitude 360 is certainly located right in the thick of things.

Where: 26th Floor, Altitude London  21-24 Millbank, SW1P 4QP

4. Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill (no relation to the Houses of Parliament) is an area of  parkland in north-west London, near Hampstead Heath. One of the cool things about Parliament Hill is that the views won't cost you anything but the time you spend to get to the top of it.  Plus, it's too big to ever get really crowded and you get some time in the closest thing that London has to the countryside. A different experience from some of our other recommendations, for sure. 98 metres at its summit, you can spot many a landmark from up there. These include and are not limited to all the famous stuff in the central City of London itself, including St Paul's Cathedral. And, asides from sightseeing, it is a brilliant (dare we say romantic?) spot to enjoy a sunset or a sunrise over the capital. 

Parliament Hill is very popular with people enjoying wholesome outdoor activities, such as runners, and people flying kites. In 2012 it'll host the English National Cross Country Championships. And now for some trivia to astound your friends with... many scenes from Simon Pegg's 2007 film Run Fatboy Run were filmed here. Also, the grasses that grow on the hill are agricultural, a legacy from when Hampstead Heath used to feed cattle. Plus there's a flock of flamingoes living there somewhere (but we've never seen them?).

Where: Highgate Road, London NW5 1QR

5. The Roof Gardens, Kensington

OK, so the views from The Roof Gardens might not compare to some of our other choices here, but this spot is far too cool not to get a mention. It calls itself "London’s only rooftop Private Members Club" and unless you've booked a place in advance, you aren't coming in. Access is gained via Derry street through a doorway marked "99 Kensington High Street"

Located about a hundred feet above Kensington High Street, the gardens aren't even visible from the ground, though if you look for Virgin flags fluttering from the top of the building, you can spot the site. Owned by Richard Branson since 1981, Virgin use it now as a super primo members club and venue. The site was listed as Grade II by English heritage in 1978, which means it counts as a national treasure. Awesome.

Fans of horticulture will be fascinated by the stuff they've got growing up there as well. They've divided it into a series of gardens that include one based on the Alhambra in Spain, a tudor garden full of roses and wisteria, and a 'woodland garden' - which appears to be a mini forest complete with Flamingoes and thirty species of trees.

Asides from the gardens, there's a restaurant called Babylon on the 7th floor. Apparently the food is good and it comes with a view - from the west side of the eatery you can see past Richmond Deer Park, and from the East you can peer at City Point and a large portion of South London.

This one may be harder to get into than some of our other recommendations, and the views may not be quite so stellar, but by 'eck, we want to go!

Where: 99 Kensington High Street , W8 5SA

Words: Jack Oughton

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