London could be compared to the universe, such is its plethora of experiences and variety of opportunities available. In addition, London is always expanding. The best way to keep tabs on the scope of this great city is by gaining some literal perspective on its size, done most effectively from a good vantage point. There is, however, no need to splash out on the London Eye or The Shard. Here is our list of the best free vantage points from which to view the city.
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Amidst the hustle and bustle of Camden market, it is difficult to envisage the charming, tranquil lanes of Primrose Hill tucked just around the corner. Walk over the Chalk Farm train bridge and you may as well have teleported into a quaint countryside village. If you can make it to the end of the road without succumbing to one of the delightful bakeries or restaurants, your restraint will be rewarded. A short walk up a steep hill, the view has an unrivalled horizontal scope aided especially by two things – the proximity of Primrose Hill to central London and the convenient positioning of the trees underneath the sight line. With a full east-west panorama, this view is relaxing yet detailed and there is even a handy bronze carving to help identify what you are looking at. Take photos, gaze in awe, then stroll back down the hill for a well deserved cream cake.
Staying in North London but further afield, ‘Ally Pally’ (as it is affectionately known by locals) is best known for its enormous indoor ice rink and stunning Guy Fawkes’ Night fireworks displays. However, what people often miss as they stare at the bright colours in the sky are the even brighter colours of a glistening London spread out into the far distance. This hill is really high and there is little obscuring the awe-inspiring vista. There is a 200 metre stretch with benches and steps from which to sit and marvel, although getting up there requires a car or hopping on the W3 bus from Finsbury Park underground. Most effective at night, where the isolation of the palace and the knowledge that you are only looking at less than a quarter of the city will contribute to an even greater sense of worldly perspective.
Heading southwards, you’ll find the centre of time itself at the top of yet another hill. The immediate appeal is the pure novelty of knowing this is the point where the human counting of time both starts and ends and trying to squint as far as you can along the green laser that traces the zero degree longitude. However, do feel free to look either side of the beam and take in the picture afforded to you, this time focussing in on the imposing faux-Manhattan that is Canary Wharf. This is the best available view of London’s corporate peninsula, with an appealing contrast afforded by the much older buildings at the bottom of the hill.
Climbing hills isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but fortunately some rooftop views can be accessed by lift without a hefty fee. The Heron Tower sprung up in 2011 and immediately sought to capture public approval with two enticing sky restaurants – Sushi Samba and the Duck and Waffle. Both are as pricey as you would expect when eating 40 storeys high, but pop up for a quick drink as the sun sets over the city and you can have a wander around both of the top levels as you sip. This is great time of day to go as it is relatively empty and you get the glitter of London’s lights speckled over a clear daylight view.
The Rooftop of Central Saint Giles
For a complex in Tottenham Court Road made up of three huge buildings with bright, multi-coloured facades, Central Saint Giles somehow tends to slip under the radar. Its ‘green roofs’ are technically private but a quick call to their publicity department, should provide access (with security guard to boot). Not the tallest building, but its positioning at the very centre of London, the dearth of taller buildings around it, and the fact you are outdoors make for a breathtaking 360 degree view from the very heart of the city. Make sure your smart phone is charged and you’ve got a panorama app.
The views from Thames bridges are not overrated, but due to the winding nature of the river there is only one bridge from which to see the spoils of both east and west: Waterloo Bridge. Turn eastwards to see the City in all its glassy glory – Canary Wharf in the distance, imposing and other-worldly and of course The Shard, blending hazily into the clouds. Westwards showcases the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and an impressive set of ornate older buildings that line the North Bank. By night, the glittering lights all around coupled with the eerie glow of the National Theatre make for a phenomenal feeling of being in the middle of something epic.
There is another much less well-known bridge that affords eye watering views of London, but this time the spectacle is down below – the bridge by Highgate Village. Walking the incline up Hornsey Lane past the suburban semi-detached houses, the last thing to expect is a sudden gap accommodating a bridge. It comes out of nowhere, and all of a sudden you realise just how high up you are. Try not to dwell on the dual carriageway 50 metres directly below you (putting tragic focus onto the name of the bridge) and instead gaze into the distance for the most secret of London vistas. The view is not dissimilar to that on Primrose Hill, but carries the satisfaction that you are probably the only person who will even notice it.
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