In London, clusters of glassy skyscrapers stand shin-to-shoulder with buildings dating back to Roman times, with the twists and turns of the Thames separating London’s north and south. From a bird’s eye view, you’ll spot all the famous sights as if they’ve been miniaturized. Here, the ten best places to see London from above (for free!).
The Post Building
Uniquely placed on the edge of London’s West End, deep beneath this building is an old post office railway line, but it’s the views from the roof that make The Post Building worth visiting. Peer towards nearby Covent Garden and over the British Museum’s impressive glass-topped foyer (in-between is St George’s Church, on top of which is a statue of King George I).
It feels surreal strolling around a park at the top of a skyscraper, and it’s particularly surreal when that park contains full-size trees. Beside the curvaceous Fenchurch Building’s (AKA the Walkie Talkie) 37th-floor foliage, you can peek right into the Tower of London and across to the Shard, the city’s tallest skyscraper. Note that you’ll need to book a slot via skygarden.london to visit. It’s free, but spots fill up quickly.
The Walkie Talkie is deliberately curved to protect views of St Paul’s Cathedral, in line with a policy that ensures the famous domed building can be seen from designated places such as Primrose Hill. It’s a steep climb to the top of the hill, from where you can see far to the south. It also happens to be a druidic order’s ancient holy site.
Crowds typically gather to look over London from Parliament Hill, but a worthy alternative is just beside the 17th-century Kenwood House (also free to enter), at the top of Stable Field. From about 350 feet above sea level, you’ll see the distant cityscape bordered by Hampstead Heath’s woods. Plus, there’s an information board showing skyline highlights.
Only eight floors high, but with a unique sightline of St Paul’s Cathedral, Oxo Tower’s viewing platform is accessed from the bustling South Bank. While it’s not a particularly large space, it is a serene spot from which to look down on the busy river traffic.
The Garden at 120
Amid the financial district’s huddled skyscrapers, the green beds of The Garden at 120 provide a calm contrast to the cacophony 15 floors below. Glimpse Tower Bridge and the Thames, and marvel at the architecturally celebrated Lloyd’s Building.
Opening this summer, The Viewing Gallery in the 22 Bishopsgate skyscraper will be, at 58 floors high, by far the tallest of London’s free viewing platforms. The multi-story mega-building is smack-dab in the middle of London’s ancient City neighborhood.
One New Change
A glass elevator whisks visitors to the roof of the One New Change shopping mall, where a large terrace offers superb views of St Paul’s. Grab some refreshments from the restaurants below, find a place to sit on the terrace, and take in the scenery.
There are various reasons to visit Greenwich (e.g., the maritime museum, Cutty Sark, the market, and Prime Meridian line), but the view over the naval college, the Thames, and the towers of Canary Wharf from beside the observatory is the highlight.
Aga Khan Centre
Just beyond the dancing fountains of Granary Square is the bright white Aga Khan Centre, which has several terraces designed in the style of famous gardens throughout the Islamic world. To visit, you’ll need to book a tour via agakhancentre.org.uk/tours/.