You’ve seen them in the movies: London views are some of the most iconic in the world. But that’s easy to lose sight of when you’re stuck underground, or staring at a map.
High rise London views from the London Eye and the Shard are heavily advertised, but that shows in the pricing. Plus, and the world and his wife are already there. If you know where to look, you can avoid the crowds and get some stunning more secret perspectives of the city.
It’s time to think outside the box (or tube, or square) and get high without the legal consequences.
HERE ARE TOTALLY TAILORED’S SIX SELECTED SECRET SKYLINE SIGHTS (WITHOUT THE SKY-HIGH PRICES).
The Rural View of London: Primrose Hill
Where: Primrose Hill, London NW3
When: 5am – dusk
Primrose Hill sits on the edge of bustling Camden, but the only way you’ll know it’s not a country village is the magnificent view. Look over the rolling hills and tree-lined lanes of Regent’s Park and you’ll see a vista of skyscrapers straight out of a sci-Fi movie. But it’s also a classic London view: you can see the West End with the London Eye beyond. And look to the East and you’ll find the twin icons of London, the Shard and the dome of St Paul’s perfectly aligned.
Or if it’s wildlife you want to see, keep your eyes open and you might catch a glimpse of the likes of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost. Among its other delights, Primrose Hill is a favourite celebrity picnic spot.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: On Saturdays there’s an excellent food market at the Northern foot of the hill, 10am – 3pm
The Landmark View of the Thames: Pizza Express, Bankside
Where: Benbow House, 24 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DS
When: Monday – Thursday 11.30am – 11pm, Friday – Saturday 11.30am – midnight, Sunday 11.30am – 10.30pm
Price: from £10 per head
Yes, we know Pizza Express is an ubiquitous chain (there are over 400 in the UK) but, in our opinion, this Bankside branch is a real find. So if you aren’t a fan of skyscrapers, or sky-high prices, this is the London view for you.
Ask to sit upstairs by the window, and from the 2nd floor there’s a treat waiting for you. Watch a Southbank sunset over St Paul’s and the Millenium Bridge as the Thames flows by. In conclusion: a truly five-star view for under a tenner. Result.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: For every show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (located next door) there are standing tickets available for £5. So that’s dinner and a show for £20. Who said London was expensive?
The Hidden Hotel Bar: The Heights at St George’s Hotel
Where: 14 – 15 Regent Street, Langham Place, London W1B 2QS
When: 7am – 11pm
Price: £3 for a coffee, three course meals from £26
This four star hotel is discreetly hidden behind the coffee shops of Regent Street. So when you need a break from shopping, leave the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus behind. While signage is minimal and the reception area may look a bit tired, you know that something special lies on the 15th floor. Namely, one of the more unusual London views.
Because up there, the air is rarefied (thanks, Sinatra), and you can enjoy the ‘walls of windows’ in peace, away from the crowds. You’ll be up close to the iconic BT tower, which looks to many Doctor Who fans like a giant sonic screwdriver. There’s also a rare perspective on the unique twin spires of All Souls Church and the BBC’s HQ Broadcasting House, tucked away just below you.
Even on grey days the sun is crystallised and floods the space. (See the dappled ‘disco ball’ effect on the streets below in our picture?) While the decor is more suited to a business meeting than a romantic meal, you won’t be looking at the interior. And refreshingly friendly waiters will serve you a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio for less than half the price of the fashionista’s haunt The Langham, just across the road.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: sadly Broadcasting House isn’t open to the public. But head to the Caffe Nero by the entrance and you might spot a celebrity.
After all, newsreaders always need coffee. And Britain’s most popular show, The One Show, is filmed in the studio opposite every weeknight at 7pm.
The Bookshop Rooftop View: 5th view at Waterstones
Where: 203 – 205 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
When: Monday – Saturday 9am – 9.30pm, Sunday 12 – 5pm
Price: glass of wine from £6, afternoon tea £15.95 per person
If you’re looking for an oasis of calm in the neon hubbub of Piccadilly circus, then you need a bookshop. So grab a a brand-new book from Europe’s largest bookshop, then head to the 5th floor. There you will find an amazing Art Deco bar and restaurant.
It’s your best bet for a wide screen London view. And you’ll be looking straight at some of the most famous buildings in town: the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: The 1930s building was originally home to the famous department store, Simpsons of Piccadilly.
The Best London View of St Paul’s: One New Change
Where: 1 New Change, London EC4M 9AD
When: 6am – midnight
The City of London’s only large shopping centre has a roof terrace which is still a relatively secret sightseeing spot. There’s no need to visit the shops in the mall, just take the lift straight to the 6th floor. From here you get an unparallelled open air view of St Paul’s Dome, with the river and Tate Modern beyond. For any photographer keen to capture the contrasts of a modern London view, it’s a must-visit.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: During Wimbledon Tennis Tournament they put up an enormous screen, and you can lie on bean bags watching champions play.
That’s how this terrace becomes the best place to watch the tennis (without having to snag a Centre Court ticket).
The Best City of London View: Duck and Waffle Bar
Where: 40th floor, Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2 4AY
Price: glass of wine from £9, cocktails from £18, pigs ears £6
This is the priciest of our recommendations for a great London view, but it’s arguably the most impressive. No need to book for the bar, just tell the security staff at the lift that you’re headed to the Duck & Waffle. There is a dress code – no trainers or sports clothes – but it’s worth it. And once you’ve been catapulted forty storeys up at high speed in the glass elevator, the atmosphere is nicely unpretentious.
The elevation here means a brilliant London view in every direction. You can see as far as Wembley Stadium in the North and Crystal Palace in the South. Likewise, the height makes nearby Tower Bridge and the Tower of London look like intricate pieces of Lego decorating the meandering Thames.
There’s also a prime view down into the Gherkin next door, while you nibble on crispy pigs’ ears (posh pork scratchings to you and me). At night, this icon of modern London is lit up like a huge disco ball in the heart of the City’s financial district.
Tour Guide Tip from the Top: This is one of the few London venues that’s open 24 hours a day. Try visiting at sunset or sunrise.
We can tell you, watching the light change over the whole of London is an unparalleled experience.
ENJOY LONDON’S SPECTACULAR SKYLINES ON YOUR OWN PRIVATE SIGHTSEEING TOUR WITH Totally Tailored.