With the opening of The Shard and the iconic London Eye, now a permanent fixture on the river, there are more places than ever to get a good view of London; but there are other ways to see the capital city from above. Contrary Life tried out a few alternatives to see whether there is a cheaper way to see the city that avoids the crowds.
Westminster Cathedral’s Bell Tower
Just round the corner from Victoria Station is the striped red brick building of Westminster Cathedral. Construction on the cathedral began in 1895 and was heavily influenced by Byzantine architecture.
The cathedral’s bell tower is open to the public and much less visited than some of its nearby relations. It costs £5 to go up via a lift and offers views of London from the four sides of the square tower. To visit the tower you can purchase a ticket inside the cathedral gift shop and a member of staff takes you up in the lift. From the top it is possible to see quite a few landmarks, even on a murky day.
We visited on a weekday so the tower was exceptionally quiet, but I imagine even on a busy day the tower is unlikely to see the crowds that the main attractions see. At the top there is a small exhibition including the cathedral’s architectural plans and other information about the building. The tower is open to the elements so remember to take a coat on cool or windy days.
The day Contrary Life visited it was quite overcast but we were still able to see the landmarks of Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, the BT Tower, Battersea Power Station, The Shard and the Gherkin. We liked the fact that you could see a part of the cathedral that is hidden from view at ground-level. If you like architecture then this is an extra treat. We also liked the fact that the view was unspoilt by glass or wire mesh. You do only get a four-sided view though due to the shape of the tower.
As the tower is accessed by lift you don’t need to climb stairs, so you get a great view with very little effort. You can spend as much time as you like up the tower so you can enjoy the views at your own leisure. Once you’ve had enough you simply press the button by the lift and a member of staff will bring you back down.
Westminster Cathedral is close to Victoria Station so it is easily accessible by public transport. Other attractions nearby include St James’s Park, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. If you are looking for more unusual attractions in the area then try the Jewel Tower, which is sometimes overlooked because of its more famous neighbours, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The quirky Blewcoat School and the Duke of Wellington’s mounting block (steps found outside the Athenaeum Club where the duke mounted and dismounted his horse) are also worth a look.
Our next view of the city came courtesy of The Monument, built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. Nestled in the City of London, the view from this landmark building takes a bit more effort, and due to the spiral staircase, a head for heights.
The tallest free-standing Doric column in the world has 311 steps to climb before you are rewarded by 360 degree views. The height of the column is 62 metres, which is supposed to be the exact distance from the source of the Great Fire in Pudding Lane.
It was raining the day we visited and towards the top the steps became quite slippy so we would recommend choosing the day you visit carefully or wear shoes with good grips. An adult ticket to The Monument costs just £3 and can be bought as you enter the base of the building.
Once you reach the top there is wire mesh surrounding the viewing platform which does get in the way of the view slightly but it’s there for obvious reasons. Again, it is open to the elements so be prepared. We were able to see Tower Bridge, City Hall, HMS Belfast, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Shard, the Gherkin, Canary Wharf and the BT Tower, despite a heavily clouded sky. Not bad at all for the money.
The Monument is situated near to Bank underground station and a short walk from London Bridge station so again, it is easily accessible from public transport. Nearby attractions include Borough Market, HMS Belfast and St Paul’s Cathedral. For something a little more quirky there is the Golden Hinde, The Clink Prison Museum and the Bank of England Museum all within walking distance. Those looking for something even more unusual to visit then check out The London Stone and Postman’s Park.
Of course there are more ways to view London than from Westminster Cathedral’s Bell Tower and The Monument but these do offer good value for money and usually no queuing (depending on when you go of course).
If you are looking for some good views of London without paying a penny then try heading to one of London’s hills. Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill both offer great views. Alexandra Palace also provides a good viewing spot.