The London skyline is as impressive as any you will see in the world. The Shard offers the visitor the highest viewpoint in the city but at an eye watering £30.95 for an adult ticket (it’s cheaper if you buy in advance) it doesn’t come cheap. So here is our list of the eight best free views of London.
Primrose Hill, on the north side of Regent’s Park separated by Prince Albert Road, offers one of the most iconic views over London and is a popular picnic and kite-flying spot.
The area was once part of a great chase, appropriated by Henry VIII. With its clear rounded skyline, the land was purchased from Eton College in 1841 to extend the parkland available to the poor people of north London for open-air recreation.
At one time this was a place where duels were fought and prize-fights took place. The hill has always had a somewhat lively reputation, with Mother Shipton making threatening prophesies about what would happen if the city sprawl was allowed to encroach on its boundaries.
At the top of the hill is one of the six protected viewpoints in London. The summit is almost 63 metres above sea level and the trees are kept low so as not to obscure the view. In winter, Hampstead can be seen to the northeast.
Combine your visit with a trip around Camden Market and a pleasant walk along the Regent’s Canal. Enter the park at the gate at the junction of Albert Terrace and Prince Albert Road and walk up to the viewpoint. London Zoo is just a short walk south in the north east corner of Regent’s Park.
From Chalk Farm station you can enter the park at its most northern point on Primrose Hill Road. At weekends you can combine it with a visit to the Adelaide Nature Reserve on Adelaide Road.
Where : North of Regent’s Park. Closest tube stations are Camden Town or Chalk Farm (Northern line)
When : 5am til dusk (9.30pm May until July – earlier rest of the year)
With a view that inspired one of Britain’s finest landscape artists, J.M.W. Turner, it is no surprise that Greenwich Park is a firm favourite for enjoying the London skyline.
From the Cutty Sark DLR station head toward Greenwich Park and hike up the hill to the statue of General Wolfe in front of the Royal Observatory for the ultimate view of the city. Because of the U-shaped bend in the river Thames you can see both Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs and the skyscrapers of the City of London.
Where : By the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. Closest tube station is Cutty Sark (DLR)
When : 6am til dusk (9.30pm June and July, earlier other times of the year)
To the North West of Central London you will find Hampstead Heath, a 790 acre ancient heath dating back to 986. Parliament Hill, which is 98 metres (322 feet) high, is notable for its views of the capital’s skyline. From its summit you can see Canary Wharf, the Gerkin, the Shard and St Paul’s.
Whilst in the area you can also combine your visit with a trip to Keats House (close to Hampstead Heath station). One of England’s foremost late 19th century poets, John Keats is part of the canon of Romantic poetry, alongside Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. At his Regency villa, Keats House, you can explore his life and work through exhibits, original manuscripts and artefacts that document the young poet’s career.
On the northern edge of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is a free to enter art collection featuring works from Rembrandt to Vermeer. First built around the 17th century, Kenwood was transformed into a neoclassical villa by the late 1700s and its intricate interiors are well worth a visit.
West of Kenwood House, ‘The Spaniards Inn’ is one of London’s oldest and most historic pubs dating back to the 16th century. Keats is thought to have written ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ here and Charles Dickens featured the Inn in ‘The Pickwick Papers’.
Each dish on the menu is matched to a beer, chosen with care by their cellar man and chef. It has a summer garden and during the winter you can warm yourself in front of a cosy fire.
Where : Southern part of Hampstead Heath. Closest tube station is Hampstead (Northern line Edgware branch) but Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak Overground stations are closer and part of the same network.
When : Open 24 hours
In 1863 Alexandra Park was opened by the landscape architect Alexander McKenzie as a pioneering Victorian leisure Park and centre for education and entertainment. The park boosts a panoramic view of London stretching from Canary wharf to St Paul’s and the Shard. On a clear day the transmitter at Crystal Palace can be seen.
At the high point of the park the original Alexandra Palace was opened in 1873. It was Queen Victoria’s 54th birthday and it opened with a grand celebration including concerts, recitals and fireworks. Tragedy struck 16 days later when a fire broke out and the Palace was destroyed. A new palace was opened in 1875.
On the 2nd November 1936 the world’s first regular high-definition television broadcast took place from the BBC studios in the palace and it’s still used as a transmitter. The Great Hall and West Hall are used for exhibitions, music concerts and conferences and there is also a pub and ice rink.
Opened in 2016 the top floor of the Blavatnik Building (so named in May 2017) is an open viewing terrace 65 metres high from ground level. It was constructed above the former oil tanks of Bankside power station. It boasts spectacular 360-degree views of the London Skyline. You can enjoy a drink and snacks from the bar as you look across the River Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral, and as far as Canary Wharf and Wembley Stadium.
Access is free, and you can use the dedicated lift from Level 0.
Where : Tate Modern on the South Bank by the Millennium Bridge. Closest tube station is Southwark (Jubilee line). A great way to approach the Tate Modern is to go to St Paul’s station (Central line) and walk over the Millennium Bridge.
When : 10am til 6pm (to 10pm Friday and Saturday)
Opened in late October 2010, the One New Change shopping centre is situated on Cheapside next to St Paul’s. French architect Jean Nouvel– responsible for the Copenhagen Concert Hall and Philarmonie de Paris- has created an architectural delight with wall-climber glass lifts that open up to a large rooftop terrace. Best visited at sunset to watch the city come alive.
Where : Next to St Paul’s. St Paul’s (Central line) or Mansion House (Circle and District lines) stations.
When : 10am til 6pm (8pm Thursday and Friday)
The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street (nicknamed the “Walkie-Talkie”) is a unique public space that spans three storeys and offers 360 degree uninterrupted views across the City of London at a height of 160m (525 ft). Opened in January 2015 visitors can wander around the “gardens” and observation decks. The best views are from the open air Francis Golding Terrace (closes at 6pm) as there are fewer obstructions. On every occasion I have visited the Sky Garden the Terrace has been closed so there is no guarantee of access.
Entrance to the Sky Garden is free but you will need to pre-book tickets online. These are released every Monday for up to one week in advance. Tip: Follow the Sky Gardens Twitter feed for notification of release.
Where : On Fenchurch Street close to Monument station (District and Circle lines)
When : 10am til 6pm (11am til 9pm Weekends) – Online booking required. Tickets are released every Monday for up to 1 week in advance.
Website : https://skygarden.london/
The Horniman gardens together with the Museum are one of the best days out for families with children and listed by the New York Times as one of the coolest museums in the world. Check out the Horniman in our list of top free museums for children.
From the 16 acre garden take in the breathtaking vista of London from the restored Bandstand built in 1903 from a design by Charles Harrison Townsend. The surrounding terrace provides a large picnic area with stunning views.
Where : On the South Circular Road, west of Forest Hill Overground station.
When : Gardens are open Mon – Sat 7.15am to sunset (8.50pm May to July – earlier other months)
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