If you plan to do some sightseeing in London, one of the largest metropolises in Europe, we suggest that you do so from any one of its highest, most whimsical lookouts like The View from The Shard, The Sky Garden, or The London Eye. You can enjoy a unique experience of this megacity from any of them. Be dazzled, for instance, by the lights of the city at sunset from the Shard; marvel at Canary Wharf while strolling the verdant Sky Garden just under the clouds; or leisurely spin through the merry heart of central London on The London Eye.

Each will give you views of the city that you’ll remember for a lifetime. They’re all super ways to appreciate the greatness of the realm and to begin to orient yourself to it. Here’s a description of them to help you decide which one you want to begin seeing London from.

By the way, are you looking for cheap flights to London?  If so, check out these deals.

‘The View from The Shard’ Lets You See the Sights from London’s Tallest Building

The Shard in London England

The Shard towers over Tower Bridge as the sun sets in London. / Photo via Shutterstock.

Absurdly unlike its name, The Shard is a massively elegant, neo-futuristic skyscraper that in addition to being the tallest in London is the tallest in western Europe at 1,016 feet high.

With its sleek, white glass exterior, pyramidal shape, and jagged top, which makes it look like it snapped off from something much larger, it has an intriguing, otherworldly appeal. (Cosmically speaking, it’s a shard?) It’s surprising to discover then that its firmly based on history, being designed on the masts of Venetian tall ships in Canaletto’s paintings and the spires of old London churches rather than on a science fiction tale. Renzo Piano, the famous architect, dreamed it up. (Pardon the pun.)

It’s a vertical city with a variety of businesses (hotels, restaurants and boutiques) and residences. But you might think it was created just for looking at London since there’s no sign of them on your direct ascent to The View.

Highlights of ‘The View’

The View from The Shard is a splendidly romantic date night, a one-of-a-kind cocktail party in the sky, a conquest for tourists, and even at times a silent disco and a power Pilates studio. But most of all it’s an imperial view of a grand city. Two dedicated elevators whisk you up to the 68th floor of the Shard where The View begins, putting you quite magically atop London in about a minute.

Kick off your visit with a sip of bubbly at the bar on the 68th floor where you can also get a taste of the scenery. But then bop right on up to the viewing gallery on the 69th, which has two big bars and ice cream vendors, and raise a glass of Moët as you say cheers to its spectacular 360-degree views. Float up further still, if you wish, to the open-air sky deck on the 72nd floor and make a toast to the sky.

Sunset at ‘The View’

Visitors in slivers of shadow and sunlight at The View from The Shard. / Photo by Joseph Decibus. All rights reserved.

At sunset, people flock to The View to see London light up against a dramatically colored sky. You can enjoy stunning scenes of the urban light show, which while more muted than that of Paris is still quite dreamy.

The vibe among visitors is giddy, bubbly, and sophisticated.

There’s a feeling of awe, a hushed reverence, as if everyone had suddenly found themselves in the presence of royalty. You are, in a few words, on the proverbial cloud nine.

At about 800 feet above London, you can see the big picture of the city as well as important details. You’ll be amazed, no doubt, by the seemingly infinite expanse of London, how it’s less like a city, or even a megacity, and more like a country unto itself.

But you can also pick out, with a little effort, such fine points as the Monument to the Great Fire of London just across the Thames. If the city looks like a scale model of itself within a narrow radius of The Shard, at least it doesn’t look like a printed circuit board as certain cities do from their highest lookouts. While there are no interactive displays to teach you about London, there are “Guest Ambassadors” to help you.

Marvel at how gracefully Tower Bridge links the medieval and the modern. / Photo via Shutterstock.

See the Medieval and the Modern

Along with just about everyone else, you press up to The Shard’s glass skin and visually glide down on the zip-lines of the sun’s golden-blue rays into some area of luminous London that fascinates you. You can, for instance, easily sail right over the Thames and the walls of the Tower of London on the North Bank for a glimpse of London’s medieval character. And then slowly return to modern times by following the fairytalish Tower Bridge back over to the South Bank where One Tower Bridge, a new, trapezoidal apartment complex sits in all its modern luxury. The modern, spherical City Hall adds a dash of swirling contrast to the rectilinear geometry of the area.

See the City in Motion

This is a lovely spot from which to watch London in locomotion:  Little red buses crossing London Bridge; boats plying the winding River Thames; trains coming and going on the lyric sweep of the rail lines parallel to the river; and columns of workers walking across the Thames on its many bridges, a small army in its eternal, twilight march home.

Stay Until Closing as Time Escapes You

As late afternoon fades into early evening, the gallery fills up with folks. As they camp out around its perimeter, either settling in for sunset or just powerless to pull themselves away from this transfixing experience, it can be hard to get a comfortable spot. But once you do, you’ll find you can spend quite a bit of time here. For as you gaze at the mix of skyscrapers and the many more modest buildings, arranged like the finger sandwiches and fancies of a late afternoon tea, the hours slip away as quickly as the last rays of day do behind the Globe Theatre.

Location

The Shard is at 32 London Bridge Street. Take either the Northern or the Jubilee line of the London Underground and get off at the London Bridge station stop.

Cost and Hours

At £32.00 (US $41.00) per adult and £25.00 (US $32.00) per child, The View from The Shard is expensive; a high cost for a high view, but discounts are available. And the first and best place to look for one is right on The View’s website. For the entire month of January 2019, for instance, it offered 50% off on tickets purchased online. Or, you can buy the London Pass which includes access to The Shard. Or, just show up at The Shard on the day that you want to go and hope to get lucky with a serendipitous “day of discount.”

The View is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until mid-to-late evening.  Check for any updates to prices or hours before you go.

The ‘Sky Garden’ Lets You See London from Its ‘Highest Public Garden’

The 20 Fenchurch Street building, with its black and white facade and its slender waist and massive top, rises high over the financial district of London. / Photo via Shutterstock.

We’ve always known that the British were passionate about their gardens, but that passion has literally reached new heights with the Sky Garden. It grows in the enlarged glass dome of the 20 Fenchurch building 525 feet above the financial district in the historic City of London.

Otherwise known as the Walkie-Talkie for its unusual shape, it’s a space-age-looking building within which you would hardly expect to find a garden. Yet it’s there, spanning the 35th to 37th floors, of the 38-storey Walkie-Talkie.

You can stroll among plants and flowers just under the clouds as you take in sparkling 360-degree sights of the city.

You enter the Sky Garden by taking a dedicated elevator that sweeps you up to the 35th floor in seconds. Before you know it, the doors slide open, and you walk out onto the first level. A huge curvilinear window with heavy latticework lets the silvery light of London flood in right in front of you. You’re instantly drawn to its spectacular panoramic southward view of London – instead of the garden, ironically – in which the mighty Shard takes center stage. It’s an uplifting, reassuring sight.

Take in the Thames from the Terrace

Sky Garden 20 Fenchurch Street a.k.a the Walkie-Talkie building: Tourists take in the Thames.

Visitors to the Sky Garden watch the boats go by on the Thames from the terrace. / Photo by Joseph Decibus. All rights reserved.

Stepping out onto the open-air terrace, just beyond the window, you can enjoy a wonderful, breezy view of the daily, nautical pageant on the Thames. While the river may not be as busy as in years past, you can easily watch the boats from here for hours. There’s quite a variety of them from little tugboats, to tourist sightseeing boats, to barges loaded with industrial supplies, to battleships, and even luxury yachts.

If you look all the way to the east along the river, you’re likely to be startled to see Canary Wharf, London’s other major financial center, sitting there like a city unto itself, distant yet imposing. With its entirely modern skyline, it could easily be a slice of New York City. Surrounded by the river as if by a moat, its skyscrapers are huddled together, absorbed in a world of their own.

Relax in the ‘Garden’

Image via Flickr. (CC by 2.0). Photo by Martin Pettitt.

Take a break from the mesmerizing Thames by going back inside to the “garden,” which is anything but classically English. (Though a little lavender in it hints of one.) It’s composed of two vibrantly green wedges of rain forest-like foliage, one on each side of the venue and spanning all three of its levels. It’s a cool, verdant, and refreshing refuge from the intense city. There’s also a bar and restaurant complex in the middle of the garden.

At the foot of the garden, which is the sunniest area, you can appreciate several species of plants and flowers from Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Here you’ll encounter ferns, succulents, and exotics. Beyond them, in the middle, there are Cycads with their crowns of evergreen leaves, including, 100-year-old Cycas from the foot of Mt. Etna in Sicily. So amazing that you find them here! And further on, near its top, New Zealand Tree Ferns, Cyathea Medullaris, which are 30 to 40 feet tall, form the low-light forest area. It’s really quite an achievement on the part of the developers to have transplanted all of them. And it’s equally astonishing that they survive here.

The garden is designed so that as you walk up the stairs from level to level with the sky on one side of you and the garden on the other, you can get a sense that you’re walking through a lovely garden in the sky.

And maybe, after a few drinks, if you look down through the ferns onto the brown Thames, you can even flirt with the very fragile illusion that you’re up in a tree in the Amazon rain forest watching the mighty Amazon River roll on by.

See Other Novel Skyscrapers

If you look north from the top of the garden, you can get an unparalleled view of the big bullet-shaped building known as the Gherkin, the wedge-shaped Cheesegrater, and the one that’s all razor-sharp angles called the Scalpel.

Location

The Sky Garden is at 20 Fenchurch Street. Take the London Underground to Monument station.

Cost and Hours

As it’s a public garden, there’s no cost to enter. When you book online on the Sky Garden’s website, you get your free, timed-entry tickets in your email. Just arrive at the designated time and scan them at the door. It’s simple and efficient.

The Sky Garden is open for public viewing seven days per week from mid-morning to early or late evening, depending on the day of the week.

The London Eye, the City’s Tallest Observation Wheel, Lets You See into the Heart of Central London

The London Eye gives you stunning views of central London while it rotates you merrily around it as if you’re on a giant Ferris Wheel. (It’s technically considered an observation wheel though due to its design differences.) Taking its time to show you the sights, going round even lazier than a water wheel, it completes a full revolution in a half hour. So gradually does it revolve with its 32 climate-controlled sightseeing capsules, each of which holds up to 25 people, you can hop on while it’s still turning. A pretty slick feat of engineering that adds to the whimsy of the experience.

It’s probably the closest you’ll ever come to floating above the city in a champagne bubble.

At the highest point in its revolution at nearly 450 feet above the ground, you get an extraordinary 360-degree view of the city, and at its lowest point you skim right over the river.

In the evening, the Eye illuminates London’s skyline as a magical circle of color. While it’s often lit up in red to represent Coca-Cola, its corporate sponsor, it can brighten the night with other hues as well, or with multi-colors, in celebration of special events like the birth of a royal baby (Union Jack colors) or big holidays like Diwali (Rangoli pattern). Known as the Gateway to London, it’s an inviting, glowing portal through which to join the festivities of the moment, a jubilant symbol of cultural unity.

See the Crown Jewel Buildings

Visitors take in some of London’s most iconic buildings like the Palace of Westminster from The London Eye. / Photo by Joseph Decibus.  All rights reserved.

Each capsule is quite stable, and you can sit in one and watch London go by or walk around taking snaps as your angle of view on the city’s landmarks is slowly adjusted. While from the very top of The Eye, you get extravagant views of the whole of London, as it moves around, you can focus in on such historic icons across the river as Elizabeth Tower with Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster, and, just behind it, Westminster Abbey.

Take in the Drama on the Thames

As the wheel rotates your capsule over the Thames, it puts you almost in the middle of its busy boat traffic. You can be right in the riveting action, for instance, as grimy barges laden with rebar quickly maneuver for position with lovely leisure ships and tourist cruise boats, tugs, and other vessels. You get a thrilling sense of just how challenging it must be to navigate the Thames, which has, unfortunately, seen its share of serious boating accidents over the years. The Eye, then, gives you quite an eyeful of London indeed.

Location

It’s near central London on the South Bank at the river’s edge between Jubilee Gardens and County Hall, which is where its ticket office is located. Take the tube to Waterloo East Railway station and walk through the gardens, which offer an amusement park like ambiance, including street performers, a chair ride, a carousel, and plenty of vendors selling all sorts of carny delights.

Cost and Hours

There are a variety of prices, depending upon the type of ticket, but the price for a standard adult individual flight is around £ 25 to £ 28 (about US $33 to $37 ), depending on whether you buy online or at the door. And it’s a few pounds less for a child.  It’s steep, but some discounts are available. While this attraction is not included in the London Pass, it’s included in the London Explorer Pass. Also, the London North Eastern Railway offers a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. And Madame Tussauds, which is right nearby, also offers a deal with the London Eye.

The Eye’s operating hours vary.  Generally, it’s open from mid-morning to early-to mid-evening.  Check the website for the specific times and costs that apply to your visit.

After seeing London from above, you’ll want to hit the ground running with our guide on how to explore the city like a local. It’ll give you some tips for making the savings you got on one of those cheap flights to London last.

What’s your favorite way to see London from on high?  Let us know in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About The Author

Avatar

Joseph Decibus writes for CheapOair and is also an avid traveler who occasionally writes about his trips. He looks forward to informing readers periodically about interesting places and events throughout the world.