London is a striking city – a glorious hodgepodge of centuries of architecture, punctuated by the meandering Thames and lots of green spaces. But where do you go to see London at its very best? Scattered all over the city, these spots boast the best views in London – impressive panoramas that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Editor’s Note: London, like much of the rest of the world is currently subject to changing lockdown measures. I am still publishing guides to help you discover the best of my hometown but please follow current advice and guidelines and check ahead to ensure that venues are open. Stay safe and stay alert.
Free London Views
The views from the top of Greenwich Park are renowned for being some of the best in London – not least because they offer a different perspective to the viewpoints in central London.
First, there’s leafy Greenwich itself – the gorgeous buildings of the Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College from which you can catch a peep of the Thames.
Then there’s the glittering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf – between them you get the chance to look at centuries and centuries of London development in one view.
Richmond Park is one of the best parks in London. Full. Stop. It’s got deer – what more could you want?
Not many people know that if you find the right spot, it also offers some of the best free views in London – one vantage point is from Sawyer’s Hill where you can see Central London.
The second spot is King Henry’s Mound, reputed to be the very place where Henry VIII waited for a signal to show that his second wife, Anne Boleyn’s, head had been chopped off. Nice.
These days it offers much gentler pastimes, including the perfect tree-framed view of the London skyline.
Spread out to the north of the prim and proper Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill has a less manicured feel about it that, along with its views of central London, attracts people from all over the city.
The view sweeps south straight to central London and is one I recommend you see at least once.
Sky Garden is housed in the top of the Walkie Talkie building – prime real estate for soaking up some pretty fantastic views of London, not to mention being one of the city’s most majestic spots.
Take a peek at the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf to the east and the meandering Thames leading to iconic attractions like the London Eye and Parliament in the West.
Want to beat the crowds? Go up to Sky Garden early in the morning when there’s barely anyone around.
Oxo TowerCredit: @OXO Tower Restaurant
Many of central London’s viewing platforms are ridiculously expensive (cough * a view from the Shard*) – not so with the Oxo Tower, which offers you gobsmacking Thameside views for free.
Just head up to the terrace, where there’s an area the public can enter for free. Even better, not that many people know about it so chances are you will get it all to yourself.
It’s one of the most iconic panoramic views in London – the rolling grasslands of Hampstead Heath park providing the perfect foreground for the skyscrapers of the city beyond.
The history of the name is hotly contested – my favourite story is that Guy Fawkes’ buddies gathered here to watch the Houses of Parliament blow up – obviously it never did, but the name stuck nonetheless.
Queen Elizabeth II Garden Southbank
The Queen Elizabeth Hall Garden might not be one of the highest points in London, but, thanks to its uber-central location, offers a pretty banging view of the city all the same.
It’s an unusual haven amidst the concrete jungle of the Southbank Centre, where wildflowers and fruit trees frame views of the Thames and the hustle and bustle beyond.
Viewing Level at the Tate ModernCredit: @Marco Ronnj Provenzi
Head atop the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik Building for another of the best free views in London. The viewing level at the Tate Modern is smack-bang in the middle of the action when it comes to London’s skyline
Peek over to the instantly-recognisable dome of St Paul’s, glance over to The Shard – you can even see Wembley Stadium if you look hard enough.
One Tree Hill
It’s hard to imagine the time when the Great North Wood covered huge swathes of South London, but it left its mark on contemporary London if you know where to look.
One Tree Hill (no, not the TV programme) is one such spot.
The hill is a high point in Honor Oak where Queen Elizabeth I is said to have rested under a tree (hence the honorable oak). Today it’s one of the best London skyline views in the south of the city.
Alexandra Palace ParkCredit: @Alexandra Palace
Ally Pally as it’s nicknamed is many things – concert venue, home to a farmer’s market and much more. Bit of a shame then that more fuss isn’t made over the spectacular view you get of London from Alexandra Park.
Parliament Hill might get all the attention, but Alexandra Park offers a widespread London view – particularly at night when the city’s lights twinkle in the distance.
One New ChangeCredit: @One New Change
For a while, One New Change’s viewing terrace was a bit of a secret. A free viewing terrace with views of St Paul’s so close that it feels like you can reach out and touch it? The secret was never going to last long.
That still doesn’t stop it from working its magic – pop up here for sunrise or sunset for a view that will make you fall in love with London all over again, or book a spot on one of the yoga classes or film screenings held in the space.
Waterloo BridgeCredit: @Suzanne Bates
Who said you have to go high to get great views? The River Thames isn’t short of a bridge or two, but it’s the views from Waterloo Bridge that make even the most battle-hardened Londoner stop and take a photo.
What’s the appeal? To the west, the London Eye and Houses of Parliament set the scene, while to the east, the former riverside palace of Somerset House vies for your attention with The Shard and The City’s skyscrapers.
Bars & Restaurants with Great Views
12th Knot at Sea Containers
Get to the bar early (or book ahead) to nab one of the terrace tables at the rather brilliant cocktail bar 12th Knot at the top of Sea Containers hotel. What’s better than looking at the central London skyline at sunset? Answer = doing it with a rather tasty cocktail in hand.
Radio RooftopCredit: @Mimi W
I dithered about whether to include Radio Rooftop in this guide as the place is pretension defined… but the fact remains that it really is one of the best rooftop bars in London when judged by the view alone.
Take the elevator to the top of the Hotel ME and step out to see the bright lights of London’s glitzy West End spread out beneath you. You can find better cocktails in the area, and you can certainly find nicer staff, but you can’t replace those views.
Frank’s CafeCredit: @hidden_gemsss
If Frank’s Cafe didn’t single-handedly elevate Peckham to one of London’s cool spots, it certainly played a starring role.
Wend your way up the iconic bubblegum pink staircase to emerge on the top – a cool panoramic view of London spread out before you. It’s busy, buzzy and lots of fun.
Hutong The ShardCredit: @Hutong
London restaurants with a view generally come at a steep price and Northern Chinese restaurant Hutong in The Shard is no exception.
Inside you find lanterns and silk curtains, but it is really the view of London spread out beneath you (it’s on the 33rd floor) that will steal the show.
Duck & WaffleCredit: @Eleni Petrea 🧿
The Heron Tower’s contemporary British-European restaurant has been a fixture on London’s dining scene since it opened in 2012.
It’s also one of the few 24/7 restaurants in London – so you can bag an eyeful of stellar views and a bellyful of delicious food whatever the time of day. It’s pricey, but worth it.
Also in the Heron Tower, SushiSamba brings the unlikely combination of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian food together and makes it work with spectacular aplomb.
The views, from the 38th and 39th floor of the building really are brilliant – and it just so happens to host one of the liveliest brunches in town too.
Portrait at the National Portrait GalleryCredit: @Melina Keays
Portrait – a rather fitting name for the restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery is one of central London’s little gems.
How would you like to sit down to dinner with views of Nelson’s Column, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey? Thought so.
Want to make the most of your money, there’s a set lunch menu (£29.50 / £33 for two / three courses) that makes it one of the more affordable options in Covent Garden.
Other Gorgeous London Viewpoints
Ah, the London Eye. You can’t have a piece on the best London viewpoints without mentioning the London Eye. Even now, over 20 years after it opened, it still gives me a thrill to jump on the Eye to spend 25 minutes stuffing my eyes with views of London’s iconic spots.
It’s not cheap and you have to move quick to nab a decent spot once you’re in, but it’s still a magical experience, particularly on a clear day when you can see far and wide.
Tower BridgeCredit: @
Londoners and visitors alike spend so much time gawping at and photographing Tower Bridge that they sometimes forget you can actually go inside. It will cost you (this is London after all) but The Tower Bridge experience is quirky, interesting and comes with some fabulous London views.
You can even walk on the glass floor over the Thames… if you dare.
Arcelormittal Orbit SlideCredit: @Ricardo De Viveiros
Any mention of the UK’s largest sculpture is pure Marmite to Londoners – some love it, others hate it – whichever way you swing, you can’t deny that it offers a cracking view of London.
The big attraction is, of course, the world’s biggest and largest tunnel slide. Still, given its size, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can see for 20 miles from the top of the structure – something to take your mind off the fact that it’s a long way down.
Emirates Cable CarCredit: @ANDREA | Travel
The Emirates Cable Car is probably one of the cheapest attractions with a great London view in the city thanks to the fact that it actually forms part of London’s transport network.
As such, it will cost you a mere snippet on your Oyster card to hop on board and take the 10 minute journey (20 mins return) journey between North Greenwich and Royal Docks.
The MonumentCredit: @TheRookieGB
The 17th century Monument built to commemorate the Great Fire of London sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to London skyline views, but that’s a mistake. Though the view is a little obscured by the towering buildings of The City that surround it, it’s still worth taking a peek.
St Paul’s CathedralCredit: @St Paul’s Cathedral London
St Paul’s is such a dominant piece of London’s skyline – but it’s also a great spot from which to take in an eyeful of central London.
Climb the dome to The Stone Gallery (378 steps) and the even-higher Golden Gallery (528 steps) for far-reaching views of the city.
Westminster CathedralCredit: @GreyAversion
No, I’m not talking about Westminster Abbey. The lesser-known Westminster Cathedral is just down the road from Victoria Station (still in Westminster) and is hiding one of London’s best views in plain sight.
To reach it, you will need to hop to the top of the Cathedral’s St Edmund’s Tower (thankfully, there’s an elevator). At 94 metres high, it’s in the perfect location to spot some of London’s most famous buildings including The BT Tower, Westminster Abbey and The Houses of Parliament.
Looking for more beautiful places in London? Check these out…
- Instagram Spots in London
- Shoreditch Street Art Guide
- Finding the Best Street Art in Camden
- Time to Discover: Little Venice
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