London is one of my very favorite cities in the world – which is interesting, because I don't always love huge, sprawling cities! But there's just something about London that keeps me coming back again and again (and again!).
I think it's a mix of the history, the ease of traveling there, and the fact that there never seems to be a lack of things to do. I've been to London nearly a dozen different times, and I've done something new on every visit, from taking food tours to finding Harry Potter sites to trying to find the best afternoon tea in London.
One thing I love to do in any city I visit is to find a view of the city or landscape from up high. I'm not afraid of heights, so the more interesting the view, the better!
In London, there are lots of cool places where you can find city views from up in the sky. Some of these views can be found at rooftop bars/restaurants, or from certain hotel rooms, but I want to share some of the spots you might visit *just* for the view in London.
6 places to find great views in London
Note: Opening times and ticket types may differ right now, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check updated info on each location's official website before planning your visit!
1. The Shard
Even though this 95-story skyscraper was only completed in 2012, The Shard has already become an iconic part of the London skyline. Found in Southwark, this 1,016-foot tower is home to offices, apartments, three restaurants, the Shangri-La Hotel, and of course the observation gallery.
It gets its name from the fact that the top of the building looks like slightly unfinished shards of spiky glass. And yes, that was an intentional part of the design by Italian architect Renzo Piano – the building is, in fact, done!
The View from The Shard is the UK's highest viewing gallery, and is understandably a popular place for people to visit. A ticket here gets you access to two floors – a bar level and a partially open-roofed viewing level – on floors 69 and 72.
I treated myself to a visit to The Shard (and a glass of bubbly) for my birthday one year, and scheduled my visit to coincide with sunset. While it was a little busy (you'll need patience sometimes to get right up against certain windows for photos), I thought it was perfect for a special occasion.
What you can see from The Shard: A visit to The Shard will give you excellent views of many London landmarks along the River Thames, including Tower Bridge and the London Eye. It's a great place to catch a sunset.
The Shard ticket info: Standard tickets start at £34 per adult; for £44, you can add fast-track entry, which is recommended during the summer months. For £54, you can get fast-track entry, a glass of champagne, and souvenir photos. (It's worth noting, though, that these are the “full price” tickets as listed on the site, but you can usually find them all sold at a discount!) Buy your tickets online here.
What I like about The Shard: It's pretty hard to beat the various views from The Shard.
What I don't like about The Shard: Tickets can be pretty pricey, and the viewing areas aren't all that big, meaning it can often feel a bit crowded up there.
Top tip for visiting The Shard: In the off-season, you can skip the fast-track entry, and you probably don't need to pre-book a drink (just walk up to the bar and order one). In high season, though, I would recommend pre-booking as much as possible!
2. Sky Garden
In contrast to The Shard, which is quite pricey to visit, the famous Sky Garden in London doesn't cost a penny!
Located in the building at 20 Fenchurch Street that's known locally as “The Walkie Talkie” because of its distinctive shape, the Sky Garden is a mostly-indoor garden and observation deck 35 storeys up above London.
In order to visit the Sky Garden, you do need to book a free timed ticket in advance. Inside, you'll find an airy space with leafy plants, a couple bars/cafes serving up things like coffee and wine, plenty of places to sit, and an outdoor terrace.
I visited the Sky Garden on an overcast day in October, and while there seemed to be a lot of people going through security at the same time as me, once everyone got inside and spread out, it didn't feel crowded at all.
What you can see from the Sky Garden: There are windows on all sides of the garden, offering up views of everything from St. Paul's Cathedral to Tower Bridge. From the outdoor terrace, you can see things like The Shard and Tower Bridge.
Sky Garden ticket info: You need to reserve tickets online ahead of time. Tickets are generally released in batches about 3 weeks in advance, but they tend to go FAST, especially in the summer months. Each ticket is good for an hour-long visit to the Sky Garden. Reserve your tickets here.
What I like about the Sky Garden: I of course like that it's free to visit! I also like that the garden is mostly enclosed, making it a place you can visit year-round. I also feel like the prices at the cafe stations inside are pretty reasonable; I went up in the morning and had my morning coffee and pastry there.
What I don't like about the Sky Garden: It can sometimes be tough to get tickets! I also will say that the outdoor terrace doesn't offer up the best views.
Top tip for visiting the Sky Garden: If you can't get tickets for the Sky Garden itself, there are restaurants and bars up there, too, that you can try instead. You can book tables and timeslots online.
3. Garden at 120
Can't get tickets for the Sky Garden? There's a similar rooftop garden concept just a few buildings over that you can try instead. The Garden at 120 (located atop the building at 120 Fenchurch St.) is another free garden space with great London views.
A more modern rooftop garden design, this one only opened in 2019 – and won a City Skyline Award the same year.
My sister and I visited this less-busy garden one August after not being able to get tickets for the Sky Garden. And, honestly? I think I may have liked this one even better! It wasn't crowded at all, and the views – albeit slightly lower than some of the others on this list – are great!
What you can see from the Garden at 120: The rooftop here is only on the 15th floor, meaning there are some taller buildings around it. Things you can see well from here include the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie, along with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from certain spots.
Garden at 120 ticket info: There are no tickets or reservations required to visit the Garden at 120. Entry is on a first-come, first-served basis, though, and they do keep track of capacity.
What I like about the Garden at 120: I like that it's free and that it's less-famous (and therefore less crowded), and I also really love the design of this rooftop space. There's a water feature, planter walls, and a pergola covered in wisteria.
What I don't like about the Garden at 120: While this rooftop is open year-round, it's almost entirely open-air, meaning I'm not sure it would be my go-to in inclement weather.
Top tip for visiting the Garden at 120: Be sure to walk around the whole rooftop, as the views are different on each side!
4. Tate Modern Viewing Level
While you won't find a rooftop garden at this observation deck, the views from atop the Blavatnik Building at the Tate Modern art museum stand on their own.
This free viewing terrace offers up incredible views over the Thames – I especially love the vantage point towards St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge – as well as a bar serving up drinks and snacks.
To reach this terrace, you have to enter the Tate Modern (there is airport-style security), and then make your way to the elevators on Level 0 of the Blavatnik Building. These will take you up to the viewing level.
What you can see from the Tate Modern Viewing Level: You can see St. Paul's, Millennium Bridge, The Shard, and Canary Wharf, among other things. It's a really excellent London view!
Tate Modern ticket info: Both the Tate Modern museum and the Viewing Level are free to visit, and neither one requires a ticket.
What I like about the Tate Modern Viewing Level: I love that it's free, and that it doesn't require a reservation. I also really love the view over the Thames.
What I don't like about the Tate Modern: I remember being confused the first time I visited over where to find the elevators to reach the Viewing Level. So you might need to ask someone to point you in the right direction!
Top tip for visiting the Tate Modern: You can visit any time of day, but I especially like going during Golden Hour (usually an hour or two before sunset), when the light on the city is really beautiful. I also recommend the cafe here if you're looking for a quick place to grab lunch or a coffee.
5. London Eye
The Millennium Wheel – AKA the London Eye – is a massive (443 feet tall!) Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the Thames. The Eye was opened in 2000 in celebration of the new millennium, and was originally only meant to be temporary.
The wheel was so wildly popular, though, that it's still there 20 years later, and today is one of London's top tourist attractions.
I personally have mixed feelings about The Eye. The wheel does give you fantastic views from some unique angles, but the experience often entails long queues (lines), and the ride itself is limited to just 30 minutes for standard ticket holders.
Despite my personal opinions, though, I couldn't leave The Eye off this list!
I didn't ride the London Eye for the first time until 2019, and went at night. Seeing London all lit up from above was pretty memorable – and the lines were definitely shorter after dark!
What you can see from the London Eye: Since it's basically right across the Thames from Westminster, the Eye will give you the best view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (when they're not covered in scaffolding, of course). You can also see up and down the Thames in both directions.
London Eye ticket info: You do need to reserve timed tickets for the London Eye, and standard tickets start at £24.50 per person. If you're visiting in high season, you'll probably want to pay extra for skip-the-line tickets (fast track tickets start at £37.50). Otherwise, you may need to arrive up to an hour early just to stand in line to await your turn to board! Buy your London Eye tickets online here.
What I like about the London Eye: The views, for one. But I also like the large pods that you ride in. These are fully enclosed and climate-controlled, meaning you can visit comfortably year-round.
What I don't like about the London Eye: It's a bit pricey for an experience with a relatively short time limit (30 minutes), and the lines can be REALLY long at times.
Top tip for visiting the London Eye: If you're mostly visiting some of the other observation decks in London during the daytime, consider riding the London Eye at night for a different experience.
6. St. Paul's Cathedral
The only reason this one is further down on my list is because most people don't visit St. Paul's Cathedral JUST for the views. In fact, if you went and skipped the rest of this architectural marvel, I would say you're crazy!
St. Paul's is an iconic feature in the London skyline. The current Anglican cathedral dates back to the 17th century, when it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier church on the same spot burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The dome of St. Paul's is the cathedral's defining feature, rising 365 feet above the street of London. The dome has not changed since it was originally built – it even (somewhat miraculously) survived the London Blitz during WWII.
St. Paul's is still a working cathedral, holding regular services. It's also held famous weddings (like that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer), notable funerals (like those of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher), and jubilee celebrations for both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
Tourists can visit St. Paul's for a fee, and those feeling plucky enough can climb up into its famous dome.
There are three levels of the dome you can visit. The Whispering Gallery is located inside the dome, 257 steps up from the Cathedral floor. Another 119 steps up takes you to the Stone Gallery, the lower exterior gallery on the outside of the dome. An additional 152 steps up (that's 528 steps total, if you're counting) will bring you to the Golden Gallery, which offers up stunning outdoors views of London.
Note: As of August 2020, the Whispering Gallery is temporarily closed, as is the Golden Gallery. The Stone Gallery is currently open.
What you can see from St. Paul's Cathedral: Considering the Golden Gallery sits 279 feet above the tallest point in London, you can see quite a lot! You get panoramic views over the Thames and central London.
St. Paul's ticket info: Entry into St. Paul's costs £17 per person if you purchase your ticket online in advance, or £20 if you want to buy it at the door. Your ticket includes entry to the Cathedral floor, crypt, and all the dome galleries. Admission also includes a multimedia guide, and optional guided tour. You can buy skip-the-line tickets online here.
What I like about St. Paul's: Pretty much everything! The Cathedral is absolutely stunning in its architecture, and there's SO much history contained within its walls. I've visited twice, and will probably visit a third time one day.
What I don't like about St. Paul's: It's a bit pricey for church entry – but that's London for you. It's also worth noting that there isn't an elevator to any of the galleries; if you want to see those views, you'll have to climb the steps!
Top tip for visiting St. Paul's Cathedral: You can go to any worship service at St. Paul's for free. But note that no photography is allowed during services.
BONUS: Tower of London
You won't find skyline views from up high at the Tower of London, but you can still find excellent views of Tower Bridge, and the mix of old and new architecture in the City of London from the embankment in front of the Tower of London.
Plus, the Tower of London is very iconic itself. Going on a tour with one of the resident Beefeaters (Yeomen Warders) is one of the top things I recommend that people do on their first trip to London.
Which of these London skyline views would you most like to see?
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