Many of the world’s great cities are famed for their appearance at night (New York City, Rome and Hong Kong, for instance), but should you be visiting London any time soon, don’t discount the night-time views that can be had of this magnificent metropolis too. The UK capital is rightly renowned for its spectacular skyline, featuring everything from the centuries-old grandeur of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament to the stunningly new, such as the so-called Gherkin and The Shard. So here follows six of the best vantage points for viewing London at night – and the best thing about them? Most of them are entirely free.
The London Eye
Maybe the most famed attraction for views of London – especially at night – the London Eye is, of course, the huge wheel that sits on the South Bank of the Thames just a minute or two’s walk from Westminster Bridge. Visitors get to experience a 20-30-minute revolution of the wheel inside a pod (each of which can hold around 10 or more people easily), which is all about taking in the glorious panorama that surrounds you in all directions.
A word of warning, though; you’re not allowed to take long or multiple lenses let alone camera tripods with you, thus taking particularly good photos of the view while you’re up there is something of a challenge (night-time shots tend to result in reflections bombarding your camera as they bounce off all the glass of the pod). Still, you might consider indulging in the ‘ 4D Experience’ before or after your ride – a three-minute 3D film, which features bubbles, mist and wind to suggest a fourth dimension and is unquestionably impressive.
Depending on the route you take to reach the London Eye, there’s a chance you’ll cross Waterloo Bridge. If so, make sure you pause for a minute or two to take in the view it affords. Actually, it gives you two terrific London views at night – in either direction. Should you look westwards you’ll see Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) and the tourist-traps of the South Bank (the Eye and the National Theatre) and then if you turn eastwards you can see The City (the Gherkin building and all the high-rises that seem to constantly spring up there), St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard building and, in the far distance, Canary Wharf.
The Palace of Westminster
Already mentioned as a place of interest in the previous two viewing places, the 19th Century masterpiece that’s the building containing the Houses of Parliament as well as Elizabeth Tower (often misidentified as ‘Big Ben’, which is actually the name of the bell behind the tower’s clock-face), is well worth viewing close-up. The best vantage point is across the river, the relatively quiet and peaceful eastern side of Westminster Bridge (that is, the other side to the touristy South Bank attractions), where the spectacular Gothic appearance of the Palace of Westminster glows and shimmers ahead of you, lit up spectacularly at night.
Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar
If you’re high up anywhere in London, there’s a good chance it’s going to give you a decent view of the city – and that’s most certainly the case here, which is located on the 42nd floor of the Tower 42 building. To say it’s well worth the visit is putting it mildly, even if you have to take two lifts (changing halfway up) and then climb a flight of stairs for it. Not only do you get a pristine panorama, you can also view the famous Gherkin building, which is practically next door. There’s even an orientation guide of sorts, as the names of landmarks viewable from the bar’s windows are etched in the glass table that encircles the bar at the points where, should you look up, you can see them.
And, speaking of the bar, you can of course enjoy fine wines, cocktails and, yes, champagne while you’re there. Is it on a par with the best champagne bar you can enjoy in the most salubrious of the Hyde Park Paddington hotels ? Why not try both and find out.
For centuries the white domed wonder that’s St. Paul’s Cathedral dominated the London skyline and to get an excellent view of this magnificent place of worship and the area that surrounds it, your best vantage point is undoubtedly the balcony on ‘Level 3’ of the Tate Modern, which is across the river from the building itself. Entry is free, but beware; on weekdays the place shuts its doors at 6pm, so you’ll have to get a move on. Your best bet then to visit on a Friday or Saturday when the Tate Modern remains open until the more night-time-viewing-friendly hour of 10pm.
OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie
Once upon a time – and rather mundanely – a power station for the UK Post Office, the hugely visitor-friendly OXO Tower (situated between Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark Bridge on the South Bank) now offers fantastic views of London from its 8th floor restaurant, specifically from the restaurant’s long terrace that overlooks the banks of the Thames.