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The tallest building in Western Europe, The Shard soars over the rest of low-rise London. Home to a five-star hotel, apartments, offices, six restaurants and bars, and a viewing platform, Renzo Piano’s 306-metre tall structure is its very own vertical town. Occupying levels 68 to 72, The View from the Shard is the highest public viewing platform in Western Europe, City of London from a bird’s eye perspective. Spread over several floors, it features an indoor platform and an open-air sky deck as well as a Moët & Chandon Champagne bar. The experience costs £32, so you could book a table at one of the bars or restaurants—all of which boast their own spectacular views—and spend your money on cocktails instead.
Another London landmark serving sky-high cocktails is The Gherkin. What was once London's highest members' club is now Helix and Iris, an open-to-all restaurant and bar. The champagne bar, Iris, occupies the top floor and is said to be the only bar in London that boasts 360-degree views while Helix is a contemporary restaurant sitting just below on the 39th floor. The new openings mean the Foster + Partners-designed structure—arguably London's most distinctive contemporary building—is now open to the public all year round for the very first time. For a unique perspective of The Gherkin itself, pay a visit to SushiSamba or Duck and Waffle in the nearby Heron Tower.
The oldest enclosed Royal Park, Greenwich Park is one of London’s best green spaces with a design by André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect responsible for the palace gardens of Versailles. With a hillside location just south of the Thames, the park offers spectacular views of the river and beyond, with the capital’s financial district, Canary Wharf, and St Paul’s Cathedral in view. Stretching out over 183 acres, it’s home to a rose garden, a deer park, an orchard and The Pavilion Cafe, housed in a delightful octagonal building dating back to 1906. The Prime Meridian and The Royal Observatory can also be found within the park. In June, Greenwich Park remains open until 9.30pm.
Encompassing the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House art gallery, and the iconic Cutty Sark ship, the Royal Museums Greenwich bring together four different attractions, all within a short walk of one another. The National Maritime Museum is free to visit and holds the world’s largest maritime collection while the Queen’s House gallery is home to works by the likes of Lowry, Turner and Canaletto. The fastest ship of its time, Cutty Sark can be admired from afar or explored fully by climbing on board. The Royal Observatory, meanwhile, is home to the historic Prime Meridian, which has divided the eastern and western hemispheres since the late 19th century, and the Peter Harrison Planetarium, the only public planetarium in the UK. Sitting on the top of a hill at the northern peak of Greenwich Park, the observatory also offers spectacular views across London.
Having survived two world wars, Sir Christopher Wren’s awe-inspiring St Paul’s Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece and one of London’s best-loved attractions. A key place of worship and the location of many high-profile weddings and funerals—including the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and the funerals of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill—the cathedral is also open to the public with regular tours. A walk up to the Whispering Gallery is a must, where you can whisper to one another from either side of the famous dome, while the outdoor viewing platform provides fantastic views across central London. For a view of the cathedral itself, head to the public viewing platform atop the One New Change shopping centre, where you will also find swanky bar and restaurant, Madison.
Occupying the top three floors of Rafael Vinoly's iconic 37-storey City of London skyscraper—affectionately known as the Walkie Talkie—Sky Garden is one of London’s most unique venues, bringing together landscaped gardens and several bars and restaurants under a large glass ceiling. With access to all sides of the venue, visitors can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the city, and DJs and bands perform live from Thursday to Saturday. Visitors to Sky Garden can either book a table at one of the restaurants or reserve a standard ticket to access the gardens and bar. Entrance is free but booking in advance is essential and airport-style security takes place at the entrance, so bring identification and leave your liquids at home.
Down the road from the Sky Garden, The Garden at 120 is a brand-new public roof garden. Open since March, the sky-high retreat sits on the 15th floor of the new HQ for Italian insurance company Generali. Placed between the Walkie Talkie and The Gherkin, the free-to-access, open-to-all garden offers close-up views of the iconic buildings as well as spectacular views across the rest of the City. The garden itself has been designed by German landscape architects Latz + Partner and offers a tranquil escape from the bustling streets below with pretty pink roses, trimmed hedges and water features. In the coming months, a rooftop restaurant is also set to open on the floor below.
What was originally the Millennium Dome is now The O2, the first purpose-built music venue in London. With a capacity of 23,000, the venue regularly welcomes some of the biggest names in music and comedy and transforms into a sports arena for major tennis, wrestling, gymnastics and basketball events. The site is also home to an array of restaurants and bars, an 11-screen cinema, and a smaller music venue, Indigo. Visitors can also brave the Up at The O2 experience, which provides the opportunity to climb to the top of the 53-metre-high structure.
One of the most famous structures in the world, the Tower of London has been used as a prison, palace, treasury and menagerie since it was constructed more than 900 years ago. Perhaps most famously, however, it was where two of Henry VIII’s wives—Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard—were executed. Today, visitors to the historic prison can see the characterful Beefeaters, the sparkling Crown Jewels and Henry VIII’s terrifying armour, weaponry and torture instruments. With a spectacular riverside location, the prison also boasts views across Tower Bridge, River Thames and beyond.
Designed by Horace Jones—the architect behind Smithfield and Leadenhall markets—Tower Bridge is one of the world’s most famous river crossings and an iconic symbol of London. Its two neo-Gothic towers and vivid blue suspension struts create a beautifully unique structure while its pioneering mechanism that lifts for the passing of boats makes it just as practical today as when it was built back in 1894. Booking onto a tour enables visitors to walk along the 42-metre high glass-bottomed walkways and descend into the historical Victorian Engine Rooms, where the original coal-driven engines still remain. The ticket also includes access to an exhibition that tells the story of the bridge.
Housed in the Sir Gilbert Scott-designed former Bankside Power Station, Tate Modern is one of the world’s most popular art galleries, welcoming a whopping 5.7 million visitors through its doors each year. Sitting across the river from St Paul’s Cathedral—walk between the two via Norman Foster’s pedestrian Millennium Bridge—the striking building showcases the best in international modern and contemporary art, and each year there is a fantastic line-up of blockbuster exhibitions to choose from. For impressive views of London, head up to the 360-degree viewing platform atop the new Blavatnik Building extension.
Selling all manner of goods and wares, from vintage fashion and fresh flowers to trendy street food and local produce, London’s market are an integral part of the capital, and perusing their stalls is one of the best forms of free entertainment in the city. One of the closest markets to ExCeL London is Greenwich Market, which is open seven days and a week and sells a large variety of items. Other east and south London favourites include Brick Lane Vintage Market, selling vintage clothes seven days a week; Columbia Road Market, a vast flower market that runs every Sunday; Borough Market, a famous food market offering a wide variety of produce from Wednesday to Sunday; and Broadway Market, a hip street food and vintage clothes market running every Sunday in London Fields. Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey is another fantastic weekend food market while Leadenhall Market houses a number of boutique shops, restaurants, cafes and wine bars within a grand Victorian structure.
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