Excellent spots to take a walk, grab a bite, or enjoy music and theater with a view.
French philosopher Michel de Certeau wrote beautifully about the eerie power of standing above a city and gazing down at it from a great height in his seminal essay ‘Walking in the City’.
In it, Certeau begins atop the Empire State Building and notices how this position is one of great privilege: to see the city from above, not from the streets: to be exclusive and above the normal urban project. A view from above is for the big spenders, the rich; a view from the streets is for the citizen, the local.
Yet does this tale of New York apply elsewhere? Catching a glimpse of London from above can be an equally rare pleasure – but there are more opportunities to do so than one might initially think.
Many central London hotels have some excellent views around the city’s busiest buildings – we recommend the cluster of hotels around Hyde Park and the Park Plaza complexes around Westminster Bridge, Waterloo and the South Bank. We’ve picked out some of the best places to get a great view of London on foot – and up high with a bite to eat.
Big spenders and high flyers: dining with a view
Whilst dining at some of London’s high restaurants can be pricey, there are some excellent spots which have lovely bars too and are in fact much better for popping up around 6.30-7pm to catch the autumn sunset and have an aperitif.
Bang central is Paramount at Centre Point, a very ugly building on Tottenham Court Road, whose top floor boasts this lovely bar and stunning views around the whole city. There’s also a restaurant run by Searcy’s atop the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square; from a table here you’ll see all the delights of old central London, from the National Gallery and Houses of Parliament to the new London Eye.
In the east, the Gherkin also had a panoramic bar/restaurant run by Searcy’s, giving great views from east to west, and further east and south towards Canary Wharf. The sense of eerie exclusivity will really come to the fore in this area.
The classic choice is to go up the Oxo Tower on the Southbank, offering stunning views across the St Paul’s, as well as all along the river.
Walks with spectacular vistas
My personal favourite is to walk the city; this is a wonderful thing to do on a clear day, especially a week day if you are on holiday and can take the time off. Top tips are mostly in the north, allowing you to bow down over the rest of the city; furthest north is the towering Victorian delight of Alexandra Palace – itself an amazing structure which offers stunning views across the whole expanse of the capital. A little closer in, you’ll want to wander up Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath (a great spot for any kind of long lazy walk in London). Best for sunsets and late at night is Primrose Hill as the day winds down, overlooking the Regent’s Canal, Camden and the glittering lights of the city.