In what will surely remain one of the worst tourist attractions in history, the new Mound in London has reached new heights of disappointment.
No, it’s not more exciting than the name suggests. It’s a veritable mound of dirt, crammed into the less attractive end of London’s busiest shopping street, Oxford Street. Originally designed to attract more people to London’s most famous shopping street, the top of the mound is around seven stories tall.
This means that, looking towards West London which is full of interesting architecture, you can see the tops of a few trees in Hyde Park. Knowing that the mound is right next to the park, that does not really justify raising the pile of earth.
Look east and you’ll spot some of the more dilapidated buildings on Oxford Street. The north and south offer charming views of the crowded streets of Park Lane and Edgware Road.
This monolith that no one asked for cost UK taxpayers € 7million, but the good news is if you want to waste your time putting it up, it’s free. After initially charging visitors £ 4.50 to wind it up in July, the ‘attraction’ closed within a week of opening.
Those who had paid for the pleasure of the climb were then reimbursed, and Westminster Council announced that there will be free entry until January 2022, when this huge waste of money will abate.
My opinion of this low brown patch of the London skyline is probably clear now. But I won’t leave you dry, dear reader. Instead, read on for much better rooftop views, many of which are also free.
View of Old London: Sky Garden
This walled roof garden with glass viewing platforms is atop the building named ‘Worst building in London‘in 2015. But please be indulgent with us.
Known as the walkie-talkie by locals, it has been given this dubious honor because it is considered too heavy and ugly.
But as a way to gaze at the London skyline, it can’t be beat. At 160 meters high, it rises above almost any office building nearby, offering views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the River Thames and the Shard.
The Sky Garden is called “the tallest garden in London”, but botanists shouldn’t get too excited. There are some very beautiful tropical plantations, but no one is there for the flowers. These are magnificent views of some of London’s oldest streets and the city’s most beautiful sights.
The best of all, tickets are free. They come out three weeks in advance, but they sell out quickly, so you’ll have to plan ahead, especially if you have limited time in town.
If you don’t get one of the free tickets, you can still access the viewing areas by reserving a table in one of its restaurants and bars.
View of Green London: Primrose Hill
You may have heard of Regent’s Park, a beautiful park on the northern edge of central London. But what most visitors don’t know is that if you continue a little further north you end up at Hill of primroses, which offers one of the best views of the city.
Pack a picnic blanket, a bottle of champagne, and you can join the locals, who all crumble near the top to toast the town stretching below them.
As you munch on your sandwich, gaze out over leafy Regent’s Park and the metropolitan area of central London beyond, including the BT Tower, The Shard, The Walkie Talkie, The London Eye, and The Cheese Grater.
If you don’t know what these buildings are, it doesn’t matter. You can have fun guessing by looking at the park and the skyscrapers in the distance.
For an even higher view of the park, go further north into the huge woodland park, Hampstead Heath, and climb up to Parliament Hill. At 98 meters high, it is the highest natural point in the city. From here you can see almost all of central London. But it’s far, so bring your binoculars.
Thames View: Tate Modern
Some might argue that London is expensive – and they are not wrong. But on the bright side, almost all of the city’s museums are free.
The excellent (and free) Tate Modern Museum – one of the largest modern art galleries in the world – offers equally excellent and free views of the city.
After you’ve had your fill of Pablo Picasso, Frieda Kahlos and Mondrian, take the elevator to the observation gallery on the top floor or one of the upper floors Restaurants.
From here you can see straight across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral and down to the smaller historic buildings that line the riverbank. On a clear day, football fans will be delighted to be able to see all the way to Wembley Stadium.
View of Rich London: Wellington Arch
Only 1.5 km from its dirty rival, the Wellington Arch is the royal answer to The Mound’s flash-in-the-pan Insta infamy. Built in the 19th century, Wellington Arch is admittedly – like The Mound – in the middle of a roundabout.
But the similarities end there. The Hyde Park Corner roundabout has been transformed into a pedestrian-friendly micro-park, with lawns, sculptures and memorials. As a connection point between Green Park and Hyde Park, it is worth stopping to explore.
To see how the rich live, you will however have to pay a little more than five francs (5 €) to climb Wellington Arch, but you will have more than a view. You get a little slice of history.
This monument dates back to 1825, and as you stand atop this beautiful arch you can see the skyline of two of London’s most upscale neighborhoods – Mayfair and Knightsbridge. When the leaves have fallen from the trees, you can even take a peek in the garden of Buckingham Palace.
View of Parliament and Big Ben: South Shore
You can’t go up to see Big Ben or at least not yet. A few years ago, UK residents could request free tickets in advance. But since 2017, the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the world’s most famous bell, has been closed due to restoration work. And in case you didn’t know, Big Ben is actually the bell, not the clock or the tower.
Scheduled to reopen in 2022, it is likely that UK residents will again be allowed to request free tickets, and there is speculation that overseas visitors may also be allowed to pay to ride it. Anyway, you can’t see the tower when you’re inside, of course.
For the best views of Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower, and the attached Grand Houses of Parliament, head across the river to South Shore.
A 2.5 km long walk on the south side of the Thames from Lambeth Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge, it offers lovely views of the River London all the way, including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. And for that horizon view, you don’t even have to climb. Just head to Westminster Bridge.
But for more of the central London skyline, head to the terrace of the free Royal Festival Hall. While music lovers listen to concertos inside, you can admire the London Eye wheel, the Art Deco architecture of Embankment station, and some of London’s oldest bridges.
Views with alcohol: spoiled for choice
If you fancy watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand, you are spoiled for choice. The town is full of restaurants and bars with rooftop views.
A few to wet your whistle: Radio Bar at ME Hotel, Sky Lounge at The Shard, Wild garden at Hilton Tower Hill, Dalston Rooftop Park and The Nest at Treehouse London.