AS a tourist in London, the most rewarding way to take in the sights of the Big City, I have discovered, – is from on high!
Living just an hour-and a-half (on a good day) from the centre of London, I am no stranger to the capital’s tourist trail. Been there, done that. . . or so I had thought.
On my most recent visit my family and I were able to appreciate a very different view of the city – from two uniquely spectaclar perspectives – including the top floor of the tallest building in Western Europe.
Having been blown away on previous occasions by our views from the London Eye, The View from the Shard surpasses that experience. Standing at heights
of almost 310 metres (1,016ft in old money) at your highest possible vantage point, it is literally enough to take your breath away.
As the highest viewing platform in the city, it is the only place to see all of London – all at once. The viewing galleries on Level 69 and the open-air Skydeck
on Level 72 provide a breath-taking 360-degree view that stretches for up to 40 miles, that’s all the way to Henley-Upon-Thames!
Some more facts for you. . .
The building has 11,000 glass panels; the area of the glass façade is 56,000 sq metres (602,779 sq ft), which equals eight football pitches;there are 44 lifts and 306 flights of stairs; 95% of the construction materials are recycled and each facet forms a shard, a plane of glass gently inclined inwards, rising towards the top; the corners of the development are open and the shards do not touch, allowing the building to “breathe”; there are 72 habitable floors and three restaurants.
Tickets range from £15.95 per adult and £9.95 for children if booked in advance and from £20.95 per adult and £14.95 for children if booked on the day.
Worth it for special treat and in my opinion a better use of your tourist budget than many of the other options available. But you might want to resist the overpriced gift shop!
Another stop-off on the day took us journeying back up into the clouds – 114.5m to be exact – to the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
An elevator ride to the top of one of the city’s newest attractions brings views of up to 20 miles before experiencing the city’s landmarks
from the outside observation walkway suspended 80m above the ground.
There’s loads to see from the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s two viewing platforms from St Paul’s Cathedral, the O2 and
Wembley to a bird’s eye view of the iconic London Olympic 2012 venues. You can even get up close to London’s landmarks with innovative and interactive touchscreens that allow you to zoom into the view and learn more about the city.
Designed by Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond for the London 2012 Games, the ArcelorMittal Orbit perfectly combines city views with fun and contemporary art.
But, the fun element comes into play when it’s time to descend – for those who choose to of course – down The Slide.
If it’s hair-raising experiences you’re after, this is for you. Kitted out with protective arm and headwear, you’re sent sliding through the twists, turns and drops of the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide as it weaves its way around the UK’s tallest sculpture.
The 40-second descent down the 178m long slide – through light and dark sections at speeds of up to 15mph – is exhilarating indeed and so,
not for the feint-hearted. In which case, a gentle descent of the 455 steps accompanied by distinctive London sounds might be more to your liking.
Whatever your mode of descent, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is worth a visit. It is interesting on many levels and will tick numerous boxes for all those hard to please family members. Art lover – TICK; sightseer – TICK; thrill-seeker – TICK. But, if you’re travelling in busy periods, including weekends, be sure to pre-book your slides.
If you get addicted to the adrenalin rush and want to dash back to the top for more- you may be left disappointed. It was fully booked on Saturday, so always worth booking a spare or two for the repeat slides some members of your party will inevitably crave.
A truly unique experience and an ideal new stop of a much-trodden tourist route.
Now it’s back to ground level for the remainder of our visit – and building themes of a vary different kind. . .
With two young fans of both LEGO and DC Comics in tow, our final destination was never up for debate.
Another new arrival to London, The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes exhibition showcases artist Nathan Sawaya’s interpretations on characters, vehicles, environments and themes found throughout DC Super Heroes mythology. Through a series of immersive galleries, Sawaya uses the iconic LEGO pieces to explore transformation and reinvention, strength and weakness, as well as good vs. evil.
The exhibition includes more than 120 original pieces, created exclusively from LEGO bricks, including a life-size Batmobile (5.5m) and built from half a million standard pieces.
Sawaya has captured on a real scale some of the most iconic Super Heroes and Super-Villains from DC, exploring more than 80 years of history.
Following a successful run in Madrid, The Art of the Brick made its London debut this month in an exclusively built space on London’s South Bank.
Together with Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, Sawaya has created the world’s largest collection of artwork inspired by DC’s Justice League, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman,
alongside DC Super-Villains the Joker, Harley Quinn and more. Whether you’re there to appreciate the art, the comic characters or the LEGO – in our case all three – you will not leave disppointed.
Allow a minimum of an hour to take it all in, but – as long as you prebook a time slot – you’re free to wander at will for as long as you like.
Sawaya, whose exhibition has travelled to more than 75 cities across six continents, says: “My goal is to captivate you for as long as I can hold your attention and to inspire creativity in all of us.”
For us I’d say he certainly succeeded.
This is another attraction the whole family can enjoy. But catch the superheroes before they fly out of London again in September.
On a separate visit my family and I also ‘seized’ the opportunity to check out another new attraction for us, Tower of London.
This historic castle, located on the north bank of the River Thames, was founded towards the end of 1066 as past of the Norman Conquest of England.
The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.
The Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.
Today it is a World Heritage site after damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and it was reopened to the public.
An all-new hands-on experience, Armoury in Action is worth a look. It reveals the fascinating story of arms and armoury at the Tower of London. From shooting arrows to assembling firearms and brandishing swords, a thousand years of history are brought to life through a
mix of historic objects, audio visual displays and interactive displays.
It offers families the chance to discover the weapons, battle skills and royal armourers from the Normans to the Victorian era.
This is a fabulous new addition to the Tower of London experience and, the good news is
it’s included in palace admission.
Also included, for a limited time, is the Life in the Medieval Palace exhibition.
2 January – 10 February, 20 February – 13 April, 11:00-12.30 and 13.30-15:30
Here you can step back into 1299 and the palace of King Edward I, Hammer of the Scots and explore a world of chivalrous knights and beautiful ladies, troublesome lords and royal prisoners. There are money problems at home, too, as the King leads his armies off to war.
For selected dates in March, The People’s Revolt exhibition allows you to infiltrate the Tower of London after hours – The People’s Revolt is an immersive,
interactive experience and discover what it’s like to be at the centre of a present day ‘Peasants’ Revolt’. You can live the build-up through digital storytelling then blur the lines between history and reality as you storm the Tower
and decide the fate of the nation.
You could very easily fill an entire day exploring this fascinating attraction.
Plus it’s the perfect blend of fun and education for all members of the family.
If you haven’t managed to tick this one off your London list, as we had hadn’t,
I can highly recommend it next time you’re there.