London's top free views

by Graham Spicer

Some of London's best views are free - read on as I tell you where to find them

London's not immediately known as a city of classic views, but if you know where to look there are some great vistas of the British capital. And what's more, you don't need to fork out for a trip on the London Eye to see them - all the spots in this guide are completely free to visit.

National Portrait Gallery Café

(St Martin's Place, WC2H 0HE; 020 7306 0055;

There are superb views of Trafalgar Square and towards the Houses of Parliament from this smart top floor café. The cappuccinos may be a little on the expensive side but the views are priceless.

Nearest tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross.

Nearby attractions: Too many to mention them all, but include the National Portrait Gallery itself, the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Soho and Covent Garden.

Waterloo Bridge

You don't need to get up high for a great view of the capital. Simply walk to the middle of Waterloo Bridge for classic views of London from the River Thames.

Nearest tube: Temple or Embankment.

Nearby attractions: The arts venues and restaurants of the South Bank are very close while on the north side of the river, Covent Garden is an easy stroll away.

Tate Modern Restaurant

(Bankside, SE1 9TG; 020 7887 8888;

Tate Modern's seventh-floor restaurant and bar boasts a superb view. Gaze across the Thames towards the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, overlooking the modern Millennium Bridge gracefully spanning the river.

Nearest tube: Southwark.

Nearby attractions: As well as the outstanding art on show at Tate Modern, you're also near the Globe Theatre, Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral. St Paul's is a short walk away, via the Millennium Bridge.

Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill offers a great view of central London and Regent's Park to the south, with glimpses of Hampstead Heath to the north. This is a popular alternative spot to watch the fireworks from on New Year's Eve.

Nearest tube: St John's Wood or Chalk Farm.

Nearby attractions: Primarily an upscale residential area, Primrose Hill is also just north of Regent's Park and London Zoo (Regents Park, NW14RY; 020 7722 3333; Camden Town, with its sprawling markets and alternative music scene, is also nearby.

Parliament Hill

Essentially the same views as you get from Primrose Hill, but further out from the city centre so you get a wider and more extensive perspective, a view that's protected by law. And what's more, Parliament Hill is surrounded by the leafy acres of Hampstead Heath, one of London's best loved green spaces.

Nearest tube: Hampstead Heath or Gospel Oak.

Nearby attractions: As well as Hampstead Heath itself, arty Hampstead Village is well worth a wander. Kenwood House (NW3 7JR, 020 8348 1286;, at the north end of the Heath, has one of London's finest art collections (and is free to enter).

King Henry VIII's Mound

Another protected viewpoint, this corner of Richmond Park feels more like a country estate than a city park. It's 10 miles or so to St Paul's and you may have to squint a bit to make out the details, but it barely matters as the surrounding parkland is so inspiring.

Nearest tube: Richmond.

Nearby attractions: Richmond Park is one of Europe's largest city parks and many an hour could be spent wandering through it and looking out for its resident deer herds. Pembroke Lodge (TW10 5HX; 0208 940 8207; next to the viewpoint itself, has a pleasant café with its own fine views to the west. Richmond town is an upmarket neighbourhood with good shops and restaurants, while nearby Ham House (Ham Street, TW10 7RS; 020 8940 1950; is a fine 17th-century manor house.

Greenwich Park

Make the short walk up from the centre of Greenwich to the Royal Observatory and you'll be rewarded with an excellent view across east London and the soaring financial buildings of Canary Wharf.  

Nearest tube: Cutty Sark (Docklands Light Railway).

Nearby attractions: Greenwich has much to see and do, including the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum (Greenwich, SE10 9NF; 020 8312 6565;, Greenwich Market and the Cutty Sark (scheduled to re-open in 2011;

Flying into Heathrow

Perhaps the finest view you'll ever see of the capital is from flights arriving into Heathrow Airport from the east. If you're lucky enough to be arriving in daylight hours, seat yourself on the left hand side of the plane for superb (if brief) views along the River Thames and central London.

High rise hotels

Having saved all that cash on the free panoramas, you may want to splash out on a hotel with a view itself. Some aren't so cheap, as you may expect, but if you're after an inspiring aspect, then you'd do a lot worse than one of the following city hotels:

Park Plaza Riverbank (18 Albert Embankment, SE1 7TJ) is set on the south of the Thames on Albert Embankment opposite the Tate Britain gallery. The views stretch eastwards along the river towards the Houses of Parliament.

You'll find some of London's best views from ever-popular The Lancaster (Lancaster Terrace, W2 2TY), which overlooks sprawling Hyde Park from Lancaster Gate. The views unravel all the way to London's high rise financial district in the east.

Swissotel, The Howard (Temple Place, WC2R 2PR) is a palatial five-star hotel on Victoria Embankment on the north banks of the Thames and boasts expansive views westwards to the Houses of Parliament, across to the London Eye and Royal Festival Hall in the south and east to St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge.

Something of an eyesore from the outside, Hilton London Park Lane (22 Park Lane, W1K 1BE) makes up for it with its superb location in the heart of fashionable Mayfair, first rate service, and 360-degree views. The 28th-floor restaurant provides an unparalleled window on the whole of London.

The Hilton London Docklands Riverside (265 Rotherhithe Street, SE16 5HW) is perhaps a little out of the way for tourists, but this luxurious hotel is well placed for travellers visiting London's Canary Wharf financial district and has fine views across and is close to City Airport.

Graham Spicer

When I was a young child a gypsy lady came to our house telling fortunes. She told my mum that one of her sons would become a doctor and the other one would travel. Thirty-odd years later and my brother’s got a PhD and I’ve become a travel journalist. I’ve spent several years of my life living and working overseas, in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Spain and the Caribbean, and am now based in west London, writing for clients as diverse as Expedia, Emirates, Visit Britain, Culture 24, the BBC, Parliamentary Archives, Hotels.Com, Ten Lifestyle and Vertu.