Seeing a city from as high up as possible is definitely becoming a tradition in tourist attractions these days. New York has the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, and London has the Eye and the Shard. There is definite beauty in feeling like you are stood above everything else, looking down at tiny streets and cars and rivers. I love being up high, and am very happy to buy a ticket to head up to somewhere I can see some great cityscapes. Up at the O2 is similar in that it’s a great way to view the London Skyline… but you have to work for it first.
Up at the O2 is a tourist attraction that takes visitors, as you might guess, up and over the top of the O2 tented arena in London. I imagine the boss of the O2 watched the James Bond scene when he flew down the side of the O2 and thought “we could get people to pay to do that…”! Okay, so it’s not quite as James Bond as a speedboat down the Thames, but it is definitely a cool thing to do and a different way to see London. It’s been on my bucket list since the experience opened, and I was so pleased to head into the city a couple of weeks back with some members of my family to go for this little walk and see what it was like.
The whole experience, that the marketing people call an expedition, takes about 90 minutes and we were in a group of about 15 people. We arrived the obligatory 15 minutes before our start time but actually ended up going straight in to help the organisers fit in a group who were running a bit late. We signed our lives away and got suited up – we were given walking shoes, a zip up gilet thing (that had a zip pocked for phones/cameras), and a harness to wear for the experience. I’ve seen lots of photos of people wearing full overalls for this, and the online FAQ mentions a climbing suit, and was a bit worried as it was one of the hottest days this year, but thankfully we didn’t have to don one of those. After the obligatory safety briefing and putting all our stuff in a locked box we had our photo taken at the foot of the climb and started on our way up.
The Thames from the top of the O2.
The climb is in a few stages that are different gradients. The first two sections are very steep and then it levels off a bit before you get to the top. It looks VERY steep both from the ground and when you’re up there, and it was in reality (28% on the way up, 30% on the way down), but it wasn’t difficult to walk and there were grooves in the surface to keep you from slipping down the slope. The walk is on a bouncy tent like walkway suspended around two metres above the O2 arena structure, with a handrail to hold and steel cable your harness attaches to. You have a rolling safety harness so you’re not constantly clipping in and out, although you still have to pay attention to it or you get stuck at one of the uprights; it’s very easy to use though and slides along very easily when at the right angle. My heart rate definitely increased and my breathing got a little heavier as we were climbing up, but it wasn’t a difficult walk and it was very steady with the group being asked to move ahead a few metres at a time before stopping – our guide would point out what we could see and give us a few facts so it didn’t feel like we were being held.
In my harness at the top of the O2.
You are allowed to take a phone or camera up with you but aren’t allowed to have it in your hand for the climb itself. Once at the top you are unclipped from the safety rail and can move about freely on the viewing platform, and can then get your phone out to take photos of the view. It was a very warm day for us and quite hazy, but the views were still excellent. We had about 20 minutes up there, first of all with the group that were ahead of us, but when they left there was just the 15 of us and there was plenty of space for us all to stand and look and chat and take photos.
View from Up at the O2.
The group ahead of us making their way back down the walkway.
While the way up caused my heart rate to go up a little, the way down got my leg muscles working hard. The descent was marginally steeper than the ascent and I found it worked the knees a bit. But it still wasn’t difficult, felt perfectly safe, and I enjoyed the controlled bouncing down to ground level. I wonder if those who suffer from a fear of heights might find it a bit unnerving up there, but that wasn’t a problem for me or anyone in our group.
The descent down from the viewing platform.
It was great to finally be able to tick the Up at the O2 experience off my bucket list. It was a very cool little “expedition” and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The views from the top might not have been quite as good as from the Shard, simply because of where you are in London and how high off the ground you are, but they were still very good – we could just about make out the Olympic Park from the top. The difference here, of course, is that you are walking over the top rather than heading up in a lift, and that makes this experience stand out. It’s a great idea and I would definitely recommend it as something to do in London if you fancy a slightly different way of seeing the city.
Standing underneath the Up at the O2 walkway.
Have you done the Up at the O2 experience? What did you think? What is your favourite thing to do in London? Any ideas for a different view?
My Up at the O2 experience was a Christmas gift, but if you’re interested you can book yours over on their website.