Travel like a local: find the best views in London (for free)

Boasting one of the world’s most impressive city skylines, it’s no wonder that most visitors to London search for the best vantage point to take in the views. Unfortunately, many of the city’s most celebrated viewpoints come with a monumental price tag to match. Don’t worry—we’ll let you in on a secret to help keep your pounds in your pocket. If you think London’s best views will cost you and arm and a leg, think again. Some of the finest vistas in the capital won’t actually cost you a single penny, proving that sometimes the best things in life really are free.

Sky Garden

Located at the top of the iconic Walkie-Talkie building in the heart of London’s historic financial district, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better view of the city skyline than from the Sky Garden. This spacious atrium occupies the top three floors of what is currently one of the highest skyscrapers in London and offers stunning, 360-degree views of the capital. Heralded as offering the best aerial view of London, you can look down upon all of the city’s major landmarks from your 155-metre high perch. Far from simply being a viewing platform however, the Sky Garden offers beautifully landscaped gardens and five different bars and restaurants. Sip a cocktail or down a coffee while you take in the birds-eye views. Tickets are free but bookings must be made online in advance and are restricted to one hour in length. Book online1 Sky Garden Walk, London, EC3M 8AF

Tate Modern

After getting your art fix at the world-renowned Tate Modern, pop up to the Kitchen and Bar to see all of London stretched out before you. Located on the 6th floor of the Boiler House, the space is busy and for good reason. Offering eye-level views across the Thames towards St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge, it’s a delightful way to recharge over a tea or perhaps a cheeky glass of bubbles. A spot by the panoramic window is hard to come by as you might guess, so swoop on an empty seat when you can. Bankside, London, SE1, 9TG

Waterloo Bridge

London’s bridges aren’t just a convenient way to cross the Thames; they actually offer some of the city’s most impressive riverside views. Whilst all bridges have their selling points, Waterloo Bridge boasts the most magnificent views of all. Spanning the river at a bend, it’s uniquely positioned for pedestrians to take in the very best of the city in both directions. Gaze to the east and you’ll see the iconic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral flanked by modern skyscrapers; look towards the west and you’ll be treated to a fairy tale vista of Embankment, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. Our tip is to delay your visit until sundown when the city lights up. River Thames, London

Parliament Hill

There are a handful of hills in London that showcase the city’s expansive skyline, but Parliament Hill offers what is arguably the best panoramic vista. Located in the sprawling parklands of Hampstead Heath in north London, Parliament Hill is a favourite among locals for its sweeping views of the capital. Contrast the modern architectural wonders of the Shard, the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie building against the beautiful historic landmarks of Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. On a clear day, you can even see as far as East End at the opposite side of the city. No matter the weather, the park is a natural haven for locals who flock to its green, open spaces for the feeling of being in a pocket of countryside on the edge of the city. Parliament Hill Viewpoint, London, NW5 1QR

One New Change

Who would have thought that one of the best views in London could be found at a shopping centre of all places? At the back of St Paul’s Cathedral, the contemporary One New Change shopping mall is home to an expansive, rooftop terrace that is open to the public and completely free. Open from 6am to midnight, this open-air terrace is ideal for catching golden hour. Wander around the whole space in order to glimpse all of the important nearby landmarks including the imposing St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and the Shard. Shopping with a view – who could want anything more? 1 New Change, London, EC4M 9AF 

Read more from Rachel over on The Department of Wandering, a hub of inspiration, travel tips and tales from all over the world.