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Visiting the tourist attractions of any major city can cost a small fortune, and those boasting the best vistas are often the most expensive. London is no exception and the city’s three newest attractions—The Shard, the Emirates Air-Line cable car and The Orbit in the Olympic Park, all pride themselves on offering spectacular views of the capital for those that want to pay for it.
Cheapo’s counting those precious pences will be relieved to hear that London is also full of amazing views that aren’t accessed via a turnstile and ticket booth. Here’s my list of the best free views in London:
1. Waterloo Bridge
Tube: Embankment / Waterloo
Of London’s 33 bridges that cross the River Thames, Waterloo definitely has the most impressive views. Looking east you can take in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin, the Oxo Tower, Somerset House and the National Theatre. Look westwards and you can take in the bustle of busy shoppers and street performers along the South Bank, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Visit during the day to take photos and in the evening to admire it all lit up at night.
2. Parliament Hill
Hampstead Heath’s famous “Kite Hill” has featured in TV commercials and films aplenty over the years, as its wonderful juxtaposition of rolling fields and greenery backed by London’s iconic cityscape is so unusual. Many visitors to the capital don’t know that you can escape the madness of the city with such ease (and without actually leaving the city).
A brisk walk through Hampstead Heath is enough to revive any weary tourist and a stroll to the top of Parliament Hill is always rewarding. Join dozens of dog walkers and kite enthusiasts at the top of the hill, and enjoy an elevated view of the city from afar. Canary Wharf used to be the focal point, but The Shard’s recent appearance is certainly stealing the limelight on London’s skyline today.
3. Primrose Hill
Tube: Chalk Farm
Tucked away behind Chalk Farm and Camden Town, Primrose Hill is on the northern edge of Regent’s Park. From the top of the hill you’ll get an incredible panorama of central London and it’s the perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day. Heading down Regent’s Park Road towards Chalk Farm you’ll also find a pretty selection of boutique-y shops and some lovely pubs.
4. National Portrait Gallery
Tube: Charing Cross / Leicester Square
A trip to the National Portrait Gallery isn’t just for the exceptional artwork. Make sure you don’t leave without stopping for a drink at the very swanky rooftop Portrait Restaurant and Bar. Admire everything from Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in the foreground, to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye in the background.
Also in our guide: If you’re heading to London and looking for an affordable place to sleep, be sure to read our reviews of budget hotels in London. Our editors have hunted down the best values in the city’s accommodation scene. Read more in our London guide.