Up in the air: Cruising ABOVE the Thames on Emirates Air Line
Given the hills and valleys which make up London, it’s actually surprising its taken this long for the city to get a cable car. When I first heard there was going to be a cable car being built over the Thames in between North Greenwich and Docklands, I did ask why? Although I kept hearing the word ‘Olympics’ as an excuse because it would ferry people between ExCel and the O2 Arena, I protested that the Olympic and Paralympics only lasted a month between them, so exactly when was it going to get used after that. I have loved taking cable cars or ‘gondolas’ on holiday abroad, but thought the London one should be situated somewhere more central.
However, when I thought a little more about it, I thought that part of the Thames needs a crossing. After you go east from Tower Bridge, the river noticeably widens and there are no bridges spanning it. If you’ve got a car, there’s the Rotherhithe or Blackwall tunnels or Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels for pedestrians, but none of these have a view.
When the Emirates Air Line actually opened in late June this year, I decided to go on it to check out the view. Although I was prepared to go out of my way to go on it, I actually ended up getting last-minute Olympic tickets to the women’s basketball at the O2. After the match, it was such a beautiful sunny day, my friend and I decided to go on it to get to our next destination – Tower Bridge. Although the long queue (due to the Olympic crowd) was very off-putting, we soon realised we didn’t need to queue if we had Oyster cards, so swiped our way through and were sitting on a cable car within minutes.
With comfortable seating for about 6-8 people, there are 360 degree views. The cable car is pretty stable, although shudders slightly when going over the tall columns holding it up. A friend who was initially a bit nervous actually felt fine once it got going so don’t let the jitters scare you off. The view was spectacular – the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf weren’t far away, the large roof of the O2, the Olympic park, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Thames Barrier and, even, St Paul’s Cathedral. You’re cruising at about 6-metres-per-second and the whole journey takes about 5 minutes (I lost all sense of time, but it was pretty quick).
Despite my fears it would only be useful during the Olympics, I am hopeful people will use it for other reasons besides a tourist attraction. For example, people visiting ExCel may find it easier boarding the 10 minute ride to access the Jubilee line at North Greenwich if the DLR is a slower route home (I know I will!). I suspect it will also come in handy during weekend engineering works – something we blissfully forgot existed during the Games. If the Air Line is considered a part of the transport network by Londoners, it will ensure its survival. But if you are a visitor to London, I can highly recommend it as an enjoyable excursion.
What else is there to do? Maybe go and climb Up At The O2 when you’re in North Greenwich. Or perhaps get a boat cruise back to Westminster or Tower Millennium Pier.
- You can board the Emirates Air Line at the North Greenwich Peninsula or Royal Victoria Docks near the ExCel Centre. Opening hours 7/9am-9pm in summer, earlier in the winter. Tickets: Adult singles £4.50, Child singles £2.30. Nearest station: North Greenwich or Royal Victoria (DLR). For more information, visit the Emirates Air Line website.
For a guide to what is on in London at the moment, click here.
The roof, the roof, the roof is… up higher! Climbing Up At The O2
As you may have noticed from my recent posting on my trapeze lesson, I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie and I’m not exactly afraid of heights. So when the O2 – one of my favourite concert venues in London – decided to open their roof for public access this summer, I knew I had to climb it.
London’s O2 has been on a strange journey, but within over a decade, I think its safe to say most Londoners have embraced the venue. Originally conceived as the Millennium Dome to open in 2000, there were years of negative press leading up to it about the spiralling costs and we were all scratching our heads about what exactly would happen to the venue once 2000 had ended.
Well, of course, following the year-long exhibition inside the Dome, it was bought for redevelopment and the O2 Arena – located inside the entertainment complex – was open for business in 2007. With the acoustics and seating plans, it has quickly become a popular venue for some of the world’s biggest artists and bands, being their first choice to tour in over the older Wembley Arena or Earls Court.
So what was once a target for Brits’ moans about the Government ‘wasting our money’ when it was being built, has now become a fun place to spend a few hours. I’ve seen many concerts there, partied several nights away in the on-site clubs and eaten several meals in the restaurants. So a few weeks ago, it was time to see what was on the other side of the large white canopy, aka The O2 roof.
Accompanied by three girlfriends, after filling out disclaimers, we quickly realised it wasn’t going to be a case of simply walking up a steep slope – which is what I presumed. It actually was quite a climb, require rather fetching jumpsuits (I jest!) and safety harnesses, which would actually attach us to the roof. Once we were given a full safety-briefing, our guide Max showed us how to work the harness, which would be attached to a safety railing guiding us up to the top 52 metres high.
The blue walkway which leads you up is actually suspended above the O2 roof and is incredibly bouncy. However, we were advised not to bounce on it as this would likely to make you very unpopular with the rest of our group… and possibly cause seasickness. It took a bit of getting used to the harness and walking up such a steep incline, but once we got the hang of it, we were zooming up.
Once up, there is a large platform where you are free to be detached from the railing and walk around taking photos of the 360 degree vista. The view was pretty amazing and I highly recommend timing your visit for just before sunset if you can. As it was a lovely August day, the sun was shining and bathed the city in a warm light. We could see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf (just over the Thames from us), the white towers of Greenwich Old Naval College, the Crystal Palace TV transmitter and even our newest additions to the London skyline – the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit.
After about 20 minutes on the platform, it was time for the descent. However, don’t be fooled it would be the same as coming up – the incline was even steeper, making me feel incredibly grateful for my safety harness.
All in all, the experience took about 90 minutes and was an exhilarating, awe-inspiring experience. I’m a sucker for a good view – and a good sunset – so to have both of them over my beloved city was a winning combination. All the staff were friendly and informative, with a shout-out to Max for being a helpful guide. Perhaps make a day of it and combine it with a cruise down the Thames from the Westminster. Or if you’ve got a taste for heights, get the Emirates Air Line over to Docklands and get the DLR home instead.
- Up At The O2 is open all year round, with prices starting from £22 pp, although there are discounts for O2 Priority Moments customers. For more information visit the Up On The O2 website. Booking in advance is highly recommend, although walk-ups are possible (maybe so in the winter!). Nearest station: North Greenwich.