7 Unusual Ways to See London's Sights

From sliding down the Orbit to meeting Joey from War Horse, we can guarantee you haven't seen London this way before.

Whether this is your first visit to London or your 21st, we found seven ways to experience the capital’s attractions in completely new ways—one for each day of the week.


Slide or Abseil Down the Orbit

Abseil down the Orbit, London, UK

Anyone can whizz up this 114.5m observation tower in a lift, but who has the guts to abseil down the ArcelorMittal Orbit? If you have the nerve, from the top you’ll see for 20 miles and have a birds’ eye view of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Thrill-seekers also might want to try its new tunnel slide, created by Belgian artist Carsten Höller, set to open in June. At 178m long and 76m high, it’s the world’s longest and tallest. The descent takes 40 seconds at 15mph—which feels faster than it sounds when you’re whizzing down it. Transparent sections mean you can appreciate the view, that is, if you haven’t got your eyes shut. (Entry £10; abseil £85; slide £17)


Take an Engineering Tour of Tower Bridge

Victorian Engine Rooms, Tower Bridge Exhibition, London, UK

Join a two-hour guided tour of Tower Bridge, and you’ll see the inner workings of the world’s most famous bridge. The tour is divided into two parts. First, you’ll watch a film to learn about the bridge’s history and construction before visiting its walkways: peer through its glass floor, 42 metres above the Thames. You’ll also visit the engine rooms, where you can­­­­­­­­­­­ see restored steam pumping engines and boilers that were used to power the bridge lifts until 1976.

In the second half, David Duffy, a technical officer who has worked at the bridge for 12 years, guides you around areas usually off-limits to the public, such as the bridge control room and cavernous bascule chambers below the river. You’ll also visit the machinery room to see the hydraulics that lift the bridge and see original features from when the bridge was finished in 1894. The price includes a guidebook. (Tour £50)


Enjoy Yoga up The Shard

Yoga the The Shard (©Mandy Jhamat)

You might have heard of aerial yoga, where you hang in slings suspended from the ceiling, but the yoga class at The Shard takes the concept to new heights. Leo and Mandy from Yogasphere, which specialises in yoga in beautiful locations, lead vinyasa classes for up to 60 participants. The class takes place on the tower’s open-air platform, level 72, or inside on level 69 on colder days.

Either way, at 1,000ft high you’ll be taking part in the world’s highest yoga class, where on a crisp morning, you can see 40 miles (60km). Mats are provided and the price includes viewing time and a goody bag of healthy snacks. (£40)


Sleep Among Lions at London Zoo

Lions at London Zoo, London, UK

Regular visitors should book now for ZSL London Zoo’s Land of the Lions experience, which opens in May. A sleepover in Gir Lion Lodge, named after the lion’s native Gir Forest in India, is part of the experience.

The price includes two days’ zoo entry, tours, a two-course dinner, chalet accommodation and an English breakfast. (From £378 per lodge/two people)


Go Backstage at the National Theatre

Backstage tours at the NAtional Theatre, London, UK

When the lights dim, the curtains open and the audience falls silent, you know a show’s about to begin. But what happens before that moment? Find out on a backstage tour of the National Theatre, which lets you explore behind-the-scenes. Each tour lasts 75 minutes, but no tour is the same—you might glimpse rehearsals, see the prop room or watch designers mending costumes.

Creative types also can sign up for a two-hour costume tour, on which you’ll visit the cutting room, dye shop and wig room. You’ll learn about the theatre’s 75,000 costumes, which can be hired. (Backstage tour £9; costume £12.50) 


Climb The O2

Up at The O2

If you’ve always wished you could climb Sydney Harbour Bridge then you’ll love climbing The O2. Described as an urban mountaineering experience, visitors don a suit and harness before the 90-minute climb over a 350m walkway.

Along the way you’ll have a pit stop at a viewing platform 52m from ground level, from which you’ll enjoy 360° views across London – look out for Canary Wharf, Emirates Air Line cable car, the Thames and the Gherkin. On a clear day, you can see for 15 miles. Book a sunset or twilight expedition to see London sparkle. (From £28)

Did you know? The O2 was designed as a monument to space and time. Its circumference is 365m, it has 12 masts and the walkway summit is 52m high, in a nod to the days, months and weeks in a year.


Sleep Aboard Golden Hinde II

Golden Hinde, London, UK

Experience life as a 16th-century explorer aboard the Golden Hinde II, a reconstruction of the ship Sir Francis Drake sailed around the globe in 1577-80. Actors will allocate you a crew role and hand out costumes. You’ll then take part in navigational, gunners’ and barber surgeon workshops and a mock battle, before bedding down dorm-style on the ship's gun deck.

A breakfast of bread, cheese, fruit and hot chocolate is included. (£69; mailing list subscribers £42.95)

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Sarah Riches
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