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Up at the O2 review

Up at the O2 review

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times travel writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

Last week saw the opening of a new London attraction: visitors to the O2 Arena can now climb across the roof of the building and gaze out across the city from a viewing platform at 52m.

It is known as Up at the O2 and promises “an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely unique perspective on the Capital”. Yesterday I was invited to check it out, along with my wife and daughter.

Although the O2 is one of London’s most iconic buildings – and after the fiasco of the Millennium celebrations is now one of Europe’s most successful entertainment venues – I’ve never thought of it as particularly tall.

In fact, the viewing platform is at exactly the same height as the top of Nelson’s Column. It’s a little shorter than Monument (62m) and tiny compared to the Post Office Tower (189m) and the Gherkin (180m).

To allow visitors to scale the building, a 350m-long fabric walkway has been built across the roof, suspended from the distinctive yellow steel masts. At one end is “Base Camp”, a cleverly themed entry point where climbers are issued with all-in-one jump suits and safety harnesses and given a safety briefing.

This all seemed a bit excessive. After all, we were just going for a gentle walk, holding a handrail. Or so we thought.

In fact, the climb is seriously steep – 30 degrees at the point closest to the ground – and it can get mighty windy up there. We were very grateful to be safely strapped on to a steel cable, with an experienced guide helping us every step of the way.

The walkway feels like rubber underfoot and we were encouraged for safety reasons not to bounce up and down. It was hard to resist.

About 20 minutes later we reached the viewing platform. There we could unhook ourselves and get out our phones (you are not allowed to carry anything up there, but there is a convenient shoulder pocket where you can put your phone).

We saw the obvious sites – Canary Wharf, Greenwich, City Airport and a sliver of the Olympic Stadium – plus dock buildings, London’s only lighthouse, Anthony Gormley’s Millennium sculpture and the new cable car across the Thames.

It was also fascinating to look down at the O2 itself, and get a close up view of this extraordinary, unique structure.

The journey down was just as much fun as the ascent and by the time we returned the suits and harnesses and collected our valuables – which had been conveniently brought along to meet up from Base Camp – the whole experience had taken about 90 minutes. We were all grinning and strangers were chatting with each other – always a good sign.

We returned to Central London on a Thames Clipper – easily the best way to see the capital. Gazing out from the back of the boat at the O2 we saw another group of tiny human shapes scaling the roof.

And I thought: “Yep, we climbed that.”

* Up at the O2 is open year round, weather permitting. It costs £22 per person, although O2 customers can get 15% off with Priority Moments. You must be at least 10 years old, physically fit and 1.2m tall. Check the website for opening times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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