I lived in London for 15 years and always thought I knew it pretty well. Our capital city is so big, however, that I would travel between areas by tube, so got to explore it in rather a disjointed fashion. And, of course, there are lots of places within London that I don’t know at all, that are outside my ‘neck of the woods’.
That all changed last weekend, when I was invited to try a sightseeing tour with The London Helicopter. It was to be an 18 minute flight and I did wonder just how much you can see in so short a time. Quite a lot as it happens!
The London Helicopter is based in Battersea and it’s a slick operation. I flew with five other fellow passengers and, having been delayed on the train on the way there, had to throw on my life jacket and run aboard, Anneka Rice style (but minus the neon shellsuit). I was given headphones with microphone so that I could hear and talk to the pilot over the considerable noise that a helicopter makes.
I had been a touch nervous about the trip but was immediately reassured by our pilot, who seemed to know what he was doing (always a good thing!) and kept the helicopter soothingly steady.
We were up in no time, swooping over the Thames . The pilot performed a non-stop commentary of what we were seeing – starting with Battersea Park and Clapham Common and then quickly on to the blockbuster sights – Houses of Parliament, London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Royal Albert Hall, the unusual shapes of the Gherkin, The Cheese Grater, and much more.
Our turning point was at Greenwich Park, where we got gorgeous views of the Royal Naval College, the Royal Observatory, Blackheath and, of course, the park itself. This was an area of London I lived in and it was so special to see it all from a totally different perspective – a real bird’s eye view.
Soon we were heading back up the river. We passed so close to the Shard it felt almost as if I could have reached out and touched the tip. At one point I could see the Oval Cricket Ground in one direction, Regent’s Park in the other. Both usually seem so far apart but this trip made the city seem much more manageable in scale. The other thing that really struck me was the huge amount of green space we have in London – way more than so many cities.
We overshot Battersea on the way back and carried on as far as Barnes, passing by Stamford Bridge football ground and vast swathes of the London Wetland Centre ( a place I didn’t even know existed). A quick sweep back up to Battersea and we were done. I couldn’t believe quite how much ground – or air! – we had covered.
This experience isn’t inexpensive, but it really is a unique and exciting way to see the sights of London. Vouchers are available if you want to treat someone for a birthday or anniversary. Or of course Father’s Day is approaching…!
The 18 minute London Sights tour costs £200. A shorter, 12 minute, London Buzz tour is also available for £150 per person. Minimum age for flights is four years old. Visit www.thelondonhelicopter.com
This trip is weather dependent. The staff will contact you on the morning if the helicopter is unable to fly.