(Disclaimer: I took the photo above from the Emirates Cable cars - not from the climb)
I've been to the O2 a few times, but I've never managed to experience Up at the O2 - an opportunity to climb the famous dome and see the London skyline from a different perspective.
So when my friend decided to take me along for a climb, I was looking forward to ticking off something from my London list..
From Millennium Dome to O2
I can still remember the hype around the Millennium Dome when it opened on eve of the new millennium. The government of the day spent a lot of money (over £1 billion in today's money).in order to create an exhibition for the third millennium, drawing on previous exhibitions that Britain had held in the mid 19th and 20th centuries.
It's a divisive building, some think it looks hideous, I quite like it. The dome, the ninth largest building in the world by volume is 52m high (representing each week of the year), 365m in diameter (representing each day of the year), and has 12 crane like structures (representing each month of the year). There's something about that which made me like the building a little more.
The exhibition when it first opened was split into three categories; who we are, what we do and where we live and aimed to be an introspective look at humanity, creating a cultural icon that was hoped would be a draw for tourists from across the world.
Instead, the over budget project quickly became seen to be somewhat of a disaster. There were ticketing troubles on the opening night, the chief executive was fired within a couple of months of opening, and attendance was only half of what was predicted. A few years after it opened, there was even consideration of knocking the whole thing down and writing it off as an expensive mistake.
It's a shame - we had a school trip to the O2. I didn't go because my mom couldn't afford to send me, but my friends that did go came back saying how much they enjoyed it (and visitor reviews were generally very good), so it's clear they had something pretty cool there - but perhaps marketed in the wrong way. Pretty soon the sponsors and the exhibits were slowly closed.
Luckily, in the mid 2000's, the building was taken over by new owners who decided to create an indoor city, with streets, parks and buildings, and for sponsorship reasons, renamed it the O2.
Up at the O2
It wasn't until 2012 when Up at the O2 opened, a chance for anyone to ascend the side of the O2 to a viewing platform at the top of the building. At 52m tall, it's not exactly the tallest building in London (or even the surrounding area), and while I love rooftops, the cost, and the opportunity to see better views from taller buildings nearby have meant that I've never seriously considered going Up at the O2.
In the end, it was a birthday present that gave me the opportunity to make the climb. At £36 it's not cheap - there's much cheaper ways of getting views in London, something I've written about before (you can read that article here, although it's pretty dated now).
You begin with signing a waiver (under 18s have to be accompanied by an adult), and this is followed by a brief safety video. You're then given equipment to help you climb. It's nothing extreme, a harness hooks you to a central line as you climb, a jacket (or gillet in summer) to put your phone in, and a pair of climbing shoes. Everything else goes into a box that waits for your arrival on the other side of the O2 after your descent.
The climb itself isn't that long, or that difficult. After a short climb up some stairs, and the standard photographer taking pictures to sell to you at the end of the climb, your harness gets hooked onto a line and off you go. Groups usually number about 16, and you climb in a line stopping every so often. It's not a long climb, but it does get a little steep (certainly nothing like Machu Picchu).
The strangest thing is the almost trampoline like path below you, rubbery and springy in its texture, which means every footstep is almost a bounce.
At the top of the climb, the guide unhooks your harness from the line, and you are free to explore the viewing platform and take some photos. I went on a pretty grey and dreary day (although thankfully with no rain), and I think a sunset or night time climb would probably be better.
The views are okay. On one side you have the Emirates cable cars and London city airport, another side looks toward Stratford (you can make out the Orbit tower), a third side faces Canary Wharf and the fourth Greenwich.
The view of Canary Wharf is particularly disappointing. Two (very ugly) hotels have recently been constructed and they block out the view of One Canada Square. In fact, the view is so underwhelming, that on a map built into the side of the platform there is a sign saying St. Paul's Cathedral, and then in brackets, obscured by Canary Wharf.
The best view is of Greenwich, a town in which I have written about previously. There's something about the sight of the old naval college, and historic buildings by the university that look pretty special from up high. Otherwise, there's plenty of places around London that provide much better views.
The climb down is pretty fun. The decline reaches an angle of 32 degrees, and you really have to hold on. A few people took a fall, and I enjoyed the feeling of a couple of drops where you can only see a dead end on the horizon, only to look down and see a steeper path. At the end, you view your overpriced photos, drop off your jackets, shoes and harnesses, pick up your belongings and off you go - 90 minutes after starting.
Would I recommend 'Up at the O2'?
Given the amount of free viewing platforms in London, I certainly wouldn't go for the views. But the climb is quite fun, and it's a different way of looking at London - rather than just taking a lift to the top of a tall building. They sell it as feeling as sense of accomplishment doing the climb, but it's so short, that you barely break out in a sweat.
The O2 itself is quite nice though. I've visited a few times, and it's got a great mix of things to see and do. The feeling of having a city under a dome is kind of cool, and my friend described it as feeling as though you're on holiday somewhere, and they were absolutely right. Inside the dome, you forget you're in London, as you're transported to a city within a city. You have everything under one roof, and I actually left feeling impressed by how cool this building - and how close it had come to demolition just over a decade ago.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.