Across the world you can find some incredible cities to explore – and some iconic skylines that pop right into your mind’s eye when you think of them. Does the same hold true for London? While there are certainly important landmarks and tall buildings in London, I’d say it’s one of the less recognizable skylines – unless, of course, you use AI to composite a photo that doesn’t actually represent the city skyline at all!
London does have a skyline though, and the London skyline seems to be always changing and growing. (As LOMM founder Valerie said in her August 2023 trip recap, “The only constant is cranes!”) If you’re curious about what makes up the skyline in London and where to see it, this guide will help.
First, I’ll talk about the different places you can find a skyline view in London – yep, there’s more than one! – and then dive into the buildings that comprise each area. Pair that with this handy article about the best views in London and you’ll soon be framing up that perfect London skyline photo!
Where is the London Skyline?
As you might expect, the London skyline is, well, in London! But what specifically does that mean? Many cities have specific spots where you can see the best skyline view(s), and London is much the same. Knowing where to find different views of the London skyline will help you get the vantage point you’re expecting – and that photo you’re hoping to capture.
There are three general areas where you can see the best London skyline views:
- The City of London – In my opinion, this is probably the best London skyline view, but it’s always changing! It’s where you can see iconic (and iconically named) buildings like St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin, and The Walkie Talkie.
- Canary Wharf – Most people don’t think of Canary Wharf when they think of the London skyline, but all the high-rises in this densely packed part of East London definitely have a distinctive view.
- Along the River Thames – Of course, there are also other iconic buildings along the River Thames; they don’t really form that single, unbroken skyline view of London that you might be looking for, but they’re worth mentioning.
Now let’s go through each section and the buildings you can see there which comprise those parts of the London skyline.
Iconic Buildings on the London Skyline (City)
Let’s start with the City of London skyline, since that’s what I think of as the most iconic. Here are the main buildings that comprise that skyline view.
30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)
30 St Mary Axe, or as it is more fondly known, The Gherkin, was designed by a renowned architectural company, Foster and Partner, who are famed for their iconic and innovative building designs.
The Gherkin must be one of their most ambitious projects. It can be recognized from miles away, with its unusual elongated, curvy shape which is similar to … well…a gherkin! This impressive 591-foot-high property is used as office space, and although it boasts a trendy sky lounge on its top floor, this is only open to tenants.
The eye-catching exterior of this building, with its stunning swirly lines and windows, is more than just an attractive aesthetic. This design is a salient part of the innovative energy-saving system which uses wind for both heating and cooling, a feature that allows it to use 50% less energy than its peers.
20 Fenchurch St (The Walkie-Talkie)
From its construction in 2010, The Walkie-Talkie has experienced a rather inauspicious journey. It has long been considered by many Londoners as the blot on the London Skyline.
Unattractive to the point of being grotesque next to some of its more aesthetically pleasing neighbors, it also had to endure some unfortunate incidents in its early years. In 2013, it was responsible for quite literally melting the bodywork on cars parked nearby! A result of sunlight reflecting from its 33,000 panels of glass.
The Walkie-Talkie’s ambiguous concave design was then accused of creating such a powerful downdraft that it knocked people off their feet on the street below during windy weather. Crikey!
Since its rather rocky beginning, the Walkie-Talkie has slowly edged its way into the hearts of locals and tourists alike, with the opening of the uber-popular Sky Garden on its top three floors being a significant help. Visiting the Sky Garden and enjoying extraordinary panoramic views of the city is free – although you do need to book your place.
The Leadenhall Building (The Cheesegrater)
The iconic Leadenhall Building, aka The Cheesegrater, was built in 2014 by the same architectural genius responsible for the Millenium Dome in Greenwich, Richard Rogers.
It is said that the unusual building was given its nickname by the chief planning officer who stated it looked like something you would grate parmesan with, due to its distinctive wedge-like shape. This property is over 738 ft tall and is used as professional offices.
52-54 Lime Street (The Scalpel)
The Scalpel is the newest building to join the London skyline skyscraper crew, comprising The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater, and the Walkie-Talkie.
It is the baby of the group, only taking shape in 2020. I feel like this building’s rather unattractive nickname is unjust, as it is in fact an elegant, aesthetically pleasing creation. The Scalpel offers spectacular views across the city and provides approximately 624,000 sq ft of office accommodation laid out over 35 floors, which also feature shops, bars, and restaurants.
St Paul’s Cathedral
The current construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed and built between 1695 and 1711 by Sir Christopher Wren who was commissioned to build the cathedral as part of the mass city reconstruction that took place following the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Its easily recognizable dome shape is a magnificent and iconic part of the skyline in London and has been the site of some of London’s biggest ceremonies including the funeral of Lord Admiral Nelson, Queen Victoria’s jubilee, and Prince Charles (as he was then) and Lady Diana Spencer also were married here.
Iconic Buildings on the London Skyline (Canary Wharf)
Heading east, Canary Wharf definitely has its own London skyline “look.” While it’s a bit less iconic than the city (since it’s mostly towering, blocky high-rise buildings), it’s still part of the view.
One Canada Square
One Canada Square is the third tallest skyscraper in London, standing at a whopping 770 feet high! It is primarily used for offices, and there are also some retail units too. It is located in the trendy area of Canary Wharf which is a magnet for young, bright professionals from all over the globe.
This impressive building, which was formerly known as Herons Tower, is predominantly office space littered with other amenities and services.
Located within the building is the largest, privately owned, aquarium in Europe, home to many fascinating species which can be seen from the innovative triple-height reception space. Some highly rated restaurants inside the tower are available to the public, although advance booking is recommended!
The Landmark Pinnacle is the 4th tallest building in the whole of the UK, at a mahoosive 764 ft high and it holds the place as the tallest residential building in all of Europe.
Apartments within the building are highly sought after due to the superb location and the magnificent views of the city. The property features facilities similar to a 5-star hotel including a top-of-the-range gym and roof terrace filled with tropical gardens.
Other Iconic London Skyline Buildings & Structures
Last but not least, there are probably some other buildings you think of when picturing the London skyline in your mind’s eye. Here are some of the most iconic ones – and a few you might not think of but which are still part of the London skyline as a whole.
One of the most photographed bridges in the world, and rightly so, Tower Bridge is one of London’s most celebrated and iconic landmarks. Tower Bridge is a marvel of architecture with an 800-foot-high walkway made of glass, which provides a magnificent and unique view of the city.
The Shard is the tallest building in London and the seventh tallest in all of Europe, standing at an extraordinary 1,016 feet tall.
It was designed by Renzo Piano. His vision was for his creation to look like it is emerging majestically from the River Thames, and I think it’s fair to say he achieved the brief. It is impressive to think that The Shard was built using 95% recycled construction material! Since its inception in 2013, The Shard has become an iconic destination for romantic dates, celebrations, and special meals.
Designed by the same architect responsible for The Gherkin, City Hall is located on the bank of The Thames in Southwark.
It houses the head office of the Greater London Authority which includes the Mayor of London. It is an unusual shape, being as wide as it is high. The reception floor features an outside balcony and this offers great views of Tower Bridge, The Gherkin, and The Shard.
The BT Tower is an active telecommunications tower, which once hosted viewing galleries and featured a rotating restaurant.
People came from all over to enjoy the city views. However, the tower was closed permanently to the public following an explosion from a terrorist bomb back in 1971. Prior to its closure, the BT Tower was one of London’s most popular social spots with the rich and famous. Luckily, no one was injured during the explosion, but it did put a stop to the social element of the property.
Palace of Westminster (“Big Ben”)
The Palace of Westminster, also known as The Houses of Parliament, is without question, THE most iconic building in the city of London – but it isn’t actually located near any other parts of the London skyline!
The property includes the Elizabeth Tower, which is more commonly known as Big Ben. The other notable parts of the Palace of Westminster are the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and Westminster Hall.
You are invited to truly experience the heart of British Politics with a visit where you can study the workings of the UK government. Enjoying a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site with its unique structure, beautiful façade, and inspiring monuments and statues is a must-do when visiting London.
The London Eye
Being a Londoner, I remember well the anticipation and excitement of the London Eye being erected on the South Bank of the River Thames way back in 1999.
It was formally opened on 31st December – New Year’s Eve, and did well to alleviate some of the fear surrounding the “Y2K” phenomena that was gripping the nation at the time! The concept of the wheel came via a competition held in 1993 where entrants were asked to suggest a new landmark for the city to signify the turning of the century.
It remains one of London’s most popular tourist attractions and is sometimes credited with sparking a worldwide revival of Ferris wheels. The views you get of London as you ride the giant wheel are breathtaking.
Battersea Power Station
Battersea Power Station is a Grade II listed, disused power station that has been transformed into a trendy shopping and leisure destination. It features everything from a miniature golf course to a super cool skating rink. You can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view from the top, particularly on clear sunny days.
Now that you have a comprehensive “view” of the London skyline and where to look for it, the only question is: which of these London skyline views will you be trying to see during your London trip? Let me know – and any other questions you have – in the comments below.