Up at the O2

Londoners love to go up stuff. We like to be able to stand high above the city and look over its vastness, as far as the eye can see, and point at buildings we recognise. The viewing platform comes in many guises these days and it is something that has become peculiar to city life. No one seems to build these in the middle of the countryside where arguably there are lots of beautiful things to look at – this is presumably because any suggestion of building in green places tends to result in the locals brandishing pitchforks; if you want to see views in the country, you go up a hill.

Nonetheless, city dwellers love standing hundreds of feet above ground and looking down at the cars, train stations and densely packed buildings in order to feel part of it all. You can go up the Shard, up St Paul’s, up the London eye, up the unpronounceable Orbit-thingy at the Olympic Park, and increasingly up to roof-top gardens and events across the city. Now, you can also go up the Millennium Dome. And yes, I know it’s called the O2 these days but another thing Londoners do is to call things by their original or ‘quirky’ name no matter how many times it’s rebranded (see also Olympic Park – no offence to HRH but who is going to remember the Queen Elizabeth bit?).

The first person to go up the Millennium Dome was actually James Bond when he accidentally fell on it, and there are references on the website cautioning you against a repeat of this iconic moment. The excellent pre-title sequence of The World is Not Enough in 1999 sees Pierce Brosnan’s Bond chase some baddies down the Thames in a boat before he ends up falling off a hot air balloon and bouncing down the side of the dome. It’s a great film opener and also a great film if you pretend Denise Richards wasn’t in it – “I’m a nuclear physicist”, yeah course you are love.

Anyway I digress. Your journey begins at base camp – yes I know but go with it – where you are shown a safety video and how to use your kit.  This includes a lovely sleeveless jacket, a safety harness which wraps around your shoulders and legs, and a special pair of hiking style boots designed to maintain grip on the bouncy walkway. This is still quite a new activity so the shoes are in good condition, don’t worry it’s not like going bowling. Once you’re fully rigged up, the instructor / guide checks everything and you climb the steps to the base of the roof, where you stop for a quick promotional photo (available later in the shop).

It’s like abseiling, so you’re attached by a pulley-like contraption on your safety harness to a line which runs to the top of the dome, 52 meters above ground, and one-by-one you begin your ascent. It’s step-free but the initial angle is quite steep, although as you climb higher the gradient is reduced until it flattens out completely at the Summit. The climb itself isn’t too bad, and certainly far less strenuous than the steps to the top of St Paul’s, taking around 20 minutes depending on the group’s ability. You may find the bouncy walk-way a little disconcerting at first but it doesn’t move as much as you might fear.

Once at the top, you’re given 15-20 minutes to look around and take photos – cameras and phones are the only items allowed with you, anything else is left in the locker-room. From the top you can see close by to the naval college in Greenwich, across to Canary Wharf and down to the Thames Barrier, as well as getting the Bond-eye-view over the top of the Dome itself. Then you begin the descent down the other side of the Dome, which some may find a little steeper, but here’s where the shoes come into their own with their helpful grip to keep you slip-free until you reach the bottom. All the way along the instructor is beside you ready to help if needed or point out particular landmarks, but otherwise leaves you to get on with it, which is great and certainly increases your sense of achievement.

Unlike most of London’s other viewing platforms, this one is completely outdoors from beginning to end which makes it a much more interesting experience. The whole process from checking-in to packing up your kit on the other side is smoothly managed and you never feel even remotely unsafe. It’s also really fun and certainly feels more of an accomplishment than getting the lifts in the Shard. So as one of the more unique experiences, I would definitely recommend climbing the Millennium Dome to survey our fair city from yet another angle. It may not make you James Bond but as Londoners (or visitors to London) it is our duty to go up as much stuff as we can – do it, you know you want to!

Up at the O2 costs £26 on a weekday and £33 at weekends and all equipment is supplied. Restrictions on climbers do apply and is not suitable for anyone under 10 years old, shorter than 1.2 meters or weighing more than 21 stone. Twilight climbs are also available.

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About Maryam Philpott

This blog is for people looking for more discursive and in-depth reviews of a range of interesting cultural activities in London, covering everything from theatre to exhibitions, films and heritage. My background is in social and cultural history and I published a book entitled Air and Sea Power in World War One which examines the experience of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy. I am also part of the London theatre review team for The Reviews Hub where I have professionally reviewed over 300 shows. It was set up in 2007 to review all forms of professional theatre including Fringe and West End. View all posts by Maryam Philpott

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