The O2 may be a glitzy centre of excessive consumption filled with chain shops and restaurants, but the Slow Traveller can put themselves above all of that - literally - by walking over the outside of the dome, to enjoy the views over Greenwich and east London.
The O2 Arena on the Greenwich Peninsula started life as the failed Millennium Dome project, a perpetual huge embarrassment to the Labour government who spent £700 million of tax payers money to build it. The projected visitor numbers failed to show up for the exhibitions on biology, science and spirituality, and they eventually sold it to a (Labour) donor for just £125 million. After several years of temporary uses and lots of political wrangling, the area was turned into an 'entertainment district', and all that remained of the original project was the actual dome itself.
The dome, strictly speaking a large tent, is one of the largest in the world. The famous white canopy is 52 metres high and held up with various cranes and pillars. Inside it is a huge music venue where the biggest names perform, a cinema, bowling, a trampoline park, a football entertainment venue, a Mamma Mia! party venue and countless big name restaurants and big name shops. The interior is all shiny, glitzy chrome, bright lights and endless colours. It is not a place for those who are seeking peace, the natural world, open skies or views.
It is however possible to do 'Up at the O2' - a 'climb' up and over the roof, where you get to spend some time standing on the top to admire the views, before descending back down to earth.
From up there you can see far into the distance - over the Thames, Greenwich, the Isle of Dogs, the city skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and more.
The noise at ground level is subdued, the sky seems vast, the industrial wasteland around you retreats into the background. It is a far pleasanter way to experience this part of London than standing in a giant shopping mall with adverts flashing in your face.
You book your tickets online - see link below. You pay more for evening or sunset climbs. I thought I was quite canny in booking our climb to be the last of the day time climbs - so we still got some sunset but for a day time price.
Once your arrive on site to book in, you can also pre-order a drink to have at the top of the dome, where you get to spend about 20 minutes wandering around the flat bit at the top to admire the views. The prices are quite high for just small bottles and cans of drink, but there is a fridge up there so at least they are chilled, and you aren't allowed to carry any with you for safety reasons.
You start out in the briefing room where you watch a video with the rules of the climb, then go into a room where you deposit your extraneous possessions.
You are given shoes if required, a harness and a gilet style jacket, which has a pocket for your phone, if you want it. (Clothing guidelines are here). Then its time to attach yourself to the safety wire and begin the ascent.
It is not particularly difficult or terrifying, although there were a couple of people on our climb who seemed nervous and needed some support. The guide who escorts you can walk up and down the line giving advice and encouragement as required; our guide was really cheery, positive and friendly, and got us all to the top with minimal problems. You walk on a walkway suspended over the dome, rather than on the dome itself. The walkway is ridged for extra grip and there are handrails, as well as the safety rail. Once you are at the top you can unhook yourself from the safety wire and wander around.
The guide issues any ordered drinks from the fridge and then gives a little talk about what you can see around you. There is no obligation to listen, and in fact a couple went off with their champagne for a romantic moment, but the rest of us stayed to enjoy the talk and admire the views. After that we could wander around - you are allowed to get your phones out once you are at the top, and there were lots of selfies and landscape photos.
The views are interesting and there is a certain thrill about being so high up at the top of the dome, looking down on everyone below. You can see quite far away depending on the time of day and if the weather is obliging. The planes fly directly over your head, the people below seem quite small and insignificant, yet they provide a fascinating living scene for you to watch. We particularly enjoyed watching the people eating suspended from a crane with London in the Sky, which looks both fun and dangerous.
After about 20 minutes or so, it is time to get back in the line, clip yourself on to the safety wire and head back down the other side. This is a little more daunting, as the roof seems to fall away from you as you descend, and particularly towards the end of the descent it does get a little steeper and harder to manage.
That being said, we all succeeded without any drama, and were soon back on terra firma. Then its just a case of handing back your equipment, collecting your stuff and having a look at the professional photos which were taken of you on the climb, with the chance to buy them of course.
The whole experience takes about 90 minutes and is a thoroughly unique and enjoyable way to explore this part of London.
Up at the O2
Book your tickets here with Get Your Guide, who offer free cancellation whereby you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.