Ever Been Up Westminster Cathedral Bell Tower? The Views Are Amazing

Ever Been Up Westminster Cathedral Bell Tower? The Views Are Amazing

The Shard? Check. The Walkie Talkie? Tick. The Orbit? Done. But there's one tower viewing gallery in London that you might not realise is there for the climbing. It offers 360° views of London from 64 metres up — and it'll only set you back £6.

The Bell Tower of Westminster Cathedral — and the Cathedral itself — is a striking building indeed, its striped brickwork putting us in mind of Bagpuss, and a recent claim to fame being mistaken for a mosque by a member of UKIP.

As we walk across Cathedral Piazza, a thought occurs. Will there be a lift or are we subjecting ourselves to a rigorous stair-climb before we're rewarded with the views?

Entering the Cathedral, we follow the signs round to the left to the gift shop, where we buy our ticket. As the shop assistant processes our payment through the till, he picks up a telephone receiver, utters the word "tower" to whoever's on the other end, then puts the phone down. It's not clear what was achieved by the exchange, but if it's a code word, it's not a very good one.

We follow the man out of a back door of the shop and into the lift — relief — and he accompanies us up to the 7th floor. We're told to press the button again — just once, mind — when we want to come back down. He'll come back up in the lift and get us.

And then we're alone. We're the only ones up the bell tower — apparently we're lucky not to have coincided with a school party. Inside, it's more modern than we expected. The stainless steel lift shaft takes up the centre of the tower, the floor is lino, and the original interior brickwork has been painted white. Original architectural plans line the walls, explanations provided underneath. All very interesting, but we're here for the views.

Each of the tower's four sides has a balcony, capable of holding five-six people at a time. The first balcony we choose has south-facing views, dominated by the curved roof of Victoria railway station, and the black glass shopping centre next to it.

Over to the left, the metallic forest of cranes and new-builds draws our attention to the Battersea Power Station development.

The masts of the Albert and Chelsea Bridges peek out from behind other buildings, emerging from the mist, the only clue from this vantage point that a river runs through the city.

Moving anti-clockwise around the tower to the next balcony, the shimmering glass of St George's Wharf at Vauxhall takes centre stage, the red and blue trains between Vauxhall and Waterloo chugging past in the background like a miniature train set.

Squint and you'll see Crystal Palace (between the two towers).

In the distance, the Crystal Palace mast is just about visible on a clear day, cresting its hill. Today, however, is not a clear day. Best of all is the unique view looking down onto the Cathedral's green domed roof below.

Rotating again, the third balcony has the big guns of the London skyline; The Shard, Canary Wharf, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the City of London cluster and the London Eye, old and new layered on top of each other. And the cranes. So many cranes.

The final view is a disappointingly modern one, a cacophony of glass and metal including Cardinal Place Shopping Centre, evidence of Victoria's recent regeneration.

By this point, a few other tourists have joined us, but not enough to make it feel busy. It may be a bell tower, but the soundtrack is that of sirens, as police cars and ambulances variably whizz up and down Victoria Street and around Victoria station.

We take a final peek out of each balcony — alas, the weather hasn't cleared up any — and head for the lift, being sure to press the button only once. True to his word, the shop assistant comes to retrieve us and see us back safely to the ground.

Westminster Cathedral's Tower Viewing Gallery is open Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.30pm, and Saturday-Sunday 9.30am-6pm. Entry is £6 adults/£3 concessions.

Last Updated 19 May 2017