If you live in Southwark, you can probably guess at the tallest structure in your borough (the Shard). But what of the others?
The answers are often surprising. Not every borough is dominated by high-rise glass and steel apartment blocks or commercial towers. In some regions, churches or communication masts win the crown. There's also a stadium and a power station in the mix.
Here, we break down the tallest building in all 33 local authorities (32 boroughs plus the City of London) as of January 2022. The tallest buildings in a third of the boroughs (11) have changed since we first compiled the list in 2017.
Barking and Dagenham
360 Degrees Barking: This curvaceous residential tower recently stole the title of Barking's tallest from the memorably named Lemonade Building. It stands 85 metres.
Hendon Waterside: The Vista (also known as Hawfinch House) is the tallest block in this 2016-completed residential development, overlooking the Welsh Harp reservoir. Also at 85 metres, the tower supplants the 54 metre St Jude-on-the-Hill as the borough's tallest.
Marlowe House: This 56 metre tower block near Sidcup station dates from 1966.
Wembley Stadium: The famous arch dominates the skyline of north-west London, and it's no surprise to find it's the tallest structure in Brent at 133 metres. You could stack three Emirates Stadiums in the same height. Had history played out a little differently, the world's tallest building might have stood on the same site, in the form of the 358 metre Watkin's Tower.
Crystal Palace Transmitter: Who'd have guessed that the Borough of Bromley plays host to one of London's top 10 tallest structures? The 1950's telecommunications mast stands 222 metres tall and is just inside the borough boundary.
BT Tower: Formerly the Post Office Tower, this iconic peak of Fitzrovia reaches 177 metres or 190 metres if you include the antennae — much taller than anything nearby.
City of London
22 Bishopsgate: The highest roof in the Square Mile changes with some regularity. Not so long ago, the NatWest Tower (now Tower 42) easily wore the crown at 183 metres. This is now surpassed by several other buildings, the tallest of which is the bulky 22 Bishopsgate. At 278 metres, it is the second tallest structure in London, beaten only by the Shard.
Croydon Transmitter: You probably know it as 'the other big mast thing at Crystal Palace' but this telecommunication tower actually stands on Beulah Hill in the London Borough of Croydon. At 153 metres, it's a fair bit smaller than its more famous sibling (222m). A proposed residential tower of 228 metres, known as One Lansdowne, would steal the crown if ever built.
One West Point: The tallest tower of the under-construction Portal West development in North Acton has now reached its full height of 184 metres. This makes it the tallest residential tower in London outside of the Canary Wharf cluster (for now... see Lambeth).
Edmonton Refuse Incinerator: Enfield's peak is an industrial building, completed in 1971. The chimney stretches 100 metres into the sky.
Upper Riverside, building 5: Greenwich Peninsula is a hive of construction at the moment, with medium-tall towers springing up at a rate to compete with Stratford. The current tallest (by a whisker) is the 102 metre southern-most tower of the Upper Riverside complex — which has a very different aspect depending on whether you're viewing from the peninsula or the river (or cable car).
Atlas Building: Back in 2017 when we first published this article, the 101 metre Skyline building at Woodberry Down was easily the tallest in the borough. However, we predicted it would soon be overtaken by a rash of buildings on the City fringes. This has come to pass. The crown is now worn by the Atlas Building, one of several lofty new towers on City Road. It stands 134 metres.
Hammersmith and Fulham
Imperial West Tower: This distinctive building, owned by Imperial College, has a profile not unlike the City's Cheesegrater building. At 139 metres, it recently overtook Earl's Court's Empress State Building as the borough's tallest.
Anthology Hale Works: For decades, the mast of Alexander Palace (pictured above) crowned the borough at 67 metres. It's now being overtaken by a suite of new towers in the Tottenham Hale development area. The current tallest is the 107 metre Anthology tower, though this is likely to be bested by a 137 metre tower in the near future.
Harrow Square: Harrow's been known for centuries for its mighty church steeple, visible for miles around on top of the hill. When it comes to truly tall buildings, without a geological leg-up, though, the borough has largely resisted the trend. One exception is the 2019 Harrow Square development, whose mightiest peak seems to be 134 metres (the developers had permission to build this tall, but whether that is the final height is difficult to ascertain). The tower beats the old Kodak chimney at Harrow & Wealdstone, which was the top peak in the borough for decades at a mere 57 metres.
Mercury House: This rather squat looking commercial office building in Romford stands 57 metres tall.
Heathrow Control Tower: Completed in 2005, this distinctive control tower dominates the skyline of the otherwise flat borough at 87 metres tall. A much smaller version can be found in the Wetherspoon's in Terminal 2.
The Tower at GWQ: Hounslow's tallest is the 75 metre residential tower on the northern edge of Brentford — an area recently dubbed the Great West Quarter (hence the name). It is also known as Kew Eye Apartments, presumably because Kew (across the river) sounds fancier than Brentford.
Carrara Tower: One of a series of new towers along City Road (see also Hackney's tallest), the Carrara completed in 2020 and stands 150 metres. It's the one under construction in our image.
Kensington and Chelsea
Trellick Tower: The brutalist icon was completed in 1972 and remains the tallest building in the borough at 98 metres.
Kingston upon Thames
Tolworth Tower: This much maligned 1964 commercial building totally dominates the skyline in these parts — there's nothing nearly as big as this 81 metre beast for miles. Unusually, the borough's 12 tallest buildings were all completed in the 60s and 70s, according to Emporis.
One Nine Elms: The baton of tallest structure in Lambeth was being handed over right at the time of our latest update to this article (January 2022). For years, the cylindrical St George Wharf Tower held the title at 181 metres. This is now being surpassed by the adjacent and under-construction One Nine Elms tower, whose completed height will be a whopping (for residential) 199 metres.
Lewisham Exchange: Another new entry on the list, Lewisham Exchange is a 105 metre residential block with a beige fake-brick facade. The building was completed in 2021, before which the chimney of the SELCHP incinerator (a familiar site from trains out of London Bridge) topped the borough at 100 metres.
Britannia Point: The borough of Merton doesn't contain many high buildings. It's tallest at 54 metres, next to Colliers Wood tube station, is somewhat notorious though, thanks to its bleak concrete facade. The despised building recently underwent a makeover (above, in progress) and is now mostly harmless. If you want to know the next tallest buildings, then the Wimbledon Times recently published a handy ranking.
Manhattan Loft Gardens: It's not in Manhattan — that's the developer's name — but this peculiar tower does contain pleasant gardens and loft apartments. The 143 metre residential 'scraper is noteworthy for having a huge chunk of its trunk missing (by design). From some angles, the effect is near miraculous. The tower recently stole the title of Newham's tallest from the curvy Halo building on Stratford High Street, which is 133 metres.
Pioneer Point: This 105 metre residential skyscraper dominates the skies of North Ilford and is visible for miles around. It is unusually tall for a building in outer London and stands beside another residential tower that, at 82 metres, would tip the scales in many other boroughs. It's not the last word, either. An even taller tower, Chapel Place, is under consideration for Ilford. If built, it would stand at 110 metres.
Richmond upon Thames
St Matthias' Church: One of two boroughs whose tallest buildings are churches. St Matthias can be found in central Richmond with a spire that climbs 61 metres. Incidentally, the Pagoda in Kew Gardens is the borough's second tallest building, which shows what a low-rise part of town Richmond is.
The Shard: At almost 310 metres, the Shard is not only the tallest building in Southwark, but also the loftiest in the whole of western Europe (we can't say the EU these days). Surprisingly, though, there are taller structures elsewhere in the UK.
Quadrant House: The otherwise unremarkable office block beside Sutton station was completed in 1980, as you might guess from the brown colour. It's 76 metres.
One Canada Square: The pyramid-topped skyscraper at Canary Wharf was the tallest in London from 1991 until 2012, when it was overtaken by the Shard. It stands 235 metres, still ever-so-slightly taller than its immediate neighbours.
Northwood Tower: Waltham Forest's skyline was once much beefier. In recent years, some two dozen tower blocks over 50 metres have been demolished. Where it was once the 15th tallest block in the borough (according to Emporis), Northwood near Wood Street station is now the loftiest at 57 metres.
Battersea Power Station: Reaching 113 metres, the famous power station was the first London structure to surpass St Paul's in height (though the latter appears taller thanks to its position on Ludgate Hill). 80 years on, it doesn't even make it into the top 80 tallest structures in London, but it is the highest in Wandsworth. For now. Of course, the station's full height is no longer entirely original. During the current regeneration project, all four chimneys were demolished and rebuilt.
Millbank Tower: This 1960s behemoth dominates the skyline between Tate Britain and the Houses of Parliament. In its time, this was one of the tallest structures in London. At the time of writing, it's the 74th at 119 metres. It will one day be superseded by the 140 metre 1 Merchant Square in Paddington, sometimes nicknamed The Cucumber.
Sources: Most of the information comes from the Emporis website, which handily lists the tallest structures in most of the boroughs. A list of tall buildings on Wikipedia was also useful for ranking heights across boroughs. Our list incorporates both buildings and more general structures like communication masts.
All images by the author unless otherwise noted.