A few weeks ago, Gary and I finally had the chance to tick something off of our London Bucket List that had featured at the top of it pretty much since we moved here – climbing Up at the O2.
Ok. I’ll admit it, I am not usually the type for adventures and adrenaline fueled activities. However I do enjoy any activity that is slightly unusual. And this one was certainly that and a whole bunch more.
Considering I’m incredibly afraid of heights, climbing up to the top of the 52 meter high structure is an achievement that I’m pretty proud of to say the least. Just looking up at a tall building makes my stomach knot.
Of course like most things in life it was more scary thinking about it than actually doing it, but even in overcoming our fears of inadequacy there was a challenge. I’m a firm believer that it is good to be challenged. So recently I have been consciously pushing myself further and further outside of my comfort zone, because I’ve learnt that new experiences such as Zip-Lining in Jamaica and hoping on a Rib-Ride in Wales create amazing memories and lead to great insight into yourself.
London is a pretty good city when it comes to viewing it from as many angles as possible. Novel opportunities to view the city range from flying across The Thames in a cable car, to circling above it in a giant Ferris Wheel, to being whizzed to the top of the Shard by high-speed lifts. But one of the most atmospheric experiences Gary and I had so far was climbing Up at The 02.
Up at The O2 opened in 2012 and has since see over 300,000 people ascend the roof for 360 panoramic views over London.
The climb basically involves scaling the dome of The O2 (also known as the Millennium Dome) via a blue tensile fabric walkway – I would describe it as bouncy plastic. At the steepest point the walkway has an incline of 28 degrees on the way up and 30 degrees on the way back down. At the top and center of the roof is a viewing platform, where you can take in views across London in all directions.
You can book a time slot to climb it in the daytime, or at night time as the city turns to twilight. I climbed the O2 along with my boyfriend, Gary, in the late afternoon. Overall, the climb took about 90 minutes.
But I will run you through our experience of Up at the O2, in far greater detail, in the next few paragraphs.
WHERE – THE MILLENIUM DOME IN GREENWICH
If you aren’t familiar with the O2 arena, you might know it as the Millennium Dome. It was originally built to house a year-long exhibition in the year 2000.
Back in the days, there was quite a lot of negative press about the spiraling costs of construction, as everyone wondered what would happen to the Millennium Dome once 2000 had ended.
Today the o2 is a cherished London landmark. It is a world-class entertainment venue, the second largest arena in the UK and holds up to 20,000 people. With its amazing acoustics and seating plans, it has quickly become a popular venue for some of the world’s biggest artists and bands
It isn’t until you step inside the o2 that you realize how incredibly humungous it is. Within you will find an entire village of restaurants and bars, as well as the arena. It is definitely a fun place to spend a couple of hours and we ended up having dinner here after our climb.
The O2 is located right next to the river Thames, in the newly developed area of Greenwich. Gray and I quite simply took the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich. But you can also drive and park in one of the huge car parks adjacent to the arena. Or make it a day out and arrive in style with one of the MBNA Thames Clipper boats.
FACTS ABOUT THE O2 ARENA
- The O2 is 365 meters in circumference to represent the each day of the year
- The O2 has 12 support towers that represent each month of the year
- The O2 is 52 meters high to represent each week in a year
- The roof of the dome is said to weigh less than the air inside it.
- And it would take 3.8 billion pints of beer to fill up all the space in the O2
SAFETY BRIEFING AND EQUIPMENT
Upon arriving at “Base Camp”, you will have to sign away your life in a waiver and fill out a form with your emergency contacts.
The actually experience of Up at the O2 then starts with a safety video starring Rupert, a slightly overexcited young man, who looks like he had just been caught in a gust of wind. Rupert gave us a short introduction to the O2, before proceeding to explain the safety precautions and how to get into your climbing gear.
We were told that we would only be allowed to take a mobile phone or small camera Anything dropped on the way up or down could potentially damage the roof of the O2 and would be unlikely to be retrieved. We were also strictly advised to avoid bouncing on the runway.
Next we were introduced to our guide and ushered through to the changing rooms to collect our climb gear you We were also provided with ECCO climbing boots, which I’d advise you to wear as they have fantastic grip. You could wear your own trainers, but to be on the safe side, go with what they give you.
We were then stripped of all our worldly possessions, which were subsequently locked away in a metal box.
You can choose whether you want to wear one of the black and blue jumpsuits or one of their special waistcoats. This really is weather depended and since the jumpsuits are pretty thick, I would suggest you choose the waistcoat in summer.
Our guide then helped us put on our harness, checked the fastening and tightened it a couple of times, before we set-off.
THE WALK UP AT THE O2
Our “grueling” climb to the summit began with a set of glass-enclosed stairs. The stair leads to a large platform, where groups gather for a last safety briefing from their guide.
Then, once the group is ready, it’s time to climb! Before you get going however, a professional photographer takes your picture (£12 for one print if you’re wondering) and off you go.
In case you aren’t picturing it yet, the 02 is a gigantic dome. And ‘Up at the 02’ is actually a blue walkway suspended above this dome. The surface of the walkway was designed to emulate the tensile structure of the dome and is therefore soft and very bouncy. It’s a bit like climbing a massive trampoline.
You will be tempted to bounce. In fact, you will be hard pressed not to, due to the springy nature of the runway. But don’t be tempted! It makes the walkway really wobbly for those behind you and you very unpopular with the rest of the group.
Yet climbing Up at the O2 feels surprisingly safe, as you’re securely tethered to the safety rail and there’s an automatic locking mechanism on your harness which will prevent you from falling should you happen to slip.
Your instructor will connect the carabiner on your harness to a rail that runs up through the middle of the walkway. You then need to pull the harness along with you while you climb the dome.
In order to do this you need to lift the carabiner with one hand while you grip the railing with your other hand. If you let go of the carabiner, it automatically locks and you stay locked in place (this is the safety mechanism in action). When you get to a cable post, you have to angle the latch and wiggle it to get past the post and continue to the next section of cable.
Using the harness and climbing gear does take a little bit of effort and getting used to, but it’s not really that complicated. Trust me you will be glad that the harness is there to protect you from random gusts of wind as you stomp up and over the curved building.
From the ground the walkway of Up at the O2 looked very steep and I will admit I was a little scared. But the climb itself was actually fairly easy, you’re never rushed and you can go at your own pace.
The first section has a relatively steep incline of 28 degrees. You might feel a little strain in your ankles and calves, but you’ll soon get use to the angle.
Once you’re past the first section though and as the roof curves the walkway slowly levels out. The climb gets gradually more comfortable and you can take in the gorgeous sights, sparkling Thames, city buzzing below.
Here your tour guide will start pointing and describing all the sites that can be seen. These include, among others, Historic Greenwich, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Canary Wharf.
Even though the climb wasn’t particularly difficult, I was still relieved when we finally caught sight of the viewing platform. This was the moment we had all been waiting for.
VIEWS AT THE TOP OF THE O2
The Viewing platform of Up at the O2 is located 52 meters above ground at the center of the dome. It’s pretty big and can hold up to 40 people.
As we reached the top we spotted another group on the viewing platform, but there was plenty of space left for us. Our guide then unclipped us from the safety rail and we were left free to roam around the podium.
We rested for a little while before enjoying the 360 degree panoramic view of LondonAnd despite it being a drizzly day, the view from the top didn’t disappoint.
We were able to see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf (London’s financial district), Tower Bridge, the Shard, the Excel, the white towers of Greenwich’s Old Naval College, the TV transmitter of Crystal Palace, the Olympic Park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the Aquatics Centre and, tucked in between two skyscrapers, the Olympic Stadium.
To be fair, there aren’t that many landmarks to spot from here and the View from the Shard is just a little more spectacular on that level. But that’s not the whole point of Up at the O2. It’s more about the experience of climbing such a tall structure. The cow tails and karabiners are as much a part of the experience as the view from ‘the summit’.
Whilst you have to keep your phones and small cameras neatly tucked away in your pockets during the climb, you are free to snap away as soon as you reach the viewing platform. So after Gary and I spent a good time marveling at the incredible views, I made sure to get a couple of nice shots. Including one of us awkwardly posing and trying to look natural for the camera.
During our time up on the viewing platform, the wind was blowing pretty hard and you could feel the platform vibrate beneath your feet. The platform is suspended from the 12 support towers and each cable is tightened a little differently to avoid elementary forced resonance. The vibrations might feel a little unnerving to some but are perfectly safe.
We were thankful however, that apart from being a little overcast and windy, the weather behaved during our climb (it didn’t rain), as they only cancel bookings in extreme cases.
Note: If you happen to book on a day when it’s raining cats and dogs, you won’t be allowed to re-book, and you might get a little soggy.
We had about 20 minutes on the viewing platform, which is more than adequate to enjoy the view and take pictures. And then it was time to get reattached to the rail and descend towards the ground.
THE WALK DOWN AT THE O2
The walk back down was slightly more difficult as it’s a steeper descend.
However the vast majority of the the descent is pretty easy going, and at a good angle. It is only in the final section that the walkway takes on an angle of 30 degrees and a sideways crab-style walk is required to get down. The reason for the steep pitch, is the fact that the walkway goes all the way to the ground on this side, unlike at the start of the journey, where the walkway is suspended above the ground.
I will admit that the climb down was a little scary for me. I kept picturing myself slipping and tumbling to the ground. So I took my time and walked down in small steps. I was also gripping on to the railing.
I was a lot slower than the rest of the group but I did eventually make it to the ground. Looking back up, the viewing platform had disappeared and I once again realized just how high we had climbed.
With my feet back on solid ground, I’m starting to feel pretty cocky. “That wasn’t nearly as difficult as they had made it out to be, which obviously must mean that I’m in phenomenal shape!” Having nailed Up at the O2, I begin to ponder what my next conquest should be: Everest? The Matterhorn? World Domination? Instead I opt to settle for dinner and a glass of wine. Being a world-class explorer is exhausting.
DO I NEED TO BE FIT TO CLIMB THE O2?
After the intense safety briefing you’d probably think you’re about to embark on a journey to Everest. I was starting to get nervous as my fitness levels aren’t the best to say the least.
But, to be honest, the climb doesn’t require too much physically. Yes you will feel your leg muscles working. But I never felt out of breath even once.
And if you are getting a little tired, just stop and rest for a few minutes. We all climbed the dome at our own pace.
WHAT IF I’M SCARED OF HEIGHTS?
At first, when I was invited to Up at the O2, I was in two minds whether to accept or not. I am terrified of heights and wasn’t sure I could make it.
To give you an idea… I get vertigo when I stand on a chair.
But I soon realised that the Up at the O2 experience was not quite a ‘climb’ but more of a bouncy walk across a huge dome. In fact the walk wasn’t really scary, and nothing that cannot be overcome by vertigo sufferers. We were always attached to the central railing, our experienced instructor was highly professional and there were no steep drops in sight.
Even if you fell off the walkway (impossible because you can’t unhook yourself from the wire once you’ve been hooked on) you’d simply bounce on the taught, tent-like covering of the 02 roof below you.
So overall I am happy to state that this experience is suitable for most people and that you should challenge yourself, if like me, you are scared of heights.
WHY YOU SHOULD GO UP AT THE O2?
Up at the O2 is a lot of fun and at £25 per person I think it’s a great attraction for anyone visiting London for the first time. The climb is easy so suitable for almost everyone and the guides are really helpful and patient for anyone who needs some extra help.
Up at the O2 is perfect for you if you want an awesome view of London and an experience that is a bit more adventurous than ‘going up The Shard’ and a little less than ‘London by helicopter’.
The o2 has managed to pull off something quite unique here. They have taken an iconic building, opened it up to adults, children over the age of 10 (more than 1.2m tall), and even wheelchair users (by arrangement), and made it feel daring.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not going to thrill hardcore adventurous. If you are used to standing on Striding Edge or peering over the amber rock of the Grand Canyon, then a quick hike over the 02 isn’t going to get your adrenaline flowing. But if you are a novice climber, have a sense of adventure and don’t need crampons to feel like a mountaineer, then you will enjoy this.
Yes, it’s a faff filling in all the forms, watching the video, and putting on the warm suits. But yes, I kind of enjoyed the rigmarole. The movie is funny. The locker room and suits make you feel like you are an astronaut, and the young and enthusiastic staff pump up the experience.
Despite my initial nervousness, overall Up at the O2 was such a fun and thrilling experience which I would highly recommend to anyone. Once my feet touched solid ground I was really proud of myself and couldn’t stop smiling. It was exhilarating and an experience I will never forget.
If you haven’t done the walk or are thinking about it, I would definitely say it is something you should do! You can be up and down in about an hour and it was lots of fun and you have a safety guide with you all the way. Perhaps make a day of it and combine it with a cruise down the Thames from the Westminster. Or if you’ve got a taste for heights, get the Emirates Air Line over to Docklands and get the DLR home instead.
Life is too short to waste time sitting at home, go out and experience life and look at the world around you.
TIPS FOR BOOKING UP AT THE O2
- In peak times book ahead. It’s busy and there are only a limited number of slots in a day.
- Think about booking an evening or night slot. It’s more atmospheric.
- Leave a good couple of hours to do the attraction; you’re only as fast as the slowest person in the group.
- Try and go when the weather is good (even though you cannot guarantee anything to do with British weather). The O2 climbs operate in all weather, except for thunderstorms/snowstorms, so be prepared to climb if it’s raining. However don’t panic if it is a little cold. We hardly noticed; adrenaline has a habit of warming you up.
- Take a small digital camera. It says on the website that you can only take a mobile phone up with you, but this isn’t true. You are allowed to take a digital camera when climbing the O2, so long as it fits into the pocket provided, which is mobile phone sized. So, no DSLRs, but you will be able to take a standard point and shoot.
- Don’t worry about bringing mountaineering kit; they will give you boots if your footwear is unsuitable, warm suits, and gloves.
- Take your time to climb. Do not worry about the other people in your group. If you’re nervous at all, go at the back, so that you won’t hold people up, or if you’re nervous about falling, go in the middle. You are completely safe and will not fall over unless you do something silly.
- If you want to go at the front, say it’s your birthday. Or anniversary, or divorce party, or whatever. You’ll also get happy birthday sung to you at the top, which is a nice touch. If you don’t want the attention, keep your mouth shut
- Talk to your guide. Maybe an obvious one, but utilise the expertise of your guide once you’re at the viewing platform. They will be able to point out all the London sites and tell you all sorts of gossip. They’re not just there to be your personal photographer!
- Warm up afterwards in one of the many bars and restaurants in the 02. Or make a night of it and combine it with a trip to the cinema.
Up at The 02 is at the 02 Arena on the North Greenwich Peninsular in East London. You can reach it on the Docklands Light Railway, the Jubilee Line,by the Thames Clipper river bus or on the Emirates Cable Car . Alternatively there is car-parking next to the arena.
Off peak tickets start at £22 booked in advance online. On the day is more expensive. There are no discounts for children (min age 10), which is a shame.
Groups are up to 16 in numbers and are taken on their journey with one instructor.
Climbers must be at least 10 years old, at least 1.2 metres tall, and weigh less than 21 stone. Under-18s must be with an adult, and there must be one adult for each two children. For full details go to the Up at The O2 website .
The walkway is 380 metres long and the climb itself is a little steep at first but even in my unfit state it was manageable!
At the end of the climb you are reunited with your belongings and offered the chance to purchase photo’s of the climb which were a very reasonable £10 and a great reminder of the day.
Check the website for opening hours and booking arrangements.
Or head to the Trusted Traveller for a list of free activities in London.
Disclosure note: Thanks to staff at Up at The 02 for arranging entry to allow us to bring you this story. The experience and all the views and opinions expressed are, as ever, entirely our own.