Leisure Review: Up at the O2

Located in London Docklands and immediately opposite The Isle of Dogs, the O2 Arena began its life as The Millennium Dome in 1999. Sold on to the mobile phone network when the millennium came and went, today it is an events and concert venue with trendy bars and eateries, and a cinema and a climbing experience unlike any other.

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My visit was on Sunday 30th August. Weather conditions were warm but overcast.

Arrival

Located at the East End of London, a short distance from the Excel Centre and The Thames Flood Barrier, if you know how extortionate London parking prices are then the chances are you will / should arrive by public transport. For most, this will mean The Tube. The O2 Arena is next to North Greenwich station on the Jubilee line which is ideal for arrivals from Waterloo Station and only few changes from London Victoria Railway Station and Coach Station. If you’re arriving from Paddington, King’s Cross, Euston or any other terminus, it is easiest to take The Tube to the nearest Jubilee Line connection as this is the only one that serves O2 Arena.

There are other ways of getting there – bus, river bus (Thames Express) and even cycle (there is a cycle lane running along the Thames next to the arena)

What is “Up at the O2”?

Some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to let people walk up there – up and over the large white dome and down the other side. That, in essence, is what it is – a climb over the top of the dome.

You start off at base camp near the exit to North Greenwich tube station – it’s a very short walk. Upon arrival, the helpful and friendly welcome staff give you a form to fill out before ushering you through into a small assembly room to watch an orientation video where you will also meet your climbing guide. It’s was a young man named Rich; he was a good laugh and engaged in banter with all of us, helpfully offering to take photos while we were on top too.

Then you move to the locker room where you collect some equipment: a jacket, walking shoes and a harness. The guide checks the harness is tight enough and secure before attaching a buckle which will be the means by which you safely traverse over the top of the dome.

The Climb

After a few safety final checks, you go up a flight of steps, have a few group photos, and finally you are off. The guide will attach your buckle to the safety rigging and show you how the clip works. It’s all fairly basic and easy to understand even if some of the gates are a little stiff.

The first section up is surprisingly steep, though most people even with a basic level of fitness are unlikely to struggle at any point. Unfortunately, you can’t stop to take pictures on the way up as you need one hand on your buckle at all times. As you get closer to the top, each new section is slightly gentler than the last – by this time, your legs will have received a good workout so you’ll probably be pleased about that!

The Summit

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There is a flat surface at the top and a secure fence all the way around the rim so you’ll be pleased to know that your guide will detach you from the safety line and you are free to wander around for a while. From what I could gather, you have about as long as it takes for the next group to arrive – some 15-20 minutes. Stretch your legs, take some photos and admire the cityscape. There are convenient interpretation boards around the edge telling you what is what on the horizon and nearby. It’s not the most exciting view of London, but there are some interesting landmarks (Docklands high rises, Thames Flood Barrier and the Exel Arena) to see from up here and the climb feels like an achievement in itself.

One that is done and you see the next group coming, it’s time to start your journey back down.

Down the Other Side

The descent is a bit more precarious than the ascent and the steep area from the other side feels just a little more severe on the way back down, especially as there is no elevated platform and the rubber mat leads all the way to the ground. Be careful to keep your footing and take it easy, is harder going down than up!

Then it’s off to the locker room on the other side to collect your things and hand over the equipment. It’s also the opportunity to buy a souvenir – the shop is well-stocked and the merchandise is surprisingly reasonably priced, all except one – the commemorative photograph. Why do tourist attractions like this feel the need to make photographs so expensive? While it’s true the more you buy the cheaper the unit cost (in this case, £15 for one (about US $23) and and additional £5 for each subsequent copy making £25 for three photographs (about US $38), you have to buy all three for the price to even become slightly reasonable? Do they not realise they would sell more if they brought the prices down? Unsold photographs are no good to anybody, so why put people off altogether?

Anyway, that is the end of the experience and a good chance, depending on the time of day, to walk through the O2 for a look and get some lunch or brunch.

Verdict

This was a great experience that was purchased for me as a 40th birthday present. However, like most London attractions it is a little overpriced. At September 2015, it costs £35 to traverse over the top of the dome (approximately US $55). You expect to pay a little more for something iconic, but whichever way you look at it this is pricey.

The merchandise is reasonably priced – my brother bought a t-shirt for £10. There were mugs and drinking glasses for £6 which makes it even more bizarre that they wanted to charge so much for the photographs.

You have no need to worry about your safety as your guide will take you on every step of the way, making sure your equipment is working properly. The guide we had made the experience fun and interesting which added to the enjoyment of the morning.

If the cost doesn’t put you off, I can certainly recommend giving this climb a go.

Rating: 7/10.

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