Descending the O2

Up at the O2 and down the Orbit slide, London

London has plenty of unusual experiences to suit all tastes. If, like me, you enjoy a smidgeon of adventure how about a day out climbing Up at the O2 and sliding down the Orbit slide?

ArcelorMittal Orbit slide

In 2012 our family had an amazing day out watching the Paralympics at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Although I remember seeing the newly opened 114 metre Orbit sculpture I didn’t give it much thought at the time.

It was the addition of a slide to the structure in 2016 that propelled it onto my UK bucket list. But it’s not just any old slide. It’s the longest and tallest tunnel slide in the world. And it’s not just for kids!

ArcelorMittal Orbit
ArcelorMittal Orbit

I’ve wanted to ride the slide for a while but thought the £18 price tag rather expensive for a 40 second thrill. However for the last couple of years the ride has been half price in the January sale and the £8 cost seemed much more reasonable. This year I was finally organised enough to buy a ticket in the sale.

Aquatics centre from the ArcelorMittal Orbit
Aquatics centre from the ArcelorMittal Orbit

Of course, as well as the slide, you get views too. From the observation tower on the second floor you can see both the city of London and, much closer, the Olympic Aquatics Centre and West Ham football stadium. There is still a huge amount of ongoing construction work around the stadium so lots of cranes and building sites to look at too.

You also start to appreciate just how high the Orbit slide is. There’s a marked area where you can position your camera over a tiny hole in the viewing platform for a birds eye view of the curly silver slide beneath you. At this point I started having second thoughts!

City of London from ArcelorMittal Orbit slide
City of London from ArcelorMittal Orbit slide

On to the slide. But first I had to whizz back down in the lift to leave my phone in a locker, as they’re not allowed on the slide. You are, of course, encouraged to purchase the photos they take or pay extra for a Go Pro.

After my hasty trip to the lockers I was issued with an incredibly smelly skull cap and elbow protectors. I’m not convinced these have any benefit aside from making you feel like you’re about to do something dangerous.

View of Orbital slide from viewing platform
View of Orbital slide from viewing platform

There were only a couple of people in the queue ahead of me. I’ve read that queues can get quite long later in the day but at opening time they were minimal. Before I knew it, the screams of the lady in front fell away and it was my turn.

Initially you sit on the slide and wriggle into a sack, similar to that on a helter skelter. But, unlike a helter skelter, you remain laying down whilst the ride operator helpfully tells you to relax. As if! When you’re ready you pull yourself along a side rail and you’re off.

The slide at the City of London from ArcelorMittal Orbit
The slide at the City of London from ArcelorMittal Orbit

The next 40 seconds pass in a blur of light and dark as you twist and turn down the 178m slide. You don’t really have time to feel scared. But I did feel a little sick by the end of it. I think I enjoyed it, but my stomach is glad it wasn’t any longer!

Up at the O2

I hotfooted it from the Orbit slide to the O2 Arena for my next experience. I had a gift voucher for Up at the O2; time to redeem it.

Completed in 1999 the dome originally housed the poorly attended Millennium Experience. After closing at the end of 2000 it hosted Winter Wonderland, music festivals and a homeless shelter. It was eventually sold and redeveloped as an entertainment arena; nowadays it’s sponsored by (take a guess) O2. Since 2012 visitors have also been able to walk over it.

Up at the O2, London
Up at the O2, London

I arrived a good hour before my booked time and was able to go on an earlier climb. The experience starts with a short video outlining how to use the safety equipment and the rules. These include no bouncing on the walkway, no drunkenness (although you can buy a glass of champagne up top) and no photography until you’re on the viewing platform. Next, we were issued with a gilet, a pair of walking shoes and a harness. Your own shoes and any bags or valuables are put into a blue crate and stored until your return.

Viewing platform, Up at the O2
Viewing platform, Up at the O2

It’s a short walk from the changing area to the start of the climb. Before you head up there’s the obligatory photo shoot and then it’s time to clip on to the wire rope and start the walk. If you’ve ever done Go Ape, or similar, you’ll be familiar with the type of clipping on system. Even if you haven’t it’s dead simple to use and it stops you blowing off the edge.

The first part of the walkway is pretty steep. As we walked there was time to stop and appreciate the structure. The dome has 12 posts, one for each month and is 52 metres high, one for each week. A pointless fact which I enjoyed learning.

O2 walkway
O2 walkway

The walk to the viewing platform was much shorter than I expected. After the initial steep section it only takes another five minutes or so before you can unclip. The viewing platform was already occupied by another group when we arrived but there was plenty of space for all of us.

There are information boards all around the edge of the platform to help you identify the sights. And, given this is London, there’s a lot to see! We mooched around for about 20 minutes before our leader advised it was time to descend. The weather in February doesn’t encourage longer stays so I was glad to escape the cold wind.

Descent off of the O2
Descent off of the O2

The descent is the opposite of the ascent, with a steep incline at the end. Our guide suggested walking backwards down this section which is a good idea if you’re nervous. That said, the biggest challenge for me was resisting the temptation to sit and slide down. The Orbit slide obviously didn’t put me off that much!

Overall it was a great day out and it was good to combine them. The actual experiences don’t take long but once you factor in waiting times, travel and coffee stops they’ll easily take up the best part of a day.

Both of these attractions featured on my UK bucket list and I wanted to complete them as part of my 50th birthday celebrations so it was great to get them done.

More info

  • The Orbit Slide is located in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It’s open daily from 10am on weekends, 11am on weekdays. Minimum age 8 years.
  • Up at the O2 is generally open daily. Opening times change according to the season so check the website first. Minimum age is 8 years; there are also a number of height, weight and health restrictions.

2 thoughts on “Up at the O2 and down the Orbit slide, London”

  1. Great article. Just a quick correction-I work at the O2 and it’s a common misconception that O2 Telefonica own the arena, but they are just a sponsor. The arena is owned by AEG which is Anschutz Entertainment Group, a German company which also owns the Mercedes Benz Arena in Berlin and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, to name a couple… I cannot tell you the amount of times unhappy customers threaten us with cancelling their O2 phone contracts in order to “hurt us” for the bad experience they had at the arena and they don’t even realise they actually pay us to put their O2 sign up on the arena 😀
    Fun fact: During the London Olympics in 2012, O2 didn’t want to pay for advertising, so the Arena dropped the name and was called The North Greenwich Arena, just for the duration of the games.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jess. I remember it being called the North Greenwich arena in the Olympics and never gave it a second thought!

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