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!
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.