We’ve all tried bus tours of London but, while I enjoy those too, I fancied seeing London from above. I love the view as you fly back to London and see the River Thames and start to pick out the landmarks but I have no plans to leave London in the near future so how can I get this beloved view?
Thankfully, Jonathan came up with the idea of trying a London helicopter tour. The 30 minute flight promises to show you all the famous monuments and iconic buildings, with the opportunity to get much closer than in an aeroplane, and take loads of photos. How could I refuse?
There are two options for flights over London: Stapleford in Essex and Redhill in Surrey. Both take a while to get to so plan your journey well.
Stapleford Aerodrome, Stapleford, Tawney, Essex RM4 1SJ
The tube to Debden or Theydon Bois (Central line) from central London is about 45 minutes and then it’s a 10 minute taxi ride. When you book your tour you will be given some taxi company numbers so you can book a car to pick you up from the station. (I walked from Theydon Bois but wouldn’t recommend it as it’s 3.6 miles along fast traffic country roads with no pavement/sidewalk. And it took over an hour each way.)
Redhill Aerodrome, Redhill, Surrey RH1 5YP
This is not near the underground train system so you’ll need to get a mainline train from London Victoria to Redhill, Nutfield, Salfords or Gatwick Airport (40-60 minutes) and then get a taxi as it’s too far to walk.
I did my helicopter tour from Stapleford and was greeted with a smile at the Welcome Desk when I arrived 30 minutes before my flight, as instructed. This is where you present all of your documentation to be checked before being invited to enjoy the cafe and return to the desk 15 minutes before your flight.
Stapleford is a popular flight training centre so you can watch the light aircraft and there’s a decent cafe so you can have a cuppa while waiting.
At your assigned time, the group gets a safety briefing and then you go in a London taxi to the airfield. (You don’t leave the Aerodrome but it’s much safer to transport you by car as it’s a busy place.)
The helicopter has a passenger seat in the front and four passenger seats in the back. Staff help you board and check everyone’s seat belts and headphones are fitted before the pilot arrives and prepares the helicopter for departure. I smiled as he brought an iPad and set it to Google Earth. Oh yes, and just as you’d hope, our pilot looked incredibly British and had one of those middle class accents that British pilots do so well.
As the helicopter rotor blades started to spin the sound reminded me of the Tardis in Doctor Who and I wished Jonathan could have been there to share the joke.
Within minutes we lifted straight up and were soon on our way! I was amazed at how many back garden swimming pools we saw in this part of Essex, but it is an area with large houses and gated entrances. And the luscious green countryside looked even better for the sun shining that day.
It actually was a really warm day in London and very bright so my pink skirt reflected in the window and appeared in lots of my photos but I’ve tried to crop it out and give you the best shots here.
The headphones have a microphone and for most flights it’s 2-way so your pilot can point things out and you can ask questions. Unfortunately, during our flight the air space over central London was very busy and the pilot was in constant contact with air traffic control. We were all Londoners in the helicopter so knew what we were looking at anyway but we couldn’t work out how to speak to each other but did nudge each other excitedly and point when something came into view.
The first landmark we reached was the Olympic Park and I was thrilled to see into the Olympic Stadium as I’m performing in the Olympics Opening Ceremony on 27 July and the show is going to look best from above.
From here we got to Greenwich in seconds and saw The O2 and the new London cable car looked so small from the air. I tried to see if anyone was climbing over The O2, as I did recently, but couldn’t see that closely.
We followed The Thames and all the iconic central London landmarks came into sight within minutes: Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the City skyscrapers, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Pretty much, you name it, we saw it.
At Vauxhall Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, we turned around to head back and we were 15 minutes into our flight. I was amazed how much we’d seen in such a short amount of time and it was great to have the return for any views we’d missed on the way.
It was over all too quickly and it wasn’t until I removed my headphones, when we landed, that I discovered how noisy it actually was inside.
Everyone on the tour was thrilled and we smiled as the taxi took us back to the car park. I couldn’t wait to get home and look at the photos and I hope you’ll agree I got a few good shots from up there.
- Helicopter flights are available at weekends throughout the year but not every weekend.
- Flights may be cancelled if the weather conditions would make it unsafe.
- There may be up to five other people in the helicopter with you.
- If you want to sit in the front seat there is a £20 upgrade fee.
- Minimum age is 14 years.
- Maximum height is 6ft 6in.
- Minimum height is 5ft.
- Maximum weight is 230lbs, however do ask the flight company if you are slightly more than this as they may still be able to help.
- My Boarding Pass stated we couldn’t take bags but there was no problem with me storing my handbag under the seat.
- Cameras are absolutely fine and taking photos is encouraged.
Must Bring on the Day
- Your gift voucher (that’s how most people order the tour).
- The emailed boarding pass with confirmation details.
- Photo ID AND proof of address for security reasons.
Disclaimer: The tour was provided by http://www.experiencemad.co.uk and aside from flying experiences UK, there are many more exciting gift options to choose from! While the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of writing this article it has not influenced the review.