With a million and one things available to keep you busy in London, how do you choose which ones to fill your time with? If you’re a traveler just passing through, you’ll probably try to hit the most famous sites like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and St Paul’s Cathedral. These places, while historically significant and popular for a reason, aren’t always easy on your wallet. If you’re budget conscious like us, you’ll tend to stick to the free or really, really cheap options. That’s why I felt like I’d struck gold when I happened upon the Monument one morning on an outing to Borough Market. The Monument is both historically significant and dirt cheap to get into. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it offers some pretty spectacular views of London and the Thames!
History of the Monument
The Monument was erected on Fish Street Hill to commemorate the rebuilding of the city of London after the Great Fire in 1666 that destroyed 13,000 homes and numerous churches and buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral. The fire began in the bakery belonging to Thomas Farynor on Pudding Lane around midnight on 2 September and continued to burn for three days spreading rapidly across the city before it was finally extinguished, in part due to the efforts of the garrison at the Tower of London while official firefighters were busy elsewhere.
Christopher Wren, the architect in charge of rebuilding St Paul’s, was also commissioned to construct this memorial near where the devastating fire broke out. It stretches 202 feet into the sky, the exact distance the Monument is from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began. Placed at the top of the giant column is a copper urn from which flames reach out, symbolizing the Great Fire, and a viewing platform encircles the memorial 160 feet from the ground where visitors can look out and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Getting to the Top
For a paltry £3 for adults and £1.50 per child, visitors can enter the Monument and climb the 311 steps up the winding staircase to the viewing platform at the top. Compared to other places in London that offer great views of the city, like the London Eye and the Shard, £3 is pocket change. Totally worth it, in my opinion.
The staircase is pretty killer, though. I don’t remember there being any spots to pull off and rest, and the visitors going up and those going down both use the same staircase, so it’s not very convenient to stop and rest anyway. I was feeling the burn by the time we reached the top! (It doesn’t matter what shape I’m in or whether I’ve climbed 30 or 300 steps – by the time I reach the top I’m always out of breath!)
The View from the Monument
The view from the top is outstanding, particularly of Tower Bridge and the Thames. The Shard is also quite close to the Monument, so this is a chance to photograph that up close as well. On the opposite side of the column from Tower Bridge, I could just make out the top of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, but most of it is hidden behind other buildings. The reception desk at the bottom of the Monument has maps available pointing out the particular sights you can see from the top so you’ll know what to look for.
Safety at the Monument
I felt quite safe at the top of the Monument thanks to the stone floor that I couldn’t see through and the protective railing. Metal fencing surrounds the entire structure where it extends out from the column making it impossible to fall off. This, of course, makes it a bit tricky to get photos without fencing lines in them, but it’s not impossible. I’d rather have to get creative with my photos than risk plummeting to my death below because they weren’t there!
We visited the Monument on a Saturday morning around 10am, too early for most Londoners to be out and about, allowing us to have the place practically to ourselves for awhile. On our way back down there was a much bigger crowd coming up, so I’d recommend getting to the Monument as early as possible for the best experience. The viewing platform isn’t very wide, so I could see it getting uncomfortably crowded pretty quick!
If you want to go up in both the Monument and Tower Bridge, there is a deal on the Tower Bridge ticket website offering a discount if you purchase both together, making the Monument visit practically free!
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