8 top London photo spots for sunrise

8 top London photo spots for sunrise

The early bird (or in this case photographer) in London really does catch the worm! There’s something special about being in a capital city as dawn breaks and before the hordes arrive. Pre-dawn is the best time to capture the city’s illuminated landmarks and the transition to golden hour as the sun’s rays first hit can be magical. Here we’ve put together a collection of 8 top London photo spots for sunrise.

Don’t forget to set your alarm clock as soon as COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased…

1) Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus by Mathew Browne

One of London’s most popular tourist destinations, Piccadilly Circus is instantly recognisable. The iconic advertising boards have been upgraded several times over the years and are now impressive, curved LED billboards. This location, more so than anywhere else in London, is swamped with tourists at almost all times.

Tip:to get clean shots in this area, arrive long before dawn. Even then you you may need to make long exposure shots or blend images in Photoshop to get the desired result.

Nearest Tube station: Piccadilly Circus

2) View of The Shard & Tower Bridge

8 top London photo spots for sunrise by PhotoHound: View of the Shard and Tower Bridge
View of The Shard & Tower Bridge by Jules Renahan

Located in St Katharine’s Dock, HMS President is the largest Royal Naval Reserve unit in the country, maintaining a permanent Royal Navy presence in London. From the river walkway and jetty it’s possible to capture great views of The Shard and Tower Bridge. This is a perfect spot for blue hour shots just before sunrise.

Tip: for something extra special, plan your shot to coincide with the bridge opening. You can find the times here.

Nearest Tube station: Tower Hill

3) Girl with Dolphin Fountain

Girl with Dolphin Statue by Mathew Browne

Walk back along St Katharine’s Way from your pre-dawn shoot at HMS President to the Girl with a Dolphin statue to capture first rays on Tower Bridge. The statue sits on the waterfront outside the Tower Hotel. This location is technically on private land and tripods are sometimes frowned upon. Security staff may move you on, but some are sympathetic if you are clear that your images will not be used commercially.

Tip: Ask politely if challenged about using your tripod and you might be lucky!

Nearest Tube station: Tower Hill

4) Emirates Cable Car

View from the Emirates Cable Car by Mathew Browne

Enjoy spectacular views of the Thames and the O2 as you ride the Emirates Cable car between North Greenwich and the Royal Docks. The cable car operates from 6am Monday to Friday so it’s possible to catch sunrise. Simply tap on with an Oyster Card or your bank card as you would to take a Tube.

Tip: if you have a lens skirt, take it with you to reduce glare from cabin glass.

Nearest Tube station: North Greenwich & Royal Victoria DLR

5) Royal Victoria Footbridge

Royal Victoria Footbridge by Mathew Browne

The Royal Victoria dock is part of the large urban renewal project that has completely changed the Docklands. It is now a site of contemporary buildings (offices and residential blocks), restaurants, reminders of the docks’ history and interesting river crossings, like the Royal Victoria footbridge. The bridge provides a direct link from Eastern Quay and Britannia Village to the south of the dock, to the ExCeL Exhibition Centre and Custom House station, both situated to the north of the dock.

Tip: start here and combine this photo spot with the Emirates Cable Car crossing at dawn.

Nearest Tube station: Custom House DLR

6) View from Primrose Hill

View from Primrose Hill by Mathew Browne

This just had to make our 8 top London photo spots for sunrise! One of the best London skyline viewpoints, Primrose Hill rises 65 m above the city to the north, offering wonderful views at all times of day but sunrise is particularly special.

Tip: sunrise shots are best in winter months. It’s worth consulting The Photographer’s Ephemeris to see where the sun and moon will rise, as they often can be photographed juxtaposed next to some of London’s recognisable structures.

Nearest Tube: Chalk Farm

7) Greenwich Observatory Lookout

8 top London photo spots for sunrise: View from Greenwich Royal Observatory lookout from the PhotoHound Guide to London
Greenwich Naval Colleges & city skyline by Mathew Browne

This location is one of the highest natural points of elevation within the city limits. It offers excellent views of the classical Greenwich Naval Colleges with the modern Canary Wharf in the background. This spot is also significant as you’ll be shooting from the point of origin of the Greenwich Meridian Line.

Tip: the skyline is best photographed with a longer lens, ranging from 100mm to 400mm.

Nearest Station: Greenwich (DLR)

8) Richmond Park

Dawn in Richmond Park by Jon Reid

The largest of London’s Royal Parks, Richmond Park is of national and international importance for wildlife conservation. The park is a national nature reserve, a Site of Specific Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation and its landscapes have inspired many famous artists and film producers. The Tudors and Stuarts are long gone but the deer remain, making them the closest thing to wildlife you can experience in London. You’ll find spectacular spots for sunrise pretty much anywhere in the park. Follow the park guidelines and always remain a safe distance from the deer – they are wild animals and therefore unpredictable.

Tip: pedestrian gates are open 24 hours. The best way to get into the park and set up for sunrise is by bike. Check the park website for vehicle access times.

Nearest Tube station: Richmond

Further tips:

  • Find details and precise locations for all these 8 top London sunrise photo spots plus many more in the PhotoHound Guide to London.
  • Underground trains generally run between 5am and midnight, Monday to Saturday, with reduced operating hours on Sunday. The Night Tube offers a 24 hr service on Fridays and Saturdays. Five Tube lines run a 24 hr service on Fridays and Saturdays: Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. Use the TFL website to plan your early morning start.
  • Follow our Responsible Photography Principles that relate to city photo spots; for example it’s rare to get a London sunrise spot all to yourself, so respect other photographers at the location and remember they also made the effort to arrive for a dawn shot. Take your shot, but let others have their turn.