London is becoming an increasingly difficult place to visit for those struggling with acrophobia.
For starters, there’s the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel prominently positioned on the River Thames that has been supplying nightmare material for anyone with a fear of heights for nearly 20 years now.
More recently, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, an artistic sculpture-cum-observation tower in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, has been revamped into a white-knuckle thrill attraction boasting the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide.
Even the Tower Bridge, the Victorian Gothic London landmark that’s been a longtime staple of the city’s tourism circuit, is now a no-go for acrophobes (if it wasn’t already) thanks to the addition of glass-bottomed floors within the already-dizzying pedestrian walkways that span 138 feet above the Thames.
Of course, London offers a multitude of acrophobe-friendly diversions that don’t involve ascending to knee-buckling heights and somehow coming back down again. Yet it would seem that the most notable contemporary attractions in the British capital — a city that often seems to be masquerading as a high-priced amusement park — involve paying good money to prompt a full-on anxiety attack.
But, hey, you can’t beat those sweeping city views, even if you’re peeking through your fingers and praying for your safe return to solid ground.
The latest addition to London’s growing list of thrill-based vertical attractions is a doozy. Located at Archbishop’s Park near Waterloo Station, Zip World Southbank is where brave souls can go to sail through the air at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour after pushing off from atop a 100-foot tower. Billed as the world’s “biggest and fastest” zip line located with a city center, Zip World Soutbank spans 738 feet over the treetops and across the park's grassy expanses.
Like the London Eye and other vertiginous tourist attractions flanking the Thames, an adrenaline-fueled jaunt on one of Zip World Southbank's two parallel wires comes at an elevated price.
The experience (not counting the hike up 10 flights of stairs to the top of the launch tower and a compulsory safety briefing) lasts about 30 seconds and will set adults back £22.50 — about $29. That’s nearly $1 per second for the chance to scream “I can fly!” as you glide through the London skyline in fulfillment of your lifelong Peter Pan-inspired fantasies. Or perhaps your lifelong flying-above-London dreams come courtesy of Mary Poppins, although umbrellas are not allowed — obviously — considering that you’ll need both hands free to hold on for dear life. (Long skirts and open-toe shoes are also verboten.)
Open through Oct. 1, Zip World Southbank has so far received a warm reception from the British press with no fainting, malfunctions or lost lunches to speak of — the only mentions of "hurling" refer to the mid-air leap from the tower. Despite some understandable trepidation, The Guardian’s Will Coldwell calls the swift, pulse-quickening ride across Archbishop's Park a “pleasant experience — like getting an extra shot in your morning coffee.” That's a polite way to put it.
The Telegraph’s Emma Mills, once strapped into her safety harness and provided with a pep talk, was also able to overcome the requisite tummy butterflies and fling herself into the London sky — she found it to be a “fun journey” and a “great adventure for city dwellers.” Again, a mild assessment for an ephemeral attraction that tourists and Londoners alike will either flock to or avoid at all costs.
Both of these writers apparently kept their eyes open long enough to catch iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben and the Shard whizz by.
London has famously hosted a zip line before albeit a decidedly more sluggish one. Former mayor Boris Johnson, donning a hard hat and waving two Union Jack flags, took a ride on a zip line erected in Victoria Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics. With a huge crowd watching, the mayor got stuck 65 feet in the air, helplessly dangling for more than five minutes. The Guardian’s Coldwell looks back on the incident as “some kind of metaphor for Britain’s perpetual identity crisis.”
The zip line at Archbishop’s Park is the latest offering from Zip World, a Welsh adventure company that got its start in 2013 with Velocity, a super-intense-looking head-first zip line — it remains the fastest in the world with speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour — suspended 500 feet over the Penrhyn Slate Quarry in northern Wales. (Hard pass on this one.)
Other Zip World-operated attractions include the Fforest Coaster, a high-speed alpine toboggan ride in Wales’ Conwyn Valley; Bounce Below, a netted trampoline located deep within a cavern of a former Welsh slate mine; and Plummet Tower, the world’s highest tree-based parachute simulator. The Archbishop's Park zip line is Zip World’s first urban endeavor.
“I see it as a decent halfway house between a roller coaster and a bungee jump. It’ll be exciting but not terrifying, Zip World Southbank founder Barry Shaverin tells the Weekly Standard. "Giant zip lines and the greatest cityscape in the world — it seemed such an obvious idea to put the two together. And Archbishop’s Park is one of London’s best-kept secrets. We really want to help it get the attention it deserves.”
While zip lines remain wildly popular in remote wilderness areas, particularly in the vast rain forests of Central and South America, urban zip lines — both temporary and permanent — are popping up in increasing numbers in densely populated city centers where there's no shortage of thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies to go around. In addition to London, cities such as Panama City, Dubai and, naturally, Las Vegas all have urban zip lines.
Earlier this summer, Perrier hosted a one-week-only zip line from the second floor of the Eiffel Tower in celebration of the 2017 French Open. Free to the public, the speed of that one-off Parisian zip line was, most appropriately, roughly the same as a tennis ball while being served.