I used to go to London once or twice a month when I lived and worked in Oxford, but now that I’m freelance and living a little further north it’s something I manage barely once or twice a year these days. It’s a shame, because for all the capital’s chaos and dirt, I feel strangely energised by the atmosphere there. There are always so many things I want to visit that I have to plan my rare days in London with great precision in order to fit in as much as possible. Thus this is the first of three posts detailing the places I visited in London last week, when I had a lovely day out with an old university friend.
London looks incredible from up above, but can you believe that it costs £25.95 to visit the viewing deck of The Shard? A bit of a rip-off, I think you’ll agree, and with another obvious flaw: you can’t actually see the Shard when you’re in the Shard. And why would one want to fork out this vast sum, when it transpires that there is a much better alternative on the opposite bank of the Thames? It takes the form of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the rather unattractive (from the outside) skyscraper known in common London parlance as “the Walkie Talkie”.
At the top of said skyscraper you will find the Sky Garden, opened in 2015 and – here’s the best bit – completely free! All you have to do is book your free tickets online before you go. They’re released three weeks in advance and you just display your ticket on your smartphone at the door. On the other side of an airport-style security check there’s a lift to get you to the top, and you step out into the most lovely atrium filled with light.
In the middle of the room there’s a bar, decorated invitingly with cherry blossom and orchids, and with a counter showcasing an enticing selection of delicious-looking cakes.
We ordered Prosecco and sat down basking in the sunshine flooding through the glass ceiling. At £8.50 a glass the Prosecco wasn’t cheap, but then drinks in London never are, and one can scarcely begrudge that when the rest of the experience cost nothing.
Incredible views of London are the star of the show wherever you are in the Sky Garden, but the best way to enjoy them is to step out onto the terrace. Large panes of glass give you virtually uninterrupted views, though the reflections make photography a little challenging.
Right in front of you, The Shard looms large over everything around it like some sort of 21st century Isengard.
Down on the left you can see Tower Bridge, and that strange thing that looks like a golf ball is in fact City Hall (which does not count me among fans of its design).
There’s the Tower of London.
And, on the other side, you can just make out St Paul’s Cathedral.
And here’s us :-)
Back inside, the ‘garden’ that gives the Sky Garden its name slopes up on both sides of the room to an upper terrace, with steps up either side so that you can walk up one side and down the other.
It put me in mind of the Eden Project, though thankfully the humidity levels were somewhat more bearable.
There are a couple of little viewing areas on the way up, so that you can look down over the main atrium.
There are lots of exotic plants, although to my recollection not much information about them.
Great view of the Gherkin.
This was my favourite part of the view.
The Sky Garden had been on my London ‘To Do’ list for a while, so I was glad to find that it lived up to expectations. If you’re interested in visiting, you can book your tickets here.