Having seen New York from the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock (both stunning and well worth doing if you’re ever in the Big Apple), I have been very keen to see what London looks like from one of its newest tourist attractions, the View from the Shard. Designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano, the Shard is an office block and luxury apartment complex, along with other things, but the top floors have been opened to visitors wanting a glimpse of what London looks like from above. And it promises good things – it is London’s highest viewing platform and the European Union’s highest building standing at 800ft or 244m above the streets of our historic capital city.
We accidentally picked an excellent day for our trip up to the 69th and 72nd floor of this monstrous but dainty looking structure. We’d pre-booked a date and time as we had been told it can get very busy, but on this particular Saturday morning there was no queue and we were able to pick up our tickets from the desk straight away (although it seemed to take the advisor a long while to print out our tickets) and head right in. After the obligatory family photo in front of a green screen (all attractions seem to do this these days, and there doesn’t seem to be a polite way to bypass it if you know you don’t want to spend the money on the print), we headed to the lifts.
The ascent is split between two lifts (elevators for my American friends), which take no time at all as they race to the sky with ‘kaleidoscopic’ effects in the ceiling to keep you entertained for the few seconds you are stood waiting. The first viewing platform is enclosed, but you can get right up to the windows to look out over London – with hundreds of historical and significant landmarks to gaze at. There are electronic displays to help you discover exactly what it is you are looking at, which I was quite impressed with, but rather than stand and use those I spent time stood on each of the four sides to see what I recognised.
I much preferred it up on the 72nd floor, where there seemed to be a clearer view (I guess being a few metres higher helped) and more atmosphere. You are more exposed to the elements as it is open at the top, so you feel even closer to the sky and view before you. I’m not sure we could see the 40 miles you are supposed to be able to see on the best days, but we had a pretty spectacular view across London in all directions. Tower Bridge and the Tower of London looked tiny, boats on the River Thames looked like toys, and we could see along the brown coloured river to the Thames Barrier (did you read my post about the Thames RIB Experience – that was in the afternoon). Other landmarks that were as clear as anything included the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, One Canada Square, HMS Belfast, Tate Modern, Canary Wharf and loads more. We could even see all the way to the old Croydon Power Station towers, now an Ikea.
It is worth noting that, unlike the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock over in New York, you are always looking through (very reflective) glass at the View from the Shard. Photographs will therefore almost always have a bit of glare or reflection on them. But of course your own eyes see past that. I’m not disappointed with my phone snaps, though 🙂
We spent over an hour just looking out over London, pointing out places we’ve been and recognise. I would liken it to the London Eye, which sits way down below where we stood on the astroturf of the View from the Shard and that I went on not long after it opened, it’s a probably-only-once type of experience. Definitely worth it, but once you’ve seen it you’re not going to want to go up just for the view again. Apparently they do Yoga and Afternoon Tea special events up there, though, which do appeal in some ways.
Find out more about the View from the Shard (and book your ticket). It’s not cheap (cost us around £50 for two) but on a good day you’ll not be disappointed with the view.