Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Shard: What it is like at the top of London's tallest building.

At 309.6 m (1016 ft) high The Shard is tall - the tallest building in the European Union. Standing at the bottom looking up you get an idea of just how tall, but it is only once you are perched 72 floors and 244 m (801 ft) above street level and look at up (yes - you read that right 'up' not 'down') that you get the full acrophobia-inducing feeling of just how tall the Shard really is. The observation deck is partially open to the air - enough to be able to look through the steel and glass superstructure and see nothing but sky. I defy anyone to stand there, look up and not succumb to a touch of vertigo.





The View from the Shard


What can you see?


The Shard has very little surrounding high-rise making the feeling of being way above the city so much more dramatic. On one side the River Thames snakes its way past the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as well as some of London's less attractive buildings. The 'Walkie-Talkie' building comes to mind. Didn't anybody notice how odd this skyscraper would look BEFORE it got past the planning stages. And then there's the 'Gherkin' building - great name and absolutely descriptive of it's 'love-it or hate-it' architectural style.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge as seen from The Shard

Tower of London
The Tower of London as seen from The Shard

Away from The Thames, Southwark Cathedral stands out as does the convergence of railway lines directly below and to the east - not London's most famous landmark but strangely compelling when viewed from above. Further in the distance you can make out Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, St Paul's Cathedral and The London Eye. I have read that you can see Big Ben. I must have missed it. It is a long way in the distance so don't visit just to see it or the Houses of Parliament. It probably didn't help that Big Ben was almost entirely concealed by scaffolding when we visited in May 2019.

Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Cathedral as seen from The Shard

Is the view from The Shard worth the cost?


At £27 (AUD 43 / USD 30) The Shard is not cheap. That is for a standard ticket booked at least a day ahead on the internet. If you want all the bells and whistles like a weather guarantee, fast track entry and exit, a guide booklet, souvenir photos and a glass of champagne you can pay as much as £44 (AUD 80 / USD 55). Ironically this is described as 'Best Value' on The Shard's website.  I love tall buildings and touristy attractions but even so I don't think the experience justifies the cost. We got our tickets for free, courtesy of Turbopass London City Pass. Would I pay full price - no, probably not - especially with hubby and one of our adult sons in tow who expects us to pay for him too.


How to get the best value ticket.  


  • Don't pay the walk-up price. 

Like almost every other London attraction, you'll get a better deal by booking ahead on the internet at least one day in advance . The only real downside of this is you must decide on the date and time of your visit beforehand and unless you want to pay more for a 'weather guarantee' you take a chance on London's famously fickle weather. Incidentally the 'weather-guarantee' offers a complimentary return ticket if staff at the ticket desk determine you can't see at least three of The London Eye, 20 Fenchurch Street (the 'Walkie Talkie' building) Tower Bridge, One Canada Square and St Paul's Cathedral.

  • Consider buying a package with other attractions.

You can package The Shard entry with London Bridge and The London Tombs, or with a City River Cruise or a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour ticket. 


How to get the same view for free!


Just across The Thames you can get almost the same view for absolutely nothing at The Sky Garden. The 35th floor of 20 Fenchurch St (the 'Walkie Talkie' building) offers 360 degree views from about two-thirds the height of the viewing platforms at The Shard.  The only catch is that to get a guaranteed entry you must reserve your spot in advance.  There are some walk-in spots between 10 am and 11.30 am and 2 pm and 4.30pm Monday to Friday but why take the chance.  Tickets are available up to three weeks in advance.

My tip - Reserve your ticket as far in advance as you can. We missed out on the Sky Garden when we tried to get tickets a day in advance. We didn't know about the walk-in tickets.

View of the Walkie Talkie Building from the Shard
The Walkie Talkie Building. In case you are wondering, it is the ugly white one.

Will it be crowded?


How long is a piece of string? We visited mid-afternoon on a Tuesday in mid-May. It was a stunning blue-sky day - the sort of day you would expect tourists to look out the curtains and say 'Let's head up the Shard, the view will be great'. Despite all the internet prophets of doom warning about long waits and horrendous queues, we walked straight up to the ticket-desk without a single other tourist in sight. Ticket-desk, security check and ride up in the lift all completed, within the space of five minutes or so and we were standing on Level 68, the first of the three observation floors, ready to be awed.

Level 72 of The Shard
The partly open air observation deck of The Shard - with only a few other tourists.

When should you visit?


Maybe we got lucky - probably. All those internet warnings can't be completely ignored. If you go in June, July, August, during the school holidays or on a weekend you have to expect a few crowds. And if you go to watch the sunset you should expect more than a few. Watching the sunset seems to be a 'thing' with The Shard. Personally we would rather skip the crowds and not see the sunset but it's really up to you. We're lucky - we have the world's best sunsets in our back yard at home.

I am stating the obvious here but - it is all about the view so don't go when the skies are grey and its pouring with rain.


What is there to do at the top?


Look at the view - obviously! And don't forget to look up. There are three observation floors so make sure you see them all. The 72nd floor is the one partially open to the air. If you want to pad your time out a bit there is a kiosk to buy snacks and drinks. Don't expect competitive prices!

The Shard looking up
Looking up from the partly open-air observation deck of The Shard

Where is the shard?


The Shard is at 32 London Bridge Street, London, a few minutes walk from London Bridge tube station. It is easy to find. Just look up and head for the tallest building you can see, the one shaped like a glass pyramid. The entrance is down an escalator on Joiner Street.

What are the opening hours?


Generally The Shard opens at 10 am and closes at 10 pm but hours vary so check out the opening times before you visit. Note that last entry is usually an hour before closing time.

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18 comments:

  1. Did you find the intelliscopes? For me, that's what you pay your money for at the Shard - you can hone in on a sight and then find out all the history of it - and even see it at a different time of day/sunlight etc.

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    1. We say them but we didn't try them. Now we'll have to go back - lol!

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    2. LOL well, next time, let me know and I'll buy you both a drink xx

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    3. There will be a next time. One of our sons is moving to London for a few years. Hubby has already drafted an itinerary to visit him in 2020 and 2021 and .....

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  2. Thanks Lyn for this informative post. We will be in London in 2020 and your tips are be very useful. Given all your info, I think we will try for the Sky Garden. A London blogger suggested the Sky Garden too. And I will try to book in advance. And I loved all your photos.

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    1. We will be going back in 2020 as well. One of our sons is moving to London for a few years so we'll probably make it a regular destination for a while. I have a few more posts in the pipeline so keep your eye out. One will be 'How to see Stonehenge for Free' - again perfectly legal and legitimate.

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  3. Always appreciate your honesty Lyn. It does sound expensive for the view. Although I must say the photos are fabulous. The Sky Garden sounds like the best way to go.

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    1. Almost everything in London was expensive. Better to know that before you visit rather than get a huge shock when you arrive - of course it depends a bit on your exchange rate. A strong home currency would help.

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  4. Wow! Looks really fun, last time I was in London the Shard was still under construction, so would definitely like to visit next time I'm there. Looks like you got lucky with the weather also!

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    1. It was cold, much colder than Sydney, even though it was summer in London and winter in Sydney but it was a lovely clear day, making the view great.

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  5. This is the first I've heard of the Shard in London. Now that I know about it, I will be avoiding it since I don't enjoy heights. But I am glad to see your excellent photos so I feel like I've had some of the actual experience.

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    1. Haha- if you don't like heights, don't go on the London Eye. It is terrific fun but you have to have a good head for heights.

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  6. It is new since our last visit to London so will have to keep this one in mind. The cost reminds me of the cost of going to the tallest building in Dubai. . .you pay the price if you want the experience. Loved your photos!!

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    1. We didn't go up Dubai's tallest building when we were there and cost was a big part of the reason. We were quite jet-lagged and didn't think we would enjoy it enough to justify the price. We once went up Taipei 101, when it was the world's tallest building and it was fabulous. I don't remember what it cost but I don't think it was too bad.

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  7. This sounds like something I will have to do next time I am in London, so I really appreciate all your advice on other options and how to make the most of it if you do decide to visit the Shard. Maybe I need to book a ticket to London. . . Thanks!

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  8. The views from the Shard are great. I believe the Shard was being built when I visited several years ago. The internal design of the viewing deck is quite similar to what I experienced at Sky Costanera in Santiago, Chile.

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    1. I didn't even know Santiago had a tallest building view. I don't remember a lot of skyscrapers but we were there quite a few years ago now.

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