So when you book a ticket to the newly opened viewing platform at the top of Western Europe’s tallest building in February, what you’re hoping for is a clear, crisp winter’s day. One with perfect visibility over the whole 360° panorama from the top would be nice. But unfortunately you can’t control the weather, and you certainly can’t rely on it during an English winter. So instead of sun and blue skies for my trip to the top of the Shard, I got snow and clouds. Would there any ‘View from the Shard’ at all for me?
After nearly three years of construction, The Shard finally opened to the public earlier this month. This 95-storey skyscraper reaches almost 310 metres into the air and towers over the skyline of south London. It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, who’s probably most famous for designing the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Most of the floors are going to be take up by offices, a hotel and some seriously expensive apartments, but it was the observation deck at the top that got me interested.
I do love a tall building – I’ve climbed to up the top of the Rockefeller Centre in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sky Tower in Auckland and ICC Tower in Hong Kong. And I’ve seen some pretty good views of London from the London Eye and the BT Tower, but until now there hasn’t been a really tall building to get a bird’s eye view across London from. And after I’d watched the Shard slowly rise up, month on month, out of the window of my old London flat, I couldn’t wait to get to the top once it was finished.
Some of the whopping £435 million budget for the building has obviously been spent on the slick ‘View from the Shard’ experience. You’re welcomed with London-themed artwork featuring some of the capital’s best-known residents, past and present. Then after going through airport-style scanners you head into the lifts – the first one goes up to the 33rd floor and the second takes you on up to the 68th. They are amazingly quick and smooth, you can hardly feel you’re moving, and each take only 30 seconds. There are no windows along the way so the first time you see out is once you reach the viewing platforms.
The first is up a few more stairs on the 69th floor. On a clear day the views stretch for 40 miles across London in all directions. On a snowy, cloudy day in February – not so much. I could follow the line of the Thames and the train tracks leading out of London Bridge station, and see a few of the buildings beyond, but not much more. Thick clouds made the whole London landscape look like it’d turned into black and white. There are ‘Tell:scopes’ dotted around the floor that let you zoom in on the view – or in my case taunt you with what the perfect daytime, dusk and night-time views should look like. They also mark up 200 of London’s most famous buildings so you know what you are looking down at.
Further up again is the 72nd floor’s open-air viewing platform at 244 metres high. It was icy cold up there and the views weren’t much clearer, though I got a good view of the building’s structure and the shards of glass that reach up to its peak. The morning’s snowfall had stuck to glass on one side and I could only manage to snap a few ‘arty’ shots between the flakes before I had to go and defrost my hands. Thwarted by the English weather, it wasn’t quite the Shard experience I was hoping for, but the building itself – love it or hate it – is a seriously impressive structure and on a sunny day I can imagine it’s spectacular.
So did the Shard live up to the hype? Well there’s been a lot of discussion about the £26 price tag (and that’s if you book in advance) and I’d say it’s just about worth it on a clear day. Compared to the Eiffel Tower (£13), Top of the Rock (£22) or even the London Eye (£20), it is pricey, and I can’t see many families wanting to splash out £100 for an hour’s visit. The price rises by £5 if you just turn up, but you should be able to get a decent idea of the weather 24 hours in advance. If it’s cloudy or rainy it’s probably not worth it as you can’t see much. And as a photography fan it was disappointing that there are no gaps in the glass to take photos and a lot of it is two layers thick so it’s hard to get good photos without reflections.
As for me, well I think next time I’ll head to the Shangri La Hotel’s Gong bar a few floors below on the 52nd level and soak up the same view for the price of a cocktail instead!
The View from the Shard is open 10am–10pm daily (or until 7pm on Sunday–Wednesday from November to March). The nearest Tube/train station is at London Bridge. If you book timed tickets at least 24 hours in advance they cost £25.95 for adults or £19.95 for children aged 4–15, or on the day they’re £30.95/£24.95. If the visibility is so bad you can’t see at least three of the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge or Canary Wharf then you get a free return visit within three months.