Getting high in…London – The View from the Shard

Posted on September 23, 2013 by in England, Europe, Features, Home, Places.

Having recently launched our new series on great bars and restaurants where a panoramic vista is as much a part of the experience as a cocktail or appetizer (Drinking in the view) it seemed logical to start one about places to go where the entire point of visiting is to gaze over the city in question.

Giving you the perfect excuse for another horrendous pun in the title, too…

Let’s call that a bonus. When visiting a city I always try to check out the view from on high. Clearly I would prefer to do this while sipping on a cold beer but most of the tallest buildings or structures with viewing platforms serve only one purpose – to offer you the chance to see the place from a totally different perspective.

Okay, we get the idea. So what’s first on the list?

I figured we’d start this series just like we did the last one – with the Greatest City in the World *, London!

*other cities are available. As are other opinions, but these may be wrong

The View from The Shard, London, England

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© The View from The Shard

It’s hardly surprising that The Shard caused controversy when Renzo Piano first unveiled his design – indeed it prompted a public inquiry before finally gaining planning permission in 2003. The very idea of a high-rise building that would essentially be raised on top of one of the busiest railway stations was enough to get people talking; the fact that this particular construction would have a total height of over 310 metres (1016 feet to Londoners) and be shaped like a spike ensured that opinions remain divided even after the Shard was completed in 2012. Wherever you stand in the debate, The Shard is here to stay and the viewing platform is now open. Having been lucky enough to visit just a few weeks after the View from The Shard welcomed its first paying guests, I would urge you to put your feelings about the building itself to one side and book your tickets for the chance to experience London in a whole new way. Let me point out here that I was offered a free ticket but paid for my wife and daughter – as always my opinions are my own and cannot be bought.

When planning our trip we decided that we wanted to see the city at night. My daughter is a huge fan of the London Eye and we take a ‘flight’ on the big wheel most times we visit; in recent years we have found the experience to be at its most magical in the evening and we followed the same logic for the View from The Shard. We booked an early evening slot and when we finally found the entrance (it was still very much a building site in April 2013, these days it is far easier) the anticipation was overwhelming – finally London could give New York or Chicago a run for its money. Oh and on the subject of money, yes it is expensive. At 24.95 for adults and 18.95 for children for advance tickets purchased online – which is the cheapest option – the View from The Shard is more expensive than most of its rivals. But I’m here to tell you that you won’t be thinking about the cost when you’re 72 storeys up – and it’s not something you do every day, right? London offers almost limitless opportunities to part with 25 quid and few are as memorable as this one.

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© The View from The Shard

There was no queue when we arrived in the lobby area and after having our tickets scanned we had a brief look at the ground floor gallery which is a well-designed and fun distraction if you do have to wait in line. It can be hard to resist rushing for the lift as soon as you get the chance (indeed it’s basically impossible with an overexcited 11-year old in tow) but it is worth spending a little time to view the artwork, maps and video screens detailing the history of the London Bridge area and The Shard. Quotes about the city range from the predictable – of course including Samuel Johnson’s “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – to the more interesting such as “London is a bad habit one hates to lose” (William Sansom) and “London is a modern Babylon” (Benjamin Disraeli).

Look out for the cheeky illustrations of famous Londoners including London’s current Mayor, Boris Johnson, shining the shoes of his arch rival Ken Livingstone…I also found the graphical presentation of the building and the station below to be fascinating – you can watch the trains of London Bridge and the lifts to the top of The Shard moving in real time. If you really want to you can of course have your tacky tourist photo taken with a ‘green screen’ background and a perfect view added later. Or have your mug shot superimposed onto the body of a famous explorer. Quite. Clearly some people find such souvenirs essential but if you are not swayed just keep on moving.

A more interesting touch is that a soundtrack was specially composed to accompany your visit – so listen up for the London Symphony Orchestra and The Joyful Company of Singers as you make your way onwards and upwards.

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© The View from The Shard

We entered the first lift that was to transport us to the ‘transfer zone’ at level 33 (the ground floor here is called level 00). This was to be the first of four lift journeys – two up and two down – and from the outset it became clear these were no ordinary elevators. As well as being ridiculously fast but incredibly smooth – it’s hard to believe you are moving at six metres per second – these are ‘kaleidoscopic’ lifts which employ video projections and mirrors to show you some of the famous roofs of London. It’s a clever effect and we found it fun to fly through the glass of the British Museum and the dome of St Paul’s during our rapid ascent.

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© The View from The Shard

Before we knew it we had come to level 33 and the lift doors opened to reveal that the floor is covered with a word map of London containing descriptions of areas of the city. The idea here is to see how well you know the city as you follow the path of the River Thames to the next lift – all very clever and informative too.

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© The View from The Shard

After another spectacular ascent we emerged on level 68. But you can’t take in the view just yet as the glass is teasingly covered with clouds and their respective names. Given the British obsession with the weather this should probably have been no surprise yet it is also educational rather than just (ahem) window-dressing. You can learn what to expect if you see a particular cloud formation from one of the higher levels. Needless to say we had to practically run up the next flight of stairs to keep up with Rebecca and reach the first of the indoor viewing galleries on level 69. This is without a doubt the “holy #$%#!” moment – I’m guessing that a swear box here would be a profitable enterprise. Level 69 is actually three stories high, and the actual view from the View from The Shard is stunning – you can see for up to 64 km (40 miles) and enjoy a 360 degree panorama of the capital.

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Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

I’m not sure whether photos or videos can do it justice, and it is never easy to take good shots at night, but the shot above was the best of the bunch from our visit. The images from the official site included here will help, but nothing can compare with experiencing it yourself. As always with such city viewing platforms, it helps to have a little local knowledge or at least have looked at a map first – but it can also be a great introduction to the scale and beauty of London to someone who has just arrived. The gallery is also equipped with Tell:Scopes (yup, some marketing nerd got paid plenty for that ‘gem’) that are apparently unique in Europe and definitely great fun to use.

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© The View from The Shard

There are 12 of these high-tech digital telescopes which provide real time images with the ability to zoom in and out. But before you get carried away by the idea of peeping through the net curtains of Buckingham Palace let me burst that particular bubble – they have been calibrated so as not to intrude on privacy…I’m sure you’ll try anyway but after that know that you can also watch pre-recorded day and night-time views and identify over 200 famous landmarks with information about them in 10 languages. Which is very cool. It’s also worth noting that there is free and fast Wi-Fi for visitors which I am sure pays for itself in publicity as who wouldn’t want to brag live about being at the top of London’s tallest building?

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© The View from The Shard

We spent quite some time taking it all in – there’s no restriction on how long you can stay as long as you are out when they close – but another level awaited. You can’t really come all this way without going right to the top, so we braved the cold to check out the very highest public level of the building, the partially outdoor viewing gallery at Level 72. It’s quite an experience, too – the wind sure howls when you’re 244m (800 feet) up. Looking up you can gaze in wonder at the enormous shards of glass that make up the top of the building and also justify its name.

When the April chill got too much we went back down and had a quick nose around the highest store in London – the Sky Boutique on level 68. As usual I was bowled over by the inventiveness of the souvenir manufacturing industry but resisted the temptation to splash out.

The sun sets on 2012 across London ? as seen from 244m (800ft) above the capital from The View from The Shard, the attraction at the pinnacle of The Shard, Western Europe?s tallest building and London?s newest landmark. The View from The Shard opens to vi

© The View from The Shard

Going down, the lifts put on a multimedia show representing the descent and return to the streets of London before you return to the ground floor gallery and a bigger gift shop. Again my restraint was admirable. Well, I did buy a coffee table book but that was for reference purposes. And I did need a key ring and some postcards too. HonestlyIn conclusion you’ll not be surprised to read that we really enjoyed our time at the View from the Shard and will definitely be going back. I believe you get your money’s worth and there’s nothing else like it in London – the whole experience has also been extremely well designed. This video clip will show you what to expect:

© The View from The Shard

Useful information:

• The View from The Shard is located at Joiner Street, SE1 9QU, London and is open from 0900 – 2200hrs daily (closed on 25 December).
• The very cool website for information and online tickets: www.theviewfromtheshard.com
• Nearest tube/rail station is London Bridge.

A few fun facts to finish:

The Shard was designed to a ‘vertical city’ and is precisely 309.6metres tall. At 244m, The View from The Shard is the highest vantage point from any building in Western Europe. The goalposts do keep moving and this may of course change; but you’d have to be somewhat odd to deny yourself the experience due to its being demoted from the top spot.

The first marriage proposal took place ten minutes after the attraction was opened. Nothing like a discreet proposal, huh?

The Shard has 11,000 glass panels which would fill the equivalent of 8 football pitches

54,000 m3 of concrete was used in its construction. Again, for those only able to visualise in sports terms, that would fill 22 Olympic swimming pools

The Shard has 306 flights of staircases and 44 lifts, is home to the highest residential properties in Europe and has a swimming pool on level 52.

Two restaurants have recently opened and a Shangri-La hotel (5-stars, of course) is coming later in 2013. Yes, we are planning to review these in due course…

If you want to visit the second highest vantage point in London, you’ll need to go to Bromley and climb a hill rather than take a lift. Westerham Heights, at 245 meters above sea level, is just four metres shorter than The View from The Shard. But it is a slightly different experience…

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2 Responses to “Getting high in…London – The View from the Shard”

  1. Savi of Bruised PassportsDecember 13, 2013 at 10:22 #

    This sounds great Andy. The panoramic photo of London at night is stunning. We’ve heard good things about the view from the Shard, but we’re waiting for summer to visit the viewing deck.

    • Andy HiggsDecember 13, 2013 at 10:54 #

      Thanks for your comment – it is really worth it – summer is probably best too :-) As you can spend as long as you want there, you should try to get there just before sunset if you can to get the best of both views. I’m looking forward to trying out the restaurant there too next time :-)

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