Sky Garden review
Imagine a greenhouse at the top of a skyscraper. Or a bunch of flowers sticking out the top of The Shard. That's basically what this is. It's like the Palm House at Kew -- lifted five hundred feet into the sky.
The great thing about the Sky Garden is that it's totally free. The Shard will cost you close to thirty quid to look out over London, but they let you up here for nothing. Obviously it's not quite as easy as that (nothing ever is) because you still have to apply for a ticket beforehand. You can't just turn up whenever you like -- you have to book a time slot on their website and bring some ID with you.
The security inside is super tight. They subject you to the whole bag search and X-ray skeleton machine before they even let you in the lift. It all seems a teensy bit over the top to me. If terrorists did want to blow up London then I don't think they'd start with the daffodils at the top of the Sky Garden, but hey ho -- that's how it is these days. It's Defcon 1 wherever you go.
The last time I came up here they weren't letting anyone onto the balcony because it was too windy, but it was open today. It looks out over the Thames towards The Shard and Tower Bridge. It's totally open to the weather, but surprisingly serene. I was half expecting to get my head ripped off in the wind, and my teeth sucked out of my mouth in the swirling vortex that wraps around the skyscraper, but there was hardly even a breeze. You can just stand there peering down and around at the buildings, trying to pick them out.
Let's have a landmark spotting contest: out the eastern window try and find St. Paul's (incredibly easy), Big Ben (easy), Cleopatra's Needle (still easy), the Bank of England, Globe Theatre and London Eye (easy, easy, easy). You will need good eyes to see Nelsons Column. If it's not a hazy day then you might be able pick out the white arch of Wembley Stadium. If you know London quite well then try and find the Old Bailey, Royal Courts of Justice and Westminster Cathedral.
The western window looks out over the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. This is easily one of the best windows in London -- you can follow the bend of the river before it reaches Canary Wharf. You can see it meandering all the way round the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich. I can't quite see the Royal Observatory, but surely it must be there somewhere -- the sunshine must be drowning it out today. You can even see the runway of London City Airport up past Docklands.
The best view is of the Tower of London. You're practically looking down on it from above, like a map at your feet. You can see all the surrounding towers and castle walls, the White Tower, Tower Green, Waterloo Barracks -- the whole lot!
I'm so busy looking at the view I've hardly mentioned the flowers. There are two mud banks up either side of the atrium filled with huge palms, Jurassic-style ferns, bushes with pineapple-like trunk trunks... it's a bit like a pocket jungle, or a practice rainforest. But where are all the flowers? All I can see are bluebells -- everything else is bright green, light green or dark green. They could do with a few reds and oranges in here to brighten it up a bit. I do like the fine mist they're spraying out of the pipes, though -- it makes me think of those jungle rooms at London Zoo. But it sounds a lot more impressive on paper than it looks in real life. So here's my advice: don't come for the flowers -- come for the view.
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