Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Shard review. If you like heights then here’s a page about observation platforms in London. A ride on the London Eye is the most obvious one, but lots of people don’t know about the plants at the top of the Sky Garden. The oldest observation deck in London is the balcony at the top of The Monument. And don’t forget the view from the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral. You might like to read my review of the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard as well.
The Shard is No.6 in our list of best places to take a photo in London.
Designed in 2000, opened in 2012, and standing at a height of 309.6 metres (1,016 feet), The Shard is London’s tallest skyscraper. It is also the second tallest building in the UK after the Emley Moor transmitting station.
Its thin-pyramid shape and reflecting glass exterior quickly earned it a couple of early nicknames: The Shard of Light and Shard of Glass, but Londoners tend to just stick with The Shard these days.
The Shard placed its public observation deck on the 72nd floor, which makes it the the highest observation platform in the country. The public can also go up another couple of floors to an open-air deck that is partly open to the sky.
The top of the tower is another 23 floors above that, and the remaining floors consist of residential apartments (floors 53 to 65), the Shangri-La 5-star Hotel (34–52), restaurants (31–33), offices (2–28) and a spa (52).
This review originally appeared in his blog
I don’t like heights. I’m not a bird, I’m not a pilot, and I haven’t got a death wish. So why would I want to go a mile up into the sky just to look out of a bleedin’ window? There are plenty of decent windows at ground level, I said. Why can’t I just go up to the second floor and look out of that window? But no, that is what I was forced to do today for this website, against my wishes. Luckily the building didn’t fall down and I am still alive to tell you the tale, so here goes.
The View from the Shard is London’s tallest attraction for a mere thirty quid a go. Thirty pounds just to look out a window! But what a window. Even I admit that the view is pretty fantastic. But if you’re a family of four then you’ll probably have to take out a Wonga loan to pay for it. Even the guidebook was a tenner.
When you walk in the front door you can certainly see where they’ve spent the money. The foyer is practically a space station. There are loads of smiling staff standing to attention and saying hello, all very smart and good-looking in their suits. There are huge LCD screens all over the place showing you picture-perfect views from the top, and the security scanner is better than the one at Heathrow airport.
The first thing they make you do after you stump up the money is to stand you up against one of those giant movie green-screens so they can flog you a picture of yourself when you come back down, magically inserted into a view of the skyline. What a waste of money, I thought. You could just snap the same picture of yourself when you get to the top! Needless to say I still bought one, because I’m an idiot.
Then they guide you to the lift, and that is when the fun really starts…
If I told you that this lift travelled faster than the speed of sound, then I wouldn’t be very far off the mark. Before he’s even had time to shut the door you are already at level 32. He tells you to get out, and you wonder what’s going on. You are half way up the building before you’ve even had to time to get scared! I swear that if the brakes weren’t working, then this lift could probably launch you into space. It was only the fact that my ears popped that made me think I was moving.
If a suicidal bloke jumped off the top then I reckon you could ride the lift down and catch him – that is how fast it goes. At level 32 you have to get out and enter a second lift to level 68. That is where the first observation deck is.
I admit it… I was a bit jelly-legged when I first stepped out onto the floor. I had to wait 15 minutes before I could even go near the window (true!). I always think that I’ve picked the day that the building’s going to fall down around me. But of course, I am a wimp – there is nothing for you to be scared about, unless you’re a wimp like me.
The first observation deck is totally enclosed in floor-to-ceiling glass so you can’t hear any noise or feel the wind in your face. The building doesn’t sway about like the Eiffel Tower. It feels pretty solid and well built. I think the chance of it falling over is pretty slim, but you never know. Once you’ve got used to the height then you can walk around the entire floor for uninterrupted views of the London skyline.
They’ve got a few telescope-like machines dotted around the place, but you don’t look through the optic, you just point it at a spot and the picture pops up on the screen. They helpfully point out the direction of all the sights above the window, but half the fun is in trying to pick them out amongst the bazillions of city buildings stretched out below you.
It really is very high. You probably already knew that, just be looking at it. But let me stress the point again: it is very high! I remember when I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral the other day, I chickened out of climbing to the very top because the level below was already too high for my bladder. But when I looked down upon St. Paul’s today, it just looked like a little LEGO building miles below me. The buildings that you already know are high, like Tate Modern and the Sky Garden, just seem like midgets. Imagine being in an airplane flying over London – that is how high it is.
When your jelly legs are feeling a little more solid you can venture up another four floors up to level 72, to the open-air deck. Don’t get too excited, though, because you can’t stick your head over the barrier and look down. You still have solid glass windows all around you, but a few of them have an open space at the top which is open to the sky. You can hear the sound of rushing wind and the jet engines of airplanes roaring overhead (very scary!).
Surprisingly, it’s not that windy. I had visions of me being blown over the edge by a force ten gale, like a crisp packet in the wind, but it’s actually quite pleasant. There’s still a roof above your head as well, so you don’t have to worry about the rain coming in. The actual tower continues up for another 60 metres to 306 metres, but the public can’t go beyond 244.
So what was the view like? It was extremely sunny when I went this morning, so I didn’t have any clouds or rain to frustrate my camera, but unfortunately the bright light made it very hazy. I couldn’t even see as far as Canary Wharf, which was totally hidden in the bright-light haze. The triangle top of One Canada Square was just about visible if I squinted, but I had no chance of seeing the Millennium Dome. I couldn’t even see the bend of the river at the Isle of Dogs!
Tower Bridge was almost lost in a bright white sheen, and my pictures of it look like they’ve been taken through a net curtain. In the other direction, I could easily make out the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, but Buckingham Palace and the great London parks were lost in the sun. The tall chimneys of Battersea Power Station were about the furthest London landmarks that I could see to the west.
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If you like heights then check out our list of London’s highest observation decks and hills
If you enjoy this then try: Emirates Air Line Cable Car (catch the tube from London Bridge to Royal Victoria); London Eye (walk it in 30 mins or catch a train from London Bridge to Waterloo) and Sky Garden (you can walk it 10 mins).