It’s safe to say that I’m not too clever with heights, and as a child my palms would get clammy at the thought of stepping into an elevator, let alone walking over to a window anywhere higher than the second floor. As I’ve got older I’m not as concerned with heights, but I still get that tingly falling feeling if I walk over glass floors or stand too close to an edge with a sheer drop. So visiting The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building with floor to ceiling glass so that I can stand on a viewing platform to look out over London’s iconic skyline is pretty brave right? Forget brave, breathtaking is far more apt.
The Shard entrance is situated on Joiner Street next to London Bridge underground station and incredibly easy to access. The sleek black entrance is expectantly luxurious, modern and oh so very ‘London’. With grand revolving doors, marble floors and television screens sunk fluidly into flawless walls and finished with a minimalist high end interior, it certainly makes a grand first impression. After collecting my tickets from the information desk I was led through an airport style security where large bags, food, drink and pushchairs are not permitted as there are no storage areas, yet despite the vast number of people who pass through every day, for my entire visit I perhaps only queued for a maximum of two minutes thanks to their ingenious time slot system. The staff are impeccable, stationed at every turn and doorway dressed immaculately and with manners and warmth that your grandmother would be proud of.
We were each given a touch screen tablet to provide a personal guided tour of The Shard, before entering the mirrored lift with television screens depicting floating clouds within the ceiling whilst the display counted up the half way point of the building at the thirty-something floor. We then exited to take a second lift gliding up to the roof at level sixty-eight in mere seconds making the entire building fully accessible to all regardless of if you’re nine months or ninety-nine. When I first stepping out onto the viewing gallery it was one of those moments when all you can say is “wow” as everywhere you cast your eye is floor to ceiling glass and the whole of London resting at your feet. It is the only venue where you can take in over 1,000 years of the capital’s history at once and it fills you with such a sense of pride and positivity that you can’t help but smile from ear to ear. At a height of 800ft you can see for an incredible forty miles allowing you to view the entire city at almost twice the height of any other vantage point within London.
Forget those cliche holidays photos taken from the plane through a pokey steamed up port-hole window as you climb in altitude, at The Shard you can stand unobstructed amongst the clouds and it’s such a peaceful and God-like experience. I was undoubtedly expecting to feel anxious of the height, as this is unsurprisingly the tallest building I have ever been in, but because of the rigid structure, the impeccable craftsmanship and immaculate design, not once did I think “this can’t be safe” or “I don’t want to get too close to the edge”. It’s a very serene and reassuring space that I felt entirely comfortable in, and because of that I happily walked up to the glass walls to admire the views as I stood in awe of our great city below. If ever there was a way to feel the essence of London, then this is undoubtedly that.
The viewing gallery is clean, minimalist and modern with rolling oak floors, exposed steel beams and glass absolutely everywhere. There are podiums set out on each side of the gallery, indicating the key landmarks to view, from the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge and One Canada Square and thousands more. The touch screen state of the art technology allows you to zoom in to ground level and see people walking, the detail of the buildings and a perspective of the city that was previously reserved only for helicopter pilots. The interactive software provides information on over 200 landmarks in ten different languages alternating to encompass day, night, sunrise and sunset views and information, with Ambassadors on hand to answer any questions about the views and history.
Climbing the staircase to level 72 I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I found, as I walked through the glass doors to feel the breeze on my face, hear birds singing, smell the sweet perfume of flowers and watched lovingly as couples strolled hand in hand eating ice cream, having picnics, chatting on deck chairs and drinking champagne. I gazed up towards the roof that surprisingly wasn’t there, feeling the sun on my face and watching the clouds rolling past as the steel work climbed bravely upwards disappearing into infinity. I’d found the open air viewing gallery, London’s highest roof garden filled with blossom and colour. Exposed to the elements I watched a helicopter glide past as I absorbed the sounds of the city below. The floor was dressed with artificial glass, the walls with climbing plants and flowers in every colour of the rainbow and ice cream carts and cosy dining tables nestled amongst the foliage.
The Shard is the most specular space to feel connected to London, and because every ticket is dated and timed for your arrival you never experience a crowd or a queue, no hustle and bustle or pushing past and squeezing in. It’s very much a VIP experience, and one that leaves you feeling like a movie star for how exclusively you are treated. Finding the roof garden was the absolute cherry on the cake for me, as I stepped from pristine city modernism to timeless paradise with the glide of a glass door. The Shard is a feast for the senses in every way imaginable, from the richness of the culture to the scale of the architecture, professionalism and attentiveness of staff and luxury of the views and champagne bar. And with roaming photographers capturing photos which you can purchase and frame, if ever there were a perfect location to propose, share a special anniversary or have a first date with a loved one then this is certainly it. And starting from a cool £5,000 an hour you can even hire the gallery for a private event with yoga being very popular. Well that’s certainly good to know! The individual advance ticket price of £25.95 for adults is perhaps a little more purse friendly for a single visit mind, and children below the age of three go free.
Finally I headed back down to level sixty-eight where I visited the Sky Boutique to purchase a memento of my visit, a sleek silver Shard figurine which now sits proudly on my dresser. They have a whole range of wonderful gifts from guide books and champagne to postcards, trinkets and teddy bears, including Romeo the toy fox in honour of the fox found roaming the upper levels of The Shard during its construction. In the unlikely event of the weather being bad enough to not see at least three major landmarks, the staff are happy to issue a free return ticket within three months of your visit so you needn’t worry about picking a good or bad day to come. The Shard is open daily in the summer from 10am to 10pm and 10 am to 7pm in the winter and is an experience and memory that you will cherish forever. And what a wonderful family portrait that would make with such a spectacular view!