The Shard, London

I visited the Shard in March 2014. My ticket cost £24.95 (adult, advance booking, online).

Shard website

Viewing gallery, floor 68.

Viewing gallery, floor 68.

Designed by Renzo Piano, and stuffed rather incongruously in Southwark above one of world’s oldest railways stations, London Bridge, at the time of its completion in July 2012, the Shard became the tallest building in Europe and the 45th tallest in the world at 310m (1,017ft) high. The Eiffel Tower is taller, but it’s classed as a structure not a building, so doesn’t count!

The viewing deck on floor 72 is Europe’s highest public area, affording spectacular views across London with a claimed 40 mile, 360 degree view. Properly called The View From The Shard, the viewing galleries are located on floors 68 – 72, floor 72 being 240m (780ft) above ground.

I’m assuming you have already bought your ticket online, as I did, so after negotiating the courteous and thorough airport style security (I asked for and got a hand search for my film camera and bag), you are directed to the lifts via green screens and a photographer armed with DSLR and ring-flash for a snap of you superimposed against a backdrop panorama of London. The photo is available for purchase (no obligation) when you return to the exit.

Each lift holds eight adults. The mirrored lift space is somewhat cosy though not cramped, with a remarkably smooth and fast (30 second) trip to floor 33, where you alight to take another 30 second lift to the galleries.

Tower Bridge, Tower of London, HMS Belfast, City Hall. In the distance, Canary Warf and Docklands. Window reflections can be a problem.

Tower Bridge, Tower of London, HMS Belfast, City Hall. In the distance, Canary Warf and Docklands. Window reflections can be a problem.

The View
On leaving the lift on floor 69, visitors are ushered to the stairs to the viewing gallery. Emerging from a featureless stairwell onto the enclosed, spacious and airy viewing gallery with its stunning views in every direction almost takes the breath away. One is high enough to have an outstanding view but not too high that the views are too distant and details lost. Watching helicopters flying along the Thames lower than where one is standing is odd, but there is a real sense of ‘touchability’ about what can be seen below, especially for those familiar with London’s close-by famous sites such Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Farther away, St Paul’s Cathedral looks like an architect’s model. Threading its way through the view from side to side is the Thames: giving a real sense of the importance of this river to London’s history and commerce.

To help visitors there are free electronic telescopes with pre-loaded buildings with accompanying information that pops up on a screen as the telescope is pointed at them and zoomed in. Sensitive areas such as the MI5 building are blacked out. The telescopes have a menu with a live view option so that the user can see the view in real time. When I visited one of the members of staff was giving an interesting – and funny – talk about the views, London’s history and the Shard.

To get a real feel of the elements visitors can take a flight of stairs or a lift to floor 72, which, although enclosed by glass, has no roof. Quite honestly the view isn’t any better than from below and there aren’t any telescopes to assist. When I was there it was windy and unpleasantly chilly, but one can get a very good idea of the structure of the Shard by looking up into its apex.

Floor 72. Although enclosed by glass there is no roof.

Floor 72. Although enclosed by glass there is no roof.

I spent about an hour looking at the views, taking photos and using the telescopes – however great the view I found this enough. On the way to the return lift is Britain’s highest shop selling everything from Shard-themed postcards and posters to T-shirts and bags, some items as limited editions. On reaching ground level you pass through another shop selling more quality, up-market souvenirs, which I found over-priced, especially the bespoke photos taken at the beginning. Nevertheless the many foreign visitors in my group were keen buyers.

Is the experience value for money? For a family the cost of tickets certainly isn’t cheap. Given this, I’d say a cautious ‘yes’. It is perhaps a once in a lifetime visit and view is spectacular, giving a unique perspective of London, and presently there isn’t any alternative, so The View From The Shard can charge what they like.

It’s all about the view. The Shard certainly delivers.
Very helpful, pleasant and informed staff.

No toilets on the viewing galleries.
No telescopes on floor 72.

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