Up until a few years ago, chances to see the sprawl of London’s skyline from a dizzying height have been pretty thin on the ground. The BT tower, once iconic as a public observation deck, closed its doors back in the 1980’s, and the skyscrapers that have popped up since then have passed the opportunity by, favouring to utilise their top floors as offices or private event spaces instead.
But back in 2013 along came The Shard, with its sharp towering structure, complete with public observation deck, finally providing London with the opportunity to see its city from a high.
Yet for the past two years, The Shard has not been the only kid on the block. As directly opposite it, at the top of the infamous Walkie Talkie building lies London’s less well-known observation deck, the Sky Garden, that reaches just 90m short of The Shard’s 244m height.
Yet despite being less popular and slightly shorter than The Shard, the Sky Garden has achieved what The Shard and its predecessors have not. As it has finally created a public space that allows people to enjoy spectacular views of London’s skyline without the price tag.
Unlike The Shard (£26 per adult just for the privilege of going up to the top), the Sky Garden is free.
A swift ride up to the 37th level reveals a floor of glass and steel, impressive views and an attempt at a garden (we’ll get to that later). Directly opposite from the lift is the main bar, where you’ll find a selection of wines, beers and sparkling as well as hot drinks and sweet treats to enjoy as you take in the surroundings. Despite the location, prices are only slightly more than average for London, and you’re not obliged to buy anything if you’re purely just there for the views.
As well as being a large public space the Sky Garden also offers a small choice of separate restaurants and bars that parallel those at other rooftop terraces for people after a more exclusive experience.
One of the Sky Garden’s unique traits is, of course, its ‘garden’, initially sold as a spot of secluded wonderful greenery; a modern day gardens of Babylon high above the concrete jungle below. With this thought in mind, the gardens do seem a bit of a flop, better described as a rockery with a collection of tropic plants and trees built in levels around the floor. Nevertheless, once my expectations had been lowered, I thought the mix of glass and steel of the building with the plants created the vision of a contemporary arboretum. As if the Sky Garden was a tropical world encapsulated above the greys of London; an idea I still found quite appealing all the same.
Most importantly the views from the Sky Garden are just as good as its competition. There’s an outdoor observation deck from which you can see The Shard, along with a perfect view of Tower Bridge sat astride the Thames. Back inside, the main floor has a circular walkway adjacent to the glass walls offering a 360 view of the city, with notices pointing out which landmarks to look out for. The views may not reach as far as from The Shard but they are certainly as impressive.
The main thing you need to consider about the Sky Garden is the ticketing system. Although entry is free, it is still ticketed, meaning that you need to book a day and time slot prior to arrival. Tickets can only be booked on their website up to 3 weeks in advance to your chosen day, so a visit is cannot be something that is planned months ahead. That being said, if you go onto the website the day that your desired date is released you will most likely get the slot you want. Once booked you’ll get send your tickets to print out or show on your phone when you arrive.
You can find out more about the Sky Garden here