Knowing what to buy my Mom as a gift is forever problematic. So I was pleased this year when inspiration for her Mother’s Day present came from above.
No, I didn’t have an episode of divine intervention, but as my Mom likes to climb tall buildings, a gift voucher giving my mom the opportunity to go up The Shard seemed like the perfect present.
And so a few months later (on her birthday, no less) we headed down to London, to head up The Shard. Only a year previously we had been in London for the inauguration of the building. A light show, which we viewed from Tower Bridge. To be honest it left us thinking more of Blackpool illuminations, than the classy establishment which The Shard bills itself as.
While the outside of The Shard and the viewing gallery is finished, you still get the sense that the tallest building in Western Europe (it stands at 1,106ft (310m) tall) is very much still under development. The Shard will house luxury apartments, restaurants, a Shangri-La hotel and lots of other fabulousness when it’s all complete.
Finding The Shard isn’t difficult, after lunch in Strada near Tower Bridge, we walked along the Thames with our noses pointed skywards towards the glass giant. As we approached the base of The Shard, however, things become trickier. Building work means we can’t take the ordinary route to get there. However, after not too much meandering and a very helpful building site manager we find ourselves by the entrance.
You still very much get the sense that this isn’t quite finished. Entrance to The Shard is by timed admission ticket, yet, there’s nowhere for you to sit if you get there early. We went to the nearby Starbucks to grab a Cookie Crumble Frappuccino and managed to perch our derrieres on a metal bar outside, but it’s not ideal for something, which touts itself as such a big tourist attraction.
When it was time for us to enter we joined the queue, which moved quickly, passed through the darkened entrance, through security and were soon ensconced in one of the high-speed lifts. Images of nature and culture are projected onto the ceiling of the lift as it flies past floors taking you higher and higher up the building. Then it’s a change of lifts and up again for more of the same. This is nice enough, but I couldn’t help but compare it to the lift journey in the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which has no fancy graphics but a guide in the lift who tells you about the Petronas Towers in a succinct style which starts the second the doors close and finishes the second they ping open at the viewing gallery – a slick touch which really adds to the visitor experience.
When you do get to the viewing gallery in The Shard you are treated to what are arguably the best views across London. This place makes the London Eye look like toy town. You can see all the way across to the Olympic Park, down to Greenwich and the Thames Barrier, across to the City and the Barbican. In fact, it offers a slightly different view of London than that afforded by some of the other visitor experiences that you can ascend in the capital.
Clever digital binoculars help you to zoom in to items of interest, either in real time, or at another time of day. So, if you want to see what the view would look like at night, you can. They also provide information about the sights you can see and cleverly only allow you so much time on each one ensuring that there are no binocular hogs!
It does get extremely busy and, if you go up on a sunny day in July (like us) quite hot and stuffy. But if good views are your thing then it’s well worth a visit. You can ascend a further floor to another viewing gallery which is slightly open top. The view is pretty much the same but being able to see and hear airplanes so close overhead is kind of unique.
How long you spend up The Shard is entirely up to you. You get the impression that they don’t want anyone to outstay their welcome as there are no seats up there but you can wander around the viewing platforms for as long as you like. It’s weirdly charming and you feel as though you could stay up there for hours, but you don’t because, well, frankly, that would be a bit weird.
The descent takes you back into the gift shop, where you can buy a whole host of Shard related goodies, along with some great books about London. And if the view from atop has left you feeling a little bit sticky there are even showers in the toilets?!
Advance tickets are around £25. So they’re not cheap. But for the experience of visiting one of the most iconic buildings and taking in that view, well, if you’re into that kind of thing, then it’s well worth it.
Find out more about visiting The View From The Shard here.