There’s currently a great deal for Londoners who are keen to see the city from the highest viewpoint possible. The View from the Shard currently has a “Love London” pass for sale for just £20.16. This gives you unlimited visits between now and the end of the year – not bad if you consider that, for on-the-day visitors, the regular tourist price, for ONE visit, is £31 (or £26 if you book in advance). Even if you only visit every couple of months between now and December, that still works at £4 per visit. Go half an hour before sunset, go at night, go in the morning on a sunny day, go when the garden opens in mid-June, and go during heavy rain or a lightning storm! On my second visit I missed a big one by just a few minutes.
To get it just turn up, buy the pass and then get a ticket for a visit, there and then. The pass is credit-card sized, and digitally stores a photo of you to check against swapping of the card. There’s only a limited number of the cards left, you can only get them from the ticket office in the Shard (open until 9pm every day). You’ll need both photo ID and proof of (London) address to get the pass. For subsequent visits you just flash the pass at the ticket desk and get a ticket. At the time of writing, there are currently “a few” left, the staff are cagey about how many, but a few thousand (2016 + 500 + X?) have been sold so far.
The Journey Up
Getting to the top of the Shard is reasonably involved, although in both visits I’ve made so far (7pm on a weekday and 6pm on a Sunday), there were no queues, either to get the ticket or for the lifts, and the two viewing platforms were both not too crowded – no waiting needed to see the view once you are up. To get there once you have your pass and ticket:
- Give your ticket to an attendant who swipes it to open a gate.
- You then have an metal-detector gate to go through, with your bags/pocket contents X-ray scanned.
- You then get a couple of green-screen photos of you taken (so don’t wear green!), one looking forwards and the other looking up. You get handed a card (to later retrieve the photos to view and/or purchase).
- You get given a small PDA containing a guide to the view you are about to see, with optional audio narration.
- Down a corridor into a lift to Floor 33, the 30 second journey augmented by a vivid animated display in the ceiling.
- Then, an usher shows you around he corner to the second lift, another ceiling visual and 30 seconds later you are on Level 68. Just about there!
- There’s a little shop at Level 68, but go straight up the stairs to Level 69, the indoor, and largest, of the two viewing platforms.
You made it! The building beams cast a reflection on the glass panels which is surprisingly strong but an hour before sunset they turn off the inside lighting, which helps, and after dark it is not a problem. There are also free (yay!) digital telescopes arranged around the edge (press the button on the left to get the live view, which unfortunately does not zoom in as far as the historic image views – take your own binoculars or telephoto lens, if you are trying to spot your suburban home!) The photo at the bottom of this post is the first view you see – looking to the south. It’s the least exciting direction, but is still visually striking. N.B. In this photo, on the top of the building at the bottom, which is itself a 25-floor skyscraper (Guys Hospital), you can spot Wally on the roof. He is there for a few more days, as part of an aerial I-spy.
Up three more flights of stairs to get to Level 72, the outdoor platform (though it still feels enclosed as there is glass above head-height, and the core behind you) which also hosts a Champagne bar. The floor is wooden decking, and partially under cover. Don’t forget to look up from this level, in the corners. Here, the view is more open, and you can see the rest of the Shard heading up for a further 17 floors, as it tapers to a point – see the photo above. There is also a further set of stairs up, tantalisingly off-limits to visitors.
The View from the Shard is definitely worth the trip, if you live in London and plan a few visits this year. It’s high enough up (the platforms are nearly 300m) up to give London a “Sim City” (or, at night, “Blade Runner”) feel, and a view which appears to cover the whole of London and – thanks to the continuous urban extent right to the horizon – makes the city look truly huge, in a way that maps, lower viewpoints and aircraft views (too high) don’t achieve.
…oh, and if you need another reason to go, there’s a nice floor map in the sky lobby, half-way up to the top.
Thanks to Diamond Geezer for tipping me off about the Love London cards.