From cloud-high level, I look down and out at London’s daily activities, its buildings. I see the city’s scrambled, congested streets, its royal landmarks, a few dilapidated buildings, some barren excavation sites, lush parks, stylish rooftop gardens, and the murky Thames. As a chilling wind penetrates my jacket, I hear trains braking, boats chugging, traffic rumbling.
I am on Level 72, the open-air level of The View from The Shard. This is the topmost floor of one of London’s most stunning architectural landmarks.
In Your Bucket Because…
- This is the only place in London where it is possible to see all of London at once.
- You are an architecture buff who likes to explore unusual buildings.
- It is the highest viewpoint in Western Europe.
- Good for families with older children who are not bothered by heights. Not good for anyone bothered by heights. Great for photographers.
The 360-degree, 800-foot-high view from The Shard’s 72nd floor reaches a distance of 40 miles. This is the highest viewing area from any building in Western Europe.
The Shard is a Glass Spire
Even though I have this enthralling, encompassing view of London, I cannot, of course, see the Shard itself — at least, not until later, when I am back on the ground.
The 87-story, 1,016-foot Shard is a slender, spire-like, glass clad tower. Its 11,000 panes of glass comprise a surface area of 600,000 square feet. The Shard’s facade mirrors London’s quickly changing weather. It can be a sparkling mirror on a sunny day, golden at sunset, or almost blending into the clouds on an overcast day.
It looks like no other building I have ever seen.
Designed by famed architect Renzo Piano, The Shard is a vertical city with retail space, offices, restaurants, a five-star hotel and residences. Located in the heart of the London Bridge Quarter, The Shard was completed in November 2012, and the View at The Shard, which occupies three levels of the building, opened in February 2013.
An Entertaining Soar to the Top
The trip to the top includes some clever introductions to London.
Whimsical murals in the security area depict more than 140 famous Londoners in amusing situations. On a beach along the Thames, Prince Charles, the architectural buff, contemplates a sandcastle version of The Shard, while Winston Churchill plops in his beach chair, fingers raised in his signature “V” sign. Black umbrella raised, Mary Poppins, aka Julie Andrews, floats past the Gherkin, another London architectural landmark.
Two elevators whisk visitors up to The View.
Thanks to video screens and mirrors, as I looked upward in the “Kaleidoscopic” lift I saw that I was soaring through iconic rooftops such as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Great Court glass roof at the British Museum.
In the elevator transfer zone on Level 33, a graffiti word map of 200 sentences, each testing visitors’ knowledge of London, sprawls the walls and the floor. For example, “Which heath is famous for pistol duels?”
The two elevator trips took me to the 68th floor in about a minute, at a speed of close to 20 feet per second. Then I spent well over an hour absorbing the stunning view.
I got off the elevator at Level 68, where playful cloudscapes etched into the glass depict different cloud formations and what each bodes for the weather. Here, too, is the Sky Boutique, the highest shop in London.
An 800-Foot-High Exploration of London
Steps lead up to Level 69, the triple-height, light-filled, glass-walled main viewing gallery.
The sweeping vista through the four walls of glass is an architectural panoply of London’s history, from the 11th-century Tower of London to numerous cranes hinting at intriguing new buildings.
The River Thames is below me, crossed by the nearby 19th-century Tower Bridge and, to the west, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, the slim, sleek Millennium Bridge that opened in 2000 to mark the change of centuries. On the far bank, The Monument commemorates the 1666 Great Fire of London, and the Tower of London has dark echoes of imprisoned princes and beheadings, along with the brilliance of the Crown Jewels. Looking eastward, I saw the Olympic Stadium, built for the 2012 Summer Games.
Interactive Digital Telescopes Enhance the View
A dozen ultra-high tech, interactive Tell:Scopes zoom in on these and dozens of other landmarks. Placed in front of the floor to ceiling walls of glass, the intriguing Tell:Scopes identify more than 250 landmarks and points of interest. As I turned the scope, I found onscreen tags identifying landmarks. I could zoom in for a closer view of a building, then click any of those tags to access a short informative caption (available in ten languages).
White silhouettes on the black beams above the Tell:Scopes identify the major landmarks visible from each compass direction.
The Tell:Scopes offer more than just real-time views, so I transformed my drizzly morning view into that of a sunny day–also into a sunset and night views.
Two-minute, second-by-second countdowns on each scope are subtle reminders to move on. Use of the Tell:Scopes is included in the ticket price.
Steps lead up to another viewing area on Level 69, this one without the Tell:Scopes, but with the same subtle background of orchestral and choral music that was specially composed for The View at The Shard.
The Sounds and Weather of a London Day on Level 72
Another elevator took me to Level 72, the level open to the noise and the weather of London. If it’s rainy, you’ll need an umbrella. A brilliant design allows one to stand safely in open areas, surrounded by the giant shards of glass that form the top of The Shard. This is The Shard’s highest public level.
Level 72 was definitely my favorite. The rail traffic fascinated me. Trains looked like white snakes slithering along the rails, curving as they changed tracks on their approaches the stations. I could hear their brakes squeaking.
Looking up, I saw the internal structure of The Shard’s pinnacle, where sharply angled glass edges meet above the city’s old streets.
As I had many times, I wondered, “How did they ever build this?”
And I marveled at the contrast of London’s buildings–this shimmering glass icon, its design and construction methods aided by computers, versus the handmade, stone-by-stone construction of buildings of millenniums past.
It’s a view that is hard to top.
- Tickets are dated and timed, and buying them in advance saves both money and time. www.viewfromtheshard.com. Advance bookings may be made online up to four months in advance.
- Same day visits can be booked only in-person at the ticket desks. Live booking screens display the best availability for that day.
- Allow at least an hour for your visit. There is no time restriction on your visit.
- Large bags and backpacks, generally over the size of 22 x 15 x 8 inches cannot be brought into The View.
- The Shard is just outside London Bridge underground/train station. The entrance is on Joiner Street.