Saturday 9 May 2015

View from the Shard, London - A Review

View from Borough Market (which is well worth a visit too)

Last Saturday I got to spend a lovely day in London with my long-term friend Kate, as part of that day we headed to the London Bridge Quarter to visit the View from the Shard. If you have not been to the London Bridge Quarter since the Shard opened in February 2013 then I'd highly recommend a visit as the £2b regeneration project is working miracles and it is such a fun and interesting area to visit. 

The 1016ft Shard has become an icon of the London skyline and it stands taller than anything else in our country, in fact anything else in the European Union. As you stand at the bottom and look up you get a real sense of its height and I have to admit I was feeling a tad nervous about travelling up it, would my ears pop? would I feel sick? or might I even not be able to look at the view for fear of vertigo? How silly I was, the two lift rides up to the 69th floor viewing platform are super smooth and yes I felt the need to release my ears but there was no pain or fear. You feel completely safe and looked after.

All the staff at the View from the Shard attraction are so friendly and professional. We arrived for our booked slot at 11.30am on a Saturday and there was not any queues, ether inside or out. We picked up our passes quickly and headed through to the security check area. I felt very reassured by the fact that my bag, coat and I were scanned to ensure I was not carrying anything that could pose a threat when in the building. We were then encouraged to have our photo taken in front of a green screen and if we wished to purchase the photo we could be placed in front of the best view of London or have our heads put on the bodies of some famous explorers. This wasn't something we were interested in but I imagine the kids and maybe tourists to the UK would like it.

A lift was just leaving as we arrived so we were asked to wait and literally within about 3 minutes the next lift had arrived for us and we were told to enjoy our journey. You travel up to the 33rd floor in this first lift and the journey is very quick, almost too quick as I was enjoying the video show on the ceiling of the lift, which had me crashing through the roofs of great London monuments like St Paul's Cathedral.

Left - ceiling video in the lift and the floor 33 transfer area on the right
Floor 33 is the transfer floor and you travel round the corner over and past 200 scrawled sentences, each describing a part of London and you can guess the areas there and of course there is a friendly member of staff to help you and point you in the right direction. Again we had no wait time and you can see from my photo above how empty the waiting area was.

Floor 69 - Indoor Viewing Gallery
The next lift takes you straight to floor 69 and the inside viewing gallery, as you wander into the floor you draw in breath as the views are stunning even on an overcast and cloudy day like we arrived on. It had been raining and we wondered what kind of view we might get. I'm not sure we got the full 40 mile view on this day but it was still spectacular and enough to feel we had a very good time.

Unlike any other attraction you get the full 360 degree views of London and you can loiter in each area for as long as you like or return to them again and again. For £3 you can buy a guidance booklet which will help you discern what all the buildings are on the skyline but really you don't need it as there is overhead guidance for the main attractions on each of the four sides of the viewing platform and the 'Tell:Scopes' but I'll mention those more in a bit. Take a look at some views from the 69th floor on an overcast day.

All around the 69th viewing floor are Tell:Scopes which are free to use and you can look out and zoom in on your favourite view or place of interest. You can also change the mode so you can view the city by night or sunset, they really are fabulous and use can choose which language suits you as well. At times we had to stand by and wait for someone else to finish but they have a timer on them to ensure they do not get hogged by any one person.

Also on the 69th floor from Noon until close is a champagne bar and for £10 a glass you can have a glass of Lanson Rose or white champagne. My friend Kate decided it would be best to try out the offering and she felt this really did add to our experience. Soft drinks and gourmet popcorn were also available. 

I had a play with my camera settings and put it on art mode and this created some really interesting shots.

London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral and Waterloo Station

HMS Belfast, the Gherkin and Tower of London
Floor 72 - Open-air viewing gallery
We spent over an hour on the 69th floor, it was a great place to catch up and chat with a stunning backdrop and then we headed up the stairs to the outside viewing platform on floor 72. This is the highest habitable floor at the Shard and it stands at 800ft. By the time we got up here the sun was starting to come out and some blue sky was visible. This makes the experience even more awesome as you feel the cool breeze and can look up and see the sky - truly stunning.

As you'd imagine the views are pretty similar from the 72nd floor but I managed a few really nice captures.

Can you see the Thames barrier in the background?
I love this shot of Tower Bridge and the river

I felt sure we must have visited on a quiet day as neither floor 69 nor 72 ever felt too crowded, you could always get right close to the glass and have photos taken with no-one else in sight, so I asked one of the staff if they were experiencing a lull and was told 'no, Saturday is one of our busiest times and we are fully booked'. So great news, you should never find it too busy when you visit.

Special Events
Every so often the View from the Shard hosts special evens, for the last couple of months there has been yoga on the 69th floor. I was impressed to see that Time Out Magazine hosts silent discos on the 69th floor viewing gallery from 8pm - 2am on selected evenings. Three DJs play different sets so you can choose the music that suits you whilst your mates dance to something very different. The cost is £37.50 per person and there is a cash bar, I think it sounds fabulous.

Image Credit
The Fortnum and Mason Sky High tea for two also looks brilliant. You can book a slot to have afternoon with your loved one on the open 72nd floor which will be garden themed between 23rd June and 8th September. At £85 for two people including entry and a delicious afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cream and tea, I think this is a great deal.

Additional Information
The cost to visit View from the Shard is £24.95 for an adult and £18.95 for a child when booked in advance. If there is availability you can sometimes pick up an on-the-day ticket which is more expensive. You have to choose a time to visit when you book and this is great as it is what ensures it never gets too busy.

The nearest train and tube station is London Bridge but there are major refurbishment works going on at London Bridge British Rail station at the moment so you may need to take that into account. There are also loads of buses serving the area - routes 43, 48, 141, 149, 521.

It was perfect that the View from the Shard has superb wi-fi available to use as it meant we could share pictures to our favourite social networks whilst we were in the building and I loved that there was no fussy sign-up pages, we just had to accept the T&C's.

Both level 68 and as you exit are shops selling a wide range of souvenirs from Shard champagne to notelets, t-shirts and teddies.

Anything else you need to know -
Whilst we had a great time I was a bit disappointed with how difficult it is to get really good pictures. As you are taking the pictures through the glass at all times you can have problems with the sunlight and reflections of both the metal structure and other people. We also had rain drops on the glass when we first arrived, straight after it had been raining.

My iPhone found it very difficult to be able to focus on both a person inside and the view outside and to know where to set the light level, so a more advanced camera than a phone one might be a good idea if you want really slick pictures but I suspect it all depends on the natural sunlight that day.

Disclosure: I received two free entry tickets for the purpose of reviewing the attraction. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

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