There’s a new and truly spectacular way to see London as never before, when The Shard’s viewing platform opens to the public on February 1st, writes Guy Bird
At 310 metres tall (or 1016ft), the sleek silhouette of The Shard – officially opened in July 2012 – towers above the 135-metre London Eye, 180-metre Gherkin and 189-metre BT Tower. From February 1 its viewing platform – at 244 metres – will become the highest public vantage point in Western Europe and the only place in London where it will be possible to see a 360-degree view of the Capital all at once.
The experience starts with ground floor galleries illustrating famous parts and people associated with London, but in a playful rather than serious way – so there’s Kate Moss seen marrying Henry VIII and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dressed as a Pearly King and Queen. This is followed by history of the city and its development and the crucial role of The Shard’s specific London Bridge location too. Four lifts then whisk visitors skyward using kaleidoscopic video effects projected within the lift to suggest soaring through various iconic ceilings and roofs of London from the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral to the British Museum’s new Great Court glass roof.
At level 68, visitors get out and head upwards to the triple-height main viewing gallery where all of London opens up to see. While there, they can also use one of 12 free interactive ‘digital telescope’ touchscreens that offer information in ten languages on sight lines, buildings and vistas, as well as pre-recorded day and night-time views of the city. For The Shard’s acclaimed architect, Renzo Piano – also behind the The Pompidou Centre in Paris – the very top viewing platform is particularly special, as he explains: “We wanted to create a public space where people could experience London in a different way and also feel they have discovered the spirit of the building. Level 72 is a wonderful example of this: in the open air on the highest habitable floor, you are surrounded by the shards of glass as well as the sights, sounds, elements and atmosphere of the city below. On top of the city, but also within it.”
With its entrance on Joiner Street, right by London Bridge mainline rail and tube station, The Shard is well connected. Tickets are far from cheap, but are better value booked online and in advance. Adults (16+) cost £24.95 each (or £29.95 on the day), kids aged 4-15 are £18.95 (£24.95 on the day) while under-threes go free (although they still need to book a ticket to get in). Phone bookings via 0844 499 7111 attract a booking fee of £1.75. Visiting times are 9am-10pm daily based on a 60-minute visit, but hopefully an hour unlike any other you’ll ever experience in your life.
Guy Bird is a freelance writer and editor specialising in cars, design and art for the likes of CAR magazine, Wallpaper* and Esquire. He attends the world’s auto shows from Paris to Tokyo interviewing the world’s best designers and has road-tested the vast majority of vehicles available in the UK over the last 18 years. www.guybird.com