Over the years I have visited most of the usual touristy sights London has to offer, some of them many times over. Some are a bit ‘old hat’ and are losing their appeal for me now, though I never tire of the joyous and bustling Borough Market area.
This time around, on a missionary trip from Yorkshire to London for the day, I wanted to see and do something different.
I had heard of the Sky Garden, and with a little research, I found that free visitor tickets are made available three weeks in advance online. There are a few ‘walk-up’ tickets which can be obtained on the day, but I understand these go very quickly and as I didn’t want to take a chance of being disappointed, I booked online and printed off the tickets.
Security is tight here, for obvious reasons and formal I.D. is a requirement, so be prepared.
There are airport style scanner arches, metal detector body searches, baggage X-rays and passports are looked at.
The day has dawned when passports are needed to travel to London.
Many disappointed, ticketless people were turned away on the day I visited.
This glossy, glass fronted building, better known as the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building due to it’s shape, is at 20 Fenchurch Street, and so is very easy to find. It is near to London Bridge and Monument Underground station.
The Sky Garden is open to the public seven days a week, Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and at weekends from 11am to 9pm, although customers of the restaurants and bars can stay much longer and later by pre-booking a table.
Visitors to the Sky Garden are restricted to a one hour visit.
Once past security, swift lifts take you to the 35th floor.
The complex itself is at 155 metres above ground level, covering three open-plan storeys from the 35th floor upwards. It is like a large, airy greenhouse.
The sloping terraces on two sides,which comprise the gardens, are planted with Botanical themes in mind. The tree ferns and fig trees represent lush forestry, whilst the Mediterranean and South African plants and flowers are reminiscent of mountain ravines. At least, that is the theory.
I found that they were not as extensive, impressive or colourful as I thought they could be. I was just about whelmed by the gardens themselves.
However, this was more than made up for by the tremendous 360 degree views of the London cityscape. Emerging from the lift you walk onto an internal marbled terrace with breath-taking views. It is difficult to walk and talk at the same time as you take them in.
Maybe they should call it the No-Walkie-Talkie building.
The views are through huge, arched windows. These give close up views of the ‘Cheesegrater’ , the ‘Gherkin’ and the Shard buildings, amongst others, from an intriguingly different perspective than the usual street level views.
The outdoor, covered viewing area also affords spectacular vistas along the Thames from Canary Wharf in the West, to the London Eye and beyond, in the East.
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge look like Lego toys far below.
Diners and drinkers are the main target customers at The Sky Garden however.
The Fenchurch Restaurant offers contemporary British cuisine.
With starters from £10.50 to £14.50, mains from £23.50 to £38 and desserts from £9.50 to £12.50 plus a discretionary twelve and a half per cent service charge, this is not at the lower end of the dining experience in price.
As an alternative, there is a ‘Tasting Menu’ of 6 courses for £70.
Private dining for up to sixteen people can also be catered for.
For my mid afternoon visit, this was not an option. Maybe next time.
The adjacent Fenchurch Bar has an A la Carte menu which diners can take at the bar whilst sampling the many cocktails from an extensive drinks menu.
Home grown, seasonal produce features on the menu at the Darwin Brasserie on Level 36. Rum based cocktails are the speciality here. Sunday Brunch can also be taken at £38 per head, again, not a cheap option.
On the viewing terrace is the Sky Pod Bar, open from 7am for breakfasts and drinks.
It offers hot and cold sandwiches, soups, salads and light snacks, with a hot drink and snack at around the £5 – £6 mark. This is more reasonably priced fayre for the casual visitor and there are many tables on the indoor terrace at which to relax and take in the views.
The Sky Garden is proving to be a very popular attraction and deservedly so, but how long it will remain free of charge to visitors is any-one’s guess, so take advantage of this free trip whilst you can. The sky-high views are unforgettable.
Reach for the sky? I should say so.
To see more go to “www.skygarden.london”:http://www.skygarden.london.
For free tickets go to “www.skygardentickets.com”:http://www.skygardentickets.com.