You don't need directions to find The Shard. It is impossible to miss. London’s skyline is dominated by the towering sculpture that comprises offices, restaurants, a five star hotel, flats and the new View From The Shard visitor attraction.
Tall buildings are somehow not very British. The skyscraper, once such an American thing, is nowadays the preserve of the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and China who have the edge on tall construction.
The tallest building in the world, the Bhurj Khalifa in Dubai, is 2,717ft high. Since 1991, London has had Canary Wharf, or more correctly One Canada Square, which was the tallest at 771ft until The Shard at 1,016ft came along.
But unlike Canary Wharf, The Shard has created a whole visitor experience called The View from The Shard, giving the public the chance to go almost to the top and see the views across the city.
On arrival, as with any tall building, the only way is up via two lifts that take you to the top in two stages, first to level 33 and then to level 68.
The lifts travel at six metres per second, making the total lift journey time from level 0 to level 68 around 60 seconds.
Along the way, the designers have tried to make this aspect of the visit all part of the experience, although some of it wasn’t yet finished when I visited. The lifts themselves will give the impression of ascending through the ceilings of iconic London buildings such as the Dome of St Paul’s using video screens.
But let’s face it, all of this is a side show. There’s only one reason for visiting.
They say on a good day you can see for 40 miles, with a 360-degree view, 800ft up. Arriving at level 68 you head up a short flight of stairs to level 69 where finally the view is revealed.
And as you'd expect, what a view it is. Even on a cloudy day, the city far below can be seen in the minutest detail – people, trains, buses, boats - all small dots far below.
Digital telescopes allow you to explore the city and its sites further. It’s then up more stairs to level 72, the highest public viewing platform, which is partly in the open air and exposed to the elements. Here there are more opportunities for spectacular views and snapshots.
And don’t be alarmed to see the occasional abseiler whisk past you.
So is it all worth it? Costing £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children, it is comparable to many other tourist attractions in the capital. In other words, it’s not cheap.
What you get, of course, is essentially one thing - a view. But if you can pick a good day for it, weather wise, it is likely to be a highly memorable visit.
I’m not so sure about value for families. With the best will in the world, you will not want to spend more than 40 minutes at the top, even though there is no time limit on your visit.
For a family of two adults and two children that’s near enough £100 by the time you have been past the inevitable two gift shops.
However, particularly as a treat for a special occasion, a visit to View From The Shard will undoubtedly come to rival the London Eye in terms of popularity.
- Opens February 1.
- Tickets £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children.
- Tickets must be booked in advance. A limited number of ‘walk up’ tickets will be available each day.
- Open daily from 9am to 10pm.
- The entrance is in Joiner Street, SE1.