Working in the Monument area of London from 2014 to 2015, I saw the Walkie Talkie building come from rags to riches…quite literally…from the rags that were used to cover the windows to stop the sun’s reflection melting cars to the riches that they charge for drinks!
Rumour has it that planning permission would only be granted for this monster if they provided a sizeable green space for the public. Which they did, in the form of a “Sky Garden” on the 35th floor. Best of all, this means it’s free to visit, but you have to book a specific time to go in advance.
The views to the East, South and West of London are pretty spectacular. You come eye-to-eye with The Shard, get a great perspective of the river to Canary Wharf and see the greenery of West London in all of its glory. You’re also served with a reminder of the existence of Fenchurch Street Train Station, which is well hidden at ground level, but dominates the view to the East as vast railway lines snake their way into the city.
The views to the north are obstructed by the glass jungle of the Square Mile with the Leadenhall Building, The Gherkin and Tower 42 choking the skyline. You also come to realise just how many cranes there are in London!
The horticulture of the Sky Garden is a bit of a let down. The website boasts some exotic plants to look out for, such as the “Red Hot Poker” or the “Bird of Paradise” which much get lost amongst the greenery. While it’s clearly impressive that they can even maintain landscaped gardens 150 metres above ground level, I think they could do better.
That being said, it’s a great place to familiarise yourself with the geography of London, which can be easily overlooked when you’re travelling like a lemming underground all the time. Landmarks to look out for include The Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and even St Pancras station. I’m also convinced you can see the Dartford crossing to the East if you squint hard enough.
To be expected, drinks come at a premium, with the majority of cocktails north of a tenner. But the venue is clearly not to be taken as a regular drinking hole – there’s a perfectly good Weatherspoons five minutes away for that!
All in all, if you want to take in some pretty breathtaking views of London, I would choose the Sky Garden over The Shard. It’s an ugly building, but it’s free, it’s high and it’s in a great location.