The Sky Garden

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The Sky Garden is that rarest of things – a view of London from atop a sky scraper that is actually free of charge to visit. It sits on top of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the walkie talkie.

I believe that there was some quid pro quo done with the building’s owners letting them get bigger as the building went upwards in return for providing free public entry. That’s the good news. The bad news is that to get up you have to book a free ticket in advance, and at time of writing they are completely sold out. The official website suggests keeping an eye on it, or following their Twitter feed. The other way, of course, is to book into the bar or one of the two restaurants.

I won’t bother repeating what others have already said, least of all Diamond Geezer who has written a very good blog on his visit(s).

When I first booked my tickets, I noticed something about “professional” photogaphic gear not being welcome. And certainly no tripods. Just to be on the safe side, I went with my RX100 M3 point and shoot, although plenty of others had DSLR’s. I saw one woman using filters on her camera too – unusual to see when you don’t have a tripod.

From a photographic perspective, the biggest challenge is internal light reflections. The only outside bit is a balcony that was closed off when I visited. It too has high glass, but you could probably hold your camera over that. Added to which, it had been raining on and off, and that left raindrops on one side of the building’s glass.

What I will say is that it really wasn’t very crowded. They seem to limit the numbers quite heavily, and free tickets being free, you imagine that a number of people didn’t show up. The slowest part of getting through the airport-style security for me was the fact that many people were relying on the ticket barcodes on their phone (they email a PDF for tickets). This can be a bit fiddly, particularly with multi-page PDFs for several members of the party. I brought a print-out.

Once in, nobody is going to kick you out. My start time was 3.45pm, and I knew sunset was an hour later. To be honest, if you’re not going to have a drink at the bar, then there’s not a great deal to do. It’s all fully enclosed, and you walk around, take selfies (everyone apart from me, I would conservatively say), and then leave again. I hung around to wait for it to get darker.

So there you go. Keep an eye on the website. Ordinarily they say you have to book at least three days in advance, but I fear that it’s going to be harder than that to get in. With the Shard over the river costing £25, this is a bargain. Even the distant Monument below costs £4 – although climbing that is more of an achievement than hitting “35” in a lift.

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More photos on Flickr.