Londoners are quite funny as they name the new buildings in the city based on their shapes – there’s the Gherkin, Cheese Grater, Shard and the Walkie Talkie. I’m not sure of the proper names of the buildings or even their addresses but everyone seems to know what you are talking about if you say the names in the city’s financial district. When all of these skyscraper (for London anyway) buildings were built, only the Shard had an observation area (for a price). For other views of London, you can ride the London Eye, climb the stairs at St. Paul’s (not that high) or the free rooftop at New Change Mall on Cheapside. Now you have Sky Garden. The aptly named Sky Garden London is just that – a green space in the sky located at the top of the Walkie Talkie building. Unlike the Shard and London Eye, the Sky Garden is FREE to visit. There are, of course, a few hoops to jump to get up in the sky but let’s look inside first.
Sky Garden Outdoor Observation Deck
When you exit the elevators and make a right you enter the vast terminal in the sky – it feels almost like T5 at Heathrow but despite the airport security you just endured in the lobby, there is no gate to run to and the food options are much tastier. If you walk straight through the doors, you are outside with a glass paneled view of the Thames and London below. While I was enjoying the views, there was a guy not content to take a photo through glass that put his camera above the glass for an unobstructed photo and was quickly reprimanded by security due to safety issues (what if he dropped his camera over?). The sunny day and warm temps made the outside visit quite nice.
Sky Garden London – Indoor Seating & Café
If you choose to sit inside there is a center café selling drinks, snacks and sandwiches. Some tables have blankets (the air con was quite cold) and can be reserved but on the day of my visit the sun was streaming in the glass walls and windows making a few spots warm and in need of sunglasses inside. There was ample room to sit and enjoy the views and greenery (the number of visitors is controlled to avoid crowds).
Sky Garden – the Gardens
The greenery is located up and around the top floor in a U shape. There are stairs up and around providing you a 360 degree view of London along the windows. You need to be able to climb stairs for this part of the visit. On the interior of each staircase there are benches to sit among the plants.
Sky Garden London Views
The day of my visit was bright sun, hazy and humid (the hottest September day breaking records). The interior windows are tinted as you can see from the photos and have markers on the windows for the viewing descriptions. The views are 360 degrees which is fabulous although your camera may have issues with the tinting. As you can see I took a photo of Tower Bridge not of London Bridge which was in front of the marker.
Sky Garden Food & Drink
Also inside the U shape above you are the two posh restaurants, Fenchurch and Darwin Brasserie, (reservations required) which are further enclosed and their views while nice seem a bit obstructed in my opinion. The two bars, City Garden Bar and Sky Pod Bar also have tables (with reservations).
Sky Garden Free Admission
While the views and admission are free, you do need to reserve a timed ticket in advance as the number of visitors is limited each hour. If you are unable to find a general admission ticket, you can always book a restaurant reservation which allows you to visit the Sky Garden at your leisure. The restaurants are open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. whereas the public free viewing access is open Monday/Friday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sky Garden – Check In & Security
You will see a staff member outside the doors as there is a separate entrance on the side of the building. You are directed into the queue to check in – one line for general admission and another for restaurant guests. Make sure to have your confirmation page printed out or on your phone to make the check in quicker. Also bring photo ID to match the names on the reservation. Once you’ve checked in, you move forward to the airport style security check. Once you’ve cleared security, you can board the elevators (lifts) to the top floor where the Sky Garden is located.
Sky Garden – Final Thoughts
I was really impressed with our Sky Garden experience. My mom was with me and she was able to go outside and then sit inside while I explored up, around and down the various viewpoints. The windows have markers with important buildings that you are viewing. The café costs were reasonable for bottled water and sweet treats. I’d love to go back to experience the sunset as well as the city aglow at night. Next time! Sky Garden London is a wonderful opportunity to see the city from all angles and a great option for families since it is free.