Views from up above are usually enhanced by a stunning azure sky, a golden sunset or the pleasing twinkle of city lights at night. Alas, we ended up visiting the Walkie Talkie’s new ‘Sky Garden’ on a dismal January afternoon – but then again, what could be more London-y than that?
First things first: it’s free, although you do have to book in advance. (At The View from the Shard you can rock up on the spot, but then again, it’s £25.) You’ll also need to realise that your ‘ticket’ is not the same thing as your email, it’s attached to your email. As with rival attractions, there’s a baggage scan, and a ban on liquids so no, you can’t can’t take a bottle of wine up with you for a picnic.
The vibe is very much office atrium/hotel lobby/airport lounge, with a hint of Centre Parcs thrown in. That’s mostly due to these mist-makers constantly pumping out tropical levels of humidity, presumably to keep the plants alive:
It’s a garden by name, but is it garden by nature? Well, from certain angles things seem quite fecund:
But from others, not so much:
And let’s be real, it’s not quite the field of dreams/orchard of wonder from the original artist’s impression:
And – although maybe things will change in the spring? – the envisioned blossom is not in evidence:
That said, it seemed like they might still be planting stuff, although I doubt he’s got some enormous trees in that bucket.
So yes, it’s a little disappointing that the garden isn’t a few acres of frisbee-friendly Hyde Park turf slapped on top of a building. And compared to some other venues, the viewing opportunities don’t quite have that vertiginous, press-your-nose-up-against-the-glass quality. On three out of four sides, you’re held back a few inches from the glass by bannisters or benches, while the south-facing outdoor terrace (below, beyond the glass on the right) isn’t actually open until March. Oops.
But it’s still kind of nice. There’s a little bar, with some sofas, where a pint will cost you a steep-but-not-horrendous five pounds. You need to book a table for this separately, mind you, but on a sunny summer evening, it would probably make a pretty novel place to have a couple of drinks with someone. (As long as you remembered to book in advance, of course.) And as the space is decidedly roomy, you’ll be able to drift around, admiring the city from above with drink in hand.
Looming above the entire enterprise are the twin glass-enclosed restaurants, The Fenchurch Seafood Bar and Grill and the Darwin Brasserie. They come off like a vaguely ominous observation deck, where representatives from the Capitol might watch peasants fight to the death amidst the ferns below. (Although as the Fenchurch serves £325 caviar, this may just be an economic metaphor for London life.)
Expect our lucky restaurant critics to be putting them to the test before too long.
Both the ‘free’ Sky Garden and the bar are open 10am – 10pm at the weekends, but the ‘free tickets’ are only available for 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday, while the bar is open 7am – 2am in the week. The next available date for a ‘free’ visit is March 4, 2015.
Flickr user error606 was kind enough to share their views of the venue at night:
Look lively: here are our favourite London restaurants with great views.