THE MOST-TALKED about London building in generations is opening its doors to the public on 1 February 2013. LondonNet’s Peter Clee sneaked up top to take a look at The View From The Shard

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I’ve read that The Shard has divided opinion among Londoners. Just like the sandwich spread marmite – you love it or hate it. Thing is though, I’ve not actually met a single person who dislikes architect Renzo Piano’s glistening civic masterpiece. Wherever his detractors are, it seems they’ve been steering clear of me. So, filled up to the brim with enthusiasm, I headed off to London Bridge to take a look at what claims to be the unmissable attraction of 2013.

Standing proud at 309.6 metres (1,016 feet) high, The Shard was Europe’s tallest building upon completion last summer. As is the way with these things, its reign was short-lived thanks to the topping off of Moscow’s Mercury City at 338 metres (1,109 feet) in November 2012. However, it remains the tallest building in Western Europe and for now can claim to be one of the most elegant of the world’s tallest buildings to boot. With its tapering proportions – large at the base and small at the pinnacle – there’s a certain modesty to its majesty.

Entrance to The View From The Shard is via Joiner Street beside London Bridge railway station. Once inside the loins of the building, visitors pass through airport-style security scanners, and then walk along a corridor illuminated with televisual galleries featuring a mural of over 140 famous Londoners. The passage leads to the first of the super-fast lifts waiting to hurl you to the peak. Reaching a maximum speed of 6 metres per second, the lifts are a two-stage affair, with a transfer zone at Level 33 before a final ascent to Level 68. Each lift features imagery depicting an ascent through London icons such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the British Museum’s Great Court Glass Roof. These weren’t working on our press preview but our lift operator was suitably excited at their promise.

Upon arrival at Level 68, you enter a teaser of a floor, with images of clouds on the floor-to-ceiling windows obscuring the view you know is sitting below. Within seconds the wait is over as visitors ascend to the triple height gallery on Level 69, with its 360 degree views for up to 40 miles (64km) across the Thames basin.

To the west, the view is down river to Westminster with the London Eye – previously London’s tallest public vantage point – perched beside the South Bank of the Thames lying dwarfed by The Shard. To the north the view is of The City of London with feature buildings such as The Gherkin and Tower 42. Turn to the east and you see the historic Tower of London and Tower Bridge and in the distance the 2012 Olympic Park and Canary Wharf, with the Millennium Dome (now the 02) tucked behind. Lying as it does on the ‘other’ side of the river, perhaps the most impressive view from The Shard for a south Londoner like myself is the huge south London panorama, taking in faraway icons such as the Crystal Palace transmitters and the much-maligned Tolworth Tower. From this height I can confirm once and for all, south London is the greenest (and fairest) of them all.

At this level guests get to utilise high tech ‘tel:scopes’, which feature information on a couple of hundred of the capital’s landmarks. They also allow you to focus in close up or see the same scene in a daylight, dusk or night-time view.

Time now to take a deep breath, head up the remaining flight of stairs and onto the final – and highest gallery – on Level 72. Here the sky is open and the view is both of London and up, up to the clouds. On my visit on an otherwise chilly January day it was surprisingly mild up here – I’d expected a couple of degree drop thanks to the lapse rate up here at several hundred metres. The protective walls of the tapering shard ensured the wind was kept at bay too. At this point the building has narrowed noticeably and the wooden slatted viewing platform was remarkably compact for such a mighty building.

Once you’re done it’s back down to Level 68 and a chance to visit The View From The Shard boutique shop. If you’d prefer you can hang around a little longer on Levels 69 and 72 – there’s no time limit to your visit once you’re up. That’s one of the nice little touches offered up by the attraction organisers. Another is the promise of a free return trip if your visit is marred by a fogged up lack of visibility.

At close to thirty pounds for the standard price entrance, The View From the Shard is hardly cheap. But metre for metre it offers good value compared to the London Eye, although the ‘Millennium Wheel’ does benefit from a majestic position opposite the Houses of Parliament, overlooking the touristic West End. As for cost, little in London is a bargain these days, be it a seat at a West End theatre show or a Premiership football match. To their credit The View From The Shard’s hosts seem firmly set upon providing a warm welcome and a little extra value to their guests, adding some neat features such as the free-to-use ‘Tel:scopes’ and the ‘linger-as-long-as-like’ offer. And so to paraphrase what a wise man once said about a Rolls-Royce motor car, ‘the view will be remembered long after the price is forgotten’.

Peter Clee

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Photos (from top of page):
– The main viewing gallery on Level 69 of The View From The Shard. (Photo by Peter Clee, Copyright of LondonNet Ltd)
– View of The Shard (Copyright of The View from The Shard)
– The Cloudscape gallery on Level 68 of The View From The Shard (Photo by Peter Clee, Copyright of LondonNet Ltd)
– View over the Thames looking North East, over HMS Belfast and towards the London 2012 Olympic stadium in the distance – by Day (Photo credit: Julian Shoquette, Copyright of The View from The Shard)
– Tel:scope on Level 69 (Copyright of The View from The Shard)
– Looking up to the sky from the open-air viewing gallery on Level 72 of The View From The Shard (Photo by Peter Clee, Copyright of LondonNet Ltd)
– Fisheye view from 1000ft at Dusk (Copyright of The View from The Shard)