New views on London

Once upon a time, not many decades ago, there were few buildings to merit the moniker of “skyscraper” in London, England.

Today, the skyline along the curving shores of the Thames is dotted with buildings not of New Yorkian proportions, but reaching high into the sky and affording views of the Thames and the older parts of London hitherto only seen by pilots flying over the city in times pleasant and unpleasant.

Many of these buildings have acquired nicknames.

There’s the “Gherkin” (No. 10 in height, formally known as 30 St. Mary Axe) which, these days, is relatively obscured by new and more-boring construction around its, well, pickle-like (or, if you want to be posh, Fabergé-egg-like) shape.

The Shard, No. 1 high in the sky at 87 floors, is the tallest building in the U.K. and in Western Europe. Its slim, pointy, reverse-icicle shape dominates the skyline, day or night. One of our party deemed its lit tip at night to resemble the pope’s mitre; in the daytime, in late-afternoon mist, it reminded some of Orthanc, the tower of Saruman, the evil wizard from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.

Both the Gherkin and the Shard offer restaurants and viewing spots, and many flock to view the city from the London Eye, a Ferris Wheel on steroids located on the south bank of the Thames: it’s a 2000 Millennial project whose popularity has kept it running to this day.

We ended up going high into the sky at “the Walkie Talkie”, officially 20 Fenchurch St. It’s currently the 12th-tallest building in London and has a 37th-floor indoor “Sky Garden.”

The Sky Garden is free (unlike the pay-per-ride London Eye), although you do need to book no-charge tickets for the lift (elevator) in advance. The queue for the elevator, and the initial vibe, is nutty and crowded. But once you are up on the 37th floor, you can take in remarkable views of the Thames and the city. You can choose to simply wander, or get a beverage or snack, or sit amid the artfully misted, vaguely tropical tiered gardens, or settle in for a bigger meal at one of the restaurants built into the Sky Garden.

We chose to do our gawking and photographing, touring the views in directions south, west, north, and east, then each sipped a genteel Gin and Tonic in the late afternoon: celebrating seeing London from on high before descending to the streets below.

Main photo is the view of London Tower and London Bridge from the Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch, 37 storeys into the sky: Photo by Kelley Teahen.





3 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris Moorehead says:

    You neglected to mention that The Gherkin only exists because the Provisional IRA blew up the site’s previous buildings (the Baltic Exchange & Chamber of Shipping) in 1992. Alas, there are now so many skyscrapers in the area that The Gherkin is almost invisible!


  2. Chris Moorehead says:

    You also neglected to mention 20 Fenchurch’s OTHER nickname…”The Car Melter”. To quote Wikipedia, “During the building’s construction, it was discovered that for a period of up to two hours each day if the sun shines directly onto the building, it acts as a concave mirror and focuses light onto the streets to the south. Spot temperature readings at street-level including up to 91 °C and 117 °C were observed during summer 2013, when the reflection of a beam of light up to six times brighter than direct sunlight shining onto the streets beneath damaged parked vehicles, including one on Eastcheap whose owner was paid £946 by the developers for repairs to melted bodywork. Temperatures in direct line with the reflection became so intense that a reporter for the newspaper City A.M. was able to fry an egg in a pan set out on the ground.” I believe the building management has now installed some sort of shielding, but 20 Fenchurch’s fearsome reputation remains. I will, however, admit that the view was spectacular, as was the Gin & Tonic!


  3. Martin Keenan says:

    Ah – *That* building. I didn’t recognize the address, but I’ve certainly heard of the concave front and its propensity for melting vehicles. We passed nearby when visiting the Tower of London, but I didn’t know about the roof garden.


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