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.