The Shard: sky high views at sky high prices

by , Senior Travel Researcher Transport & Travel 4 February 2013
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Towering 310m over London, the Shard is London’s newest, and certainly tallest, tourist attraction. But is it worth the £25 price tag? Today I took a trip up the Shard to find out.

The Shard in London

I’ve just returned from a trip up the newly-opened Shard and I can confirm that the view from the top is indeed spectacular.

In fact, I’d say it’s unequaled elsewhere in London, with a 360º panorama featuring Canary Wharf to the east, the Gherkin directly north, St Pauls and Wembley stretching off to the West and miles of expanse to the southern coast. Looking directly below you London’s buildings look like little toys, the London Eye like a miniature fairground ride and London’s trains and buses like tiny insects.

It’s difficult to feel overawed by London’s size and complexity as you hurry about your daily business at ground level, but the View from the Shard really does put it all in perspective. However, at £25 for an adult ticket and £19 for a child, this is a very expensive family day out. Are you tempted?

The View from the Shard

I was once lucky enough to get a similar view while flying in to London City airport over Tower Bridge. But even then the view was only fleeting, and from just one perspective. The best thing about the View from the Shard is that there’s no time limit – you can wander at your leisure and even spend the whole day up there if you like, taking in the panorama in all of its majesty.

And the interactive telescopes – the first of their kind in Europe or so I’m told – give a fascinating close up of the Olympic Park out in the distance, or the boats on the river below, or even into people’s houses if you so wish (or maybe not). And there wasn’t even a queue to use these during my visit.

Last year my colleague Lorna Cowan asked for your thoughts on the best views in London. Millbank Tower, the Royal Observatory and Shooter’s Hill were all suggested. While I can’t claim to have visited them all, I can tell you that the Shard is twice the height of any other London viewing platform, and it’s so centrally located that I just don’t think it can be beaten.

Is the Shard worth the ticket price?

But is it worth it? For a family with two children, the cost is nearly £90 and that’s without shelling out for any souvenirs in the gift shop. Then there’s the inevitable, but annoying, insistence on taking a group photo and superimposing it on to the view – yours for an additional £30.

We also found a problem with the booking process. The website appears to show that there are only eight tickets remaining at all times. When we asked, we were told that this just means you can only book eight tickets in one transaction, so don’t feel hurried into booking. We’ve made the Shard aware of this quirk.

Of course, I was also lucky with the weather today. On a clear day you can see up to 40 miles in every direction, but add too much cloud that the experience would certainly be diminished. So are you planning to take in the View from the Shard? Or do you think that £25 is too much to pay?

14 comments

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wavechange

I am interested, mainly because it might help to conquer my long standing fear of heights. I like the fact that the visit time is not restricted other than by the opening hours.

Now that cinema has descended into noisy action films full of gratuitous violence, being able to stand and watch the world go round has a lot of appeal. On the other hand, a visit to the countryside is enjoyable and avoids the need to go to London.

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Jason Flynn

I was due to go last Saturday But my plans changed so I couldn’t go.
They will not under any circumstances agree to change the tickets to another dates unless you have notified them 14 days or more in advance, Sorry forgets any last minute problems.
If you then wish to alter the tickets to somebody else this costs an additional £15.
Various excuses were used however they feel that there queueing system Is a huge improvements over other similar buildings around the world and they can therefore justify the charges.
That was a direct quote from them.

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Linda M

I went up the Shard on Friday – the first public day. Plenty of space for everyone to move around on both viewing levels, and no one rushing visitors up and down. It was a clear day and the view all round is spectacular.
To me it seems obvious that if it was easy to cancel/ change the tickets on grey days that is what a lot of people would do.

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Nikki Whiteman

I’d like to go up, but that price just seems far too high – I can’t imagine myself forking that out when for the same price I could get last minute tickets to a show, or visit a couple of special exhibitions.

If you live in London there are plenty of opportunities to head up high buildings and get fantastic views (the annual Open House weekend lets you go up the Gherkin), or you could befriend a city type and see if they’ll invite you for coffee in their offices (my sister used to work for a firm in one of the big skyscrapers, and I went up a couple of times to have coffee in their cafe). I appreciate these things might not be possible for tourists, though, so how about this? For three quid you can climb to the top of the Monument (although there are plenty of stairs to contend with). I know none of these things will be quite as high as the Shard, but for value for money they can’t be beaten!

I agree, it is too much, particularly when you compare it not just with other views (St Paul’s is also worth a trip – it’s only £13 and you get to see the cathedral) but with other cities.

The Sydney Tower Eye, for example, is $18.20, that’s about £12 or half the price of the Shard. In Melbourne their tower experience has a 3m glass cube that sticks out so you can see down – assuming you fancy that. And the Eiffel Tower is only €14, so I’m finding it hard to see how the Shard is good value.

I think I will be following Nikki’s tips and waiting for the Open House weekends to get views from London’s towers.

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John Ward

We shall probably try to get there the next time we are up in London. Although we have enjoyed the London Eye three times, the time goes quickly and you are only up high enough for a few minutes to take in the whole panorama. Linda has hit the nail on the head with regard to ticket cancellations. Is there also a ‘turn-up-and-go-up’ facility?

Yes there are 200 tickets available for each slot online, but they keep a few back for walk-ins (they told me they have the capacity for up to 400 people at a time, but they don’t intend to run it at capacity). However, it’s more expensive if you just turn up – £29.95 for adults and £23.95 for children.

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Deirdre G

I really recommend going to the Shard, having been there. It did not give me vertigo, eventhough I expected it would, because it felt very stable and safe inside looking out at London skyline. I think that there should be a much lower price for adults and children, something similar to the Empire State building ticket prices which is $25 for an adult and $6 for a child. I would suspect that they won’t get many tourists if they keep their prices that high.

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Argonaut...

Empire State building NYC has got just about the balance right, 25 USD for
an adult AND just 6 dollars for kids. £25/30 admission price is much too
high, even giving a discount of £6.00 for minors.

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Argonaut...

Absolutely refuse to go for £24.95 OR £29.95….can think of
a nicer way of spending for £50-£60, for two. Ripped-off
Britain! Not all of us are suckers regardless…

I visited the Shard at the weekend, as a special treat for my partner. We were part of the first batch of visitors in the morning and the queue outside the venue was a little chaotic. Once we were inside, however, our journey through security and into the speedy lifts was very smooth.

We were lucky with the weather and the view was amazing; we didn’t feel any pressure to head back down and there was plenty of room on the two viewing platforms to accommodate the visitors.

It is a big price tag, but I really enjoyed the visit. A discounted price for locals would be a nice idea.

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wavechange

Having special offers for locals could be seen as unfair, but if the operators offered discounts at quiet times, locals are more likely to benefit from the offer.

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John Ward

I’m sorry if this reads like one of the those “What I Did On My Holiday” essays we had to do at school but I thought people considering whether or not to see The View from The Shard at £25/30 a head might like a little bit more information on what the entire experience is like.

We finally managed to go up The Shard last Sunday at 11:00 and I think it was worth the price as a “must do” attraction. The weather had been extremely overcast with heavy clouds and rain persisting over London for the previous two days, the morning turned out bright and fairly clear thank goodness. Although we’ve been on the London Eye a few times and enjoyed it, The View from The Shard experience is better in a number of ways: (1) once up there you can spend as long as you like, (2) it is much much higher with correspondingly more distant horizons, (3) you remain at the full height whereas on the Eye you are only at the top of the wheel for a couple of minutes, and (4) you can see much more of the sights and buildings in the streets around The Shard and within a radius of one mile; you can also pick out more landmarks and work out the street pattern more easily.

The on-line booking process was straightforward [it is necessary to print-off the tickets yourself but presumably for those who can't do that it is possible to check-in and collect tickets by reference to the customer order number sent with the confirmation e-mail]. You are told to take with you the payment card used to buy the tickets or alternative proof of identity but we were not asked to produce that on arrival. The ticket gives you a half-hour time slot within which to arrive – you don’t have to get there bang on the start time given and, as we found, if you get there early they let you go through if there is capacity. The security checks were OK with none of the hold-ups you get in airports. Checking-in is all vey high tech until you have scanned the bar code on your ticket into the entry gate and the assistant then manually strikes it through with a pen! There are decent toilets at the base level and it is probably a good idea to make yourself comfortable before ascending as you might find you stay up top longer than you expected to [there is nothing about the ride up in the lift which necessitates such a preemptive act]; I didn’t see any facilities in the viewing galleries.

After admission, and before going up, you get photographed in front of a “green screen” background; the pictures will be ready on return in a range of formats and with alternative image options. You don’t have to buy – prices are from £15-25 each.

The first stage of the viewing experience is to go up to the 33rd floor; you then proceed to a second lift which takes you up to the level below the first viewing gallery [about the 72nd floor I think]. Up a few stairs and you emerge into a very spacious gallery which goes round all four sides of the structure; it is enclosed, a comfortable temperature, and sociable. There are inter-active telescopes which you can use [at a small charge for a couple of minutes] to close in on particular sights. There are markers over each facet of the structure to point out the major landmarks visible from that position. You can wander about within the viewing gallery, take your own snaps, and take as long as you like, but there are no seats. If you want to you can go up another staircase to the top viewing gallery which gives the maximum public view. This gallery is partially open to the elements at the corners so you can experience the effects of the wind and the atmosphere at height. There was no perceptible movement in the structure under the breezy conditions during our visit.

It is worth mentioning that although the views are extensive – up to forty miles on a clear day – the detail visible at greater distances obviously tapers with perspective. In terms of actual buildings you can see at long distance only the really big ones are easy to spot [e.g. Alexandra Palace to the north, Crystal Palace TV transmitters to the south, Wembley Stadium to the west, and the Olympic Stadium to the east]. Beyond that you can pick out the meandering course of the River Thames and the contours of the hills surrounding the London basin, especially the escarpments of the North Downs. Closer in, there is a wealth of iconic structures and landmarks spread around like a fancy tablecloth; it is probably the most impressive collection of sights available anywhere in the world. People who are good on London’s geography can demonstrate their superior knowledge . . . and they do! One chap loudly identified all the Premiership football stadia but had to be helped with Millwall’s The Den which is almost at the foot of The Shard.

The same two-stage lift journey brings you back to the base level. The lifts are very fast [about six metres per second], very smooth, and virtually silent. On entering, the lift seems dark but as soon as it moves the ceiling illuminates with a display of fabulous London ceilings [I think they included St Paul's Cathedral, the Banqueting House Whitehall, the Royal Naval College Greenwich]. On arrival back at the base, there is an opportunity to review the photographs taken before ascent and choose the background, format, and presentation before making you mind up whether or not to have any – there is absolutely no pressure. As in all visitor attractions, the route to the exit is via the souvenir shop where a good range of novelties and mementoes are available; even though these included the usual things like tea towels and mugs, caps and tee-shirts, pencils and key-rings, and badges and fridge-magnets, they seemed to be good quality and were attractively different in design. They also sell some very good photographs of views from The Shard by day and by night, and views of The Shard from various locations with other notable landmarks shown. We must have spent as much again in the gift shop as we had to see The View. Toilets are available again before departure.

There were only two little disappointments for us: one, the lift ride was not at all magical and there was no conception of being within a spectacular building; and two, we thought Father Christmas would be up there somewhere.

We spent over two hours at The Shard and all-in-all we tought the experience was worth the price.

Nikki – Like you we loved climbing up to the top of the Monument in the City of London, but seen from The Shard it looks like a little matchstick [especially when the sun catches the golden flame on the top] and it is now surrounded by tall buildings.

What a thorough and enjoyable read! I’ll have to go soon… though may just stop at The Shard bar first.

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