Set at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (otherwise known as the Walkie-Talkie building), the Sky Garden is a free public space set over the top three floors of the building. Now you’d think free public space would mean you wander up and just hang around for a bit, see a lovely garden, maybe have an overpriced drink and cake, then wander away again… and you would, unfortunately, be wrong.
I have been planning on visiting since early last year, but it’s just been super difficult to actually get in. You have to book tickets in advance from the Sky Gardens website. So far, so easy. But tickets are only released a week at a time up to three weeks in advance, I suspect on a Monday morning given that they run up to a Sunday. And basically you can write off getting tickets on a weekend, and probably on public holidays. If you want to go during the week, best get on it three weeks out and hope for the best. It took me three attempts to get something, and this was only early afternoon on a random Thursday.
Once you get there, you have to go through airport level security. Frankly it’s a bit ridiculous – I mean I understand the concerns but if someone wants to do some damage then they can just blow up the lobby where everyone is hanging around waiting to be searched by minimum-wage G4S employees. The lift arrives onto the ground floor of the gardens, which holds a large seating area and a cafe and some tropical plants in pots. And I’ll be honest the “garden” doesn’t get hugely better – yes it is nice, and in places quite verdant, but it feels more like an office lobby, or the interior of a more tropical airport.
The main attraction is the outside deck, looking south over the river to The Shard, and partly out east and west up and down the Thames. The view is spectacular; almost entirely un-interrupted, providing a lovely toy-town feel to the City of London below. You are able to take photos and videos, but you are constantly watched by the security staff, which creates a slightly uncomfortable environment.
Heading up the two flights of stairs you pass through more gardens, and to an enclosed veranda with views north. This looks out onto the City, with views of the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater (apparently you can’t build a skyscraper in the UK without the locals providing it with a slightly denigrating name). The view isn’t a good, and we spent quite a bit of time just trying to work out where places that we know were. There is another cafe, and yet more restaurants on the first floor that are private access.
In summary, if you are in London maybe try to get in for the view alone, but if you are visiting London I wouldn’t bother. There are nicer gardens in the many parks and at Kew, and if you desperately want a view consider The Shard – it’s not free, but it is MUCH less of a faff, and it is more honest about what it is – a commercial venture that wants your money – which the Sky Garden tries to conceal, and fails.