Monday, 26 February 2018

A Visit to the Sky Garden

I'm the sort of mum who makes her children smuggle freezer bags of popcorn into the cinema. Pick 'n Mix is strictly limited to the lighter weight sweets in the selection and few family restaurant trips are taken without a wad of Clubcard vouchers in my back pocket. 

It's simply a fact of modern life that family days out and experiences can be absurdly expensive and even if we did have the funds to order large-size popcorn buckets all round, I simply couldn't do it. There are some things that I feel just don't justify the price tag.

That's not to say I'm a penny pincher and I'd like to think a generosity of spirit is one of my attributes - I love to give extravagant gifts and treat people to special experiences. But there are just some things I won't part with good cash for: a stay at Center Parcs (I can't think of anything worse, to be honest), cinema popcorn, expensively priced visits up big buildings...

So I was pretty pleased to find a free alternative to The Shard, a place my kids have been keen to visit for some time. Despite my fear of heights I'd quite like to go up The Shard too, but somehow, every time we've been to London, £60 for what amounts to taking in a view (amazing though that view might be) has always seemed one expense too far. As anyone with kids will tell you, day trips to the capital have an incredible propensity to see your finances spiral out of control. 

While there are lots of amazing free things to do - all those brilliant museums, for example - some of the big tourist attractions come with a pretty hefty entrance fee. While we had a great time at the Tower of London a few years back, I did feel a tad miffed that after queueing for some time to see the Crown Jewels the wow factor I'd been expecting was slightly dampened by the fact you're shown them via a travelator - a bit of a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' moment.

If you hear where I'm coming from, you really need to book a visit to the Sky Garden - a brilliant free experience in the heart of the city. Located at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street -  popularly known as the 'Walkie-Talkie' - this striking building offers amazing 360-degree views across London.

It's a good idea to arrive a bit sooner than your time slot as you may need to wait in line for a short while before entering the building to be transported to the top floor and deposited in a light-filled, glass dome with outstanding views both indoors and out to feast your eyes on.

Officially London's highest public garden, the stunning views are complemented with beautiful interior landscaping, using plants and flowers from the Mediterranean and South Africa. This verdant backdrop frames the glass observation decks, offering a really pleasing contrast with the steely urban architecture outside.

Step outside onto the terrace and you're greeted face-on by the glittering structure of the Shard. In another direction you can see Canary Wharf and even the familiar arcs of Wembley Arena in the distance. Helpful graphics show the landmarks to look out for, but it's just fun to take it all in and see what you can spot unaided. 

With two sons that are big on cities and buildings, it was great to see them drinking it all up and shouting to me in excitement when they'd located another familiar building.
There's a cafe and restaurant in the garden; I'd love to make a return visit later in the day as I can't imagine a better setting to watch the sun dip behind the skyline while sipping a cocktail. While it does say on the website that you're limited to an hour's visit, there didn't appear to be anyone checking this on our visit and different rules apply if you're eating at the restaurant.

With a location close to some of London's most interesting sights - Borough Market, Tate Modern and The Monument, for example - you can combine your visit with some other great wallet-friendly options. Lunch at Borough Market is a colourful experience while the Tate Modern is a crowd-pleaser for all ages, even if your kids don't appear to have much interest in modern art. The sheer space of the Turbine Hall will enchant them and there's usually some weird and wonderful installation on show to pique their interest. 

I'm sure that one day I'll feel a bit flush and we'll make that visit to The Shard. But as a free alternative, with a pretty much identical view (just from not quite the same height) Sky Garden gets my vote. 

For more information about Sky Garden, visit the website here.

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