My hometown of London is a famously expensive city to visit. However, not all of London’s best attractions come with a hefty price tag attached. You just have to do your homework.
The Sky Garden, London, a lush leafy sanctuary wrapped around the top of the so-called Walkie Talkie building, is one of these attractions. Here’s all you need to know about visiting the Sky Garden, London.
Where is the Sky Garden, London?
The Sky Garden is the 20 Fenchurch Street building, otherwise known as the Walkie Talkie building in the City of London. The address is 1 Sky Garden Walk, London, EC3M 8AF.
However, the visitor entrance is on Philpot Lane, on the south-west corner of 20 Fenchurch Street (look for signs at ground level of the building).
How do I get to the Sky Garden, London?
The Sky Garden is well served by public transport.
The closest tube station is Monument, just a few minutes’ walk from the Walkie Talkie building. Bank, Tower Hill, Tower Gate, Aldgate and Mansion House stations are all within a 10-minute walk.
If you are arriving by rail, the closest mainline stations are London Fenchurch Street, Cannon Street and London Bridge.
Bus number 40 stops close by.
What time is the Sky Garden open for ticket holders?
The Sky Garden is open daily for ticket holders from 10 am until 6 pm weekdays, 11 am to 9 pm at weekends. Its bars and restaurants have extended opening hours.
What is the best time to visit the Sky Garden, London?
As tickets are usually in high demand, you may need to accept whatever time slot that is available.
However, whatever time of day you visit the Sky Garden, London, you can’t really go far wrong. As visitor numbers are tightly regulated, there are no busy or quiet times of day as such.
That said, if I had a choice, I would visit late afternoon to watch the sun set over London and linger to see the city lit up (friends who have had dinner there report that the views are spectacular). As ticket holders are shoed out by 6 pm, this option is only available during the shorter days of winter (or if you decide to dine here).
What You Should Know Before Visiting The Sky Garden, London
The Sky Garden is housed in a VERY tall building
Trust me. If you are Google Mapping your way to the Sky Garden, you’ll spot the building well before you arrive at your destination.
Looking like a massive shiny sanitary towel – wider end at the top – 20 Fenchurch Street rises to a height of 160 meters above street level.
The Sky Garden offers some of the best views of London
The Sky Garden, London offers a 360-degree panorama of the capital’s iconic skyline. On a clear day, the views are sensational.
Stepping out of the lift on the 35th Floor, looking south over the river, taking centre stage is The Shard – another one of London’s famous landmarks – in all of its splintered splendour.
To the north, the City’s skyscrapers – The Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and NatWest Tower dutifully line up like chess pieces in a row.
Looking to the east, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge resemble toy town models, and ones that are laid out in brilliant clarity.
Beyond this, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf stand in a solemn procession.
Finally, to the west, there’s Christopher Wren’s dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral with the BT Tower in the distance.
It’s completely free!
Yep. There is no charge to enter the Sky Garden. Free. Gratis.
You need to book tickets in advance
So far so good. Yes?
After these plusses, there had to be a minus, and this is it.
The main drawback of the Sky Garden is that you need to book a ticket in advance to secure your visit. A spontaneous visit may be off the cards.
And let’s consider the weather.
London’s weather is notoriously fickle, and I imagine that the views from the Sky Garden on a damp and dreary November afternoon wouldn’t tempt you to schlepp up to the top of the Walkie Talkie building. That said, as no exchange of credit card details is required, what do you have to lose by taking a punt?
As visitor numbers are limited and this garden in the sky is not exactly a well-kept secret, you need to be quick off the mark.
Sky Garden tickets are released three weeks in advance and to guarantee a decent slot, you need to book as early as possible. Book timed tickets on the Sky Garden’s website.
In theory, admission slots are for one hour only but I didn’t see staff try to turf out those who may have overstayed their welcome.
Beware of inclement weather
Let’s return to the weather (you know that us Brits can’t get enough of talking about this!).
You need to head to the Sky Garden’s outdoor terrace for the best views of London. However, the building’s security reserves the right to close the terrace due to inclement weather conditions without advance warning.
But let’s face it; none of us has any control over the weather. I say take a punt.
It is possible to visit the Sky Garden without booking
The one small chink of light is that it is not impossible to visit Sky Garden without booking.
To score a walk-in ticket to the Sky Garden, try to nab one of the limited spots available Monday to Friday. It’s a bit of a gamble, but can be one that pays off.
Or why not combine the garden and views with food or a cocktail?
If you are visiting one of the Sky Garden’s restaurants or bars, you do not need to book a free public ticket. Just leave yourself a little time to check out those views before taking your table.
You can book online up to 30 days in advance for the Sky Garden’s restaurants and bars. Walk-ins welcome subject to availability.
The Sky Garden is more than a viewpoint
Although it has divided opinion – more about that later – few people would disagree that the Sky Garden, and the building within which it is housed, is striking.
Designed in 2004 by world-renowned Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, 20 Fenchurch St. incorporates enormous sheets of glass, which grow larger as the eye travels upwards.
The greenery in the Sky Garden itself has been designed by award-winning landscape architects Gillespies and installed by Willerby Landscapes.
Individual plants in the terraces are largely Mediterranean and South African species, chosen to work in harmony with the space and light. Expect to see majestic palm fronds, African lilies and birds of paradise (the non-feathered variety) alongside fragrant herbs such as French Lavender and Rosemary.
The Sky Garden is also a music venue
The Sky Pod Bar holds DJ nights every Wednesday – Sunday.
In better times – that is pre-coronavirus – it also hosted live bands. Let’s hope that returns in the near future.
It supports a charitable cause
20 Fenchurch Street partnered with the East End Community Foundation (EECF) to set up the 20 Fenchurch Street Legacy Fund, establishing a charitable aim for the building.
The aim of the 20 Fenchurch Street Legacy Fund is to improve employment prospects and opportunities for people living in London’s most deprived areas. This fund combines resources from the 20 Fenchurch Street Building owners, occupiers, contractors and voluntary donations from visitors to the Sky Garden to support high-quality projects that will make a positive and long-lasting difference to local residents.
The Sky Garden has polarised opinion
London’s Sky Garden has not been without controversy.
In the early noughties, it’s safe to say that there were many people who weren’t too thrilled at the prospect of the introduction of a mammoth office block gatecrashing the view of the gothic spires of a conservation area, outside the City of London’s planned cluster of skyscrapers.
But all would be forgiven because of the planned astonishing new space at its summit, an urban Hanging Gardens of Babylon, accessible to all.
The public can visit it for free: this much is true. But this is largely subject to pre-booking requirements and they will be turfed out at 6 pm. Night-time accessibility, with the opportunity to view the twinkling lights of London, is reserved for customers paying for cocktails or a slap-up meal.
Not quite the public park that was promised. Instead, a private recreational space, available to those who can afford it.
Criticisms have also been levelled at the use of space in the Sky Garden, favouring bar and restaurant space, which generates revenue, over green space. Some have gone as far as to liken the Sky Garden to an airport terminal building.
These are valid arguments. A considerable amount of space is occupied by the bars and restaurants and you do need to plan your visit to the Sky Garden.
That said, it’s entirely your choice if you have a coffee, drink or a bite to eat here. Visiting the Sky Garden can be a free experience, which is a bonus in a city as expensive as London.
For me, the main reason for visiting the Sky Garden is to have London laid out like a model town in front of you. The garden is a welcome bonus, whatever its scale.
And as for having to plan your visit? Is that really such a big ask?