Visiting the Sky Garden, London: Tips From a Local Expert

My hometown of London is a famously expensive city to visit. However, not all of London’s landmarks come with a hefty price tag attached. You just have to do your homework.

You can soak up 360-degree views of the capital from the Sky Garden without handing over a single pound. It’s one of my favourite London viewpoints.

Get the lowdown on how to get tickets and what to expect with my essential tips for visiting the Sky Garden, London.

river thames with bridges and boats and london eye in distance

What is the Sky Garden, London?

The Sky Garden is a lush leafy sanctuary wrapped around the top of the 20 Fenchurch Street building, commonly known as the Walkie Talkie.

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. Looking like a massive shiny sanitary towel, it rises to a height of 160 meters above street level.

exterior of sky garden london in street
Walkie Talkie Building

Due to its death-ray-wielding ability, during its construction, it was famously dubbed the “Walkie-Scorchie” or “Fryscraper”. Its glass and steel exterior acted as a massive concave mirror during the few hours of the day when the sun shined directly into the building, causing it to melt holes in nearby parked vehicles.

Top Tips for Visiting the Sky Garden, London

1. book YOUR TICKET IN advance

Although the Sky Garden is free to visit, you need to book a ticket in advance. 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 weekly – the website will tell you the next release date – and to guarantee a decent slot, you need to book as early as possible. Book timed tickets on the Sky Garden’s website up to three weeks in advance of your visit.

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.

The Sky Garden is open daily for ticket holders from 10 am until 6 pm on weekdays, and from 11 am to 9 pm on weekends. Its bars and restaurants have extended opening hours.

2. You may be able to visit the Sky Garden without booking A FREE ENTRY SLOT

That said, it is not impossible to visit Sky Garden without booking. Here are your options:

  • Try to score a walk-in ticket to the Sky Garden.

Limited spots are available, subject to availability. It’s a bit of a gamble but can pay off.

  • Buy an early-access ticket at the door

In 2024, this costs £9.50 and includes a hot drink. Subject to availability.

  • Buy an evening walk-in ticket

This costs £18.25 (over 18s only) and includes entertainment from the resident DJ or live band and a glass of Champagne. Subject to availability.

  • Book a table at one of the Sky Garden’s restaurants or bars
people walking down curved steps in sky garden with lush ferns and curved glass window and ceiling

You do not need to book a free public ticket if you are visiting one of the Sky Garden’s eating or drinking venues. Just allow yourself time to check out those views before taking your table.

You can book online up to 60 days in advance for the Sky Garden’s restaurants and bars. Walk-ins are welcome subject to availability.

If you are dining in a restaurant, you don’t need to join the entry queue. Instead, join the separate queue to the right of reception.

When booking a table at the Sky Garden bar, you will be allocated to Sky Pod or City Garden Bar based on availability.

  • Sky Pod Bar – relaxed indoor bar serving a small range of all-day dining options, as well as evening cocktails
  • City Garden Bar – cocktails with a view at this east-facing bar Fenchurch Terrace – elegant space on level 37
  • Fenchurch Restaurant – serving contemporary British cuisine on the 37th Floor
  • Darwin Brasserie – overlooking the Thames on Level 36, this all-day dining location serves weekend breakfast and brunch
  • Larch Restaurant – classic Italian dishes made with seasonal British produce
atrium with large glass windows looking out to londons skyscapers

Whatever time of day you visit the Sky Garden, London, you can’t go far wrong.

Thanks to tight regulation of visitor numbers, there are no busy or quiet times of day as such. And as tickets are usually in high demand, you may need to accept the available time slot.
 
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 shooed out by 6 pm, this option is only available during the shorter days of winter (or if you decide to dine here).

The Sky Garden may offer some of the best views of London but these are tricky to capture on your camera. Tripods are not allowed.

Reflections in the building’s windows can impair the quality of photographs, particularly if the direction of the sun is against you. Hold your lens as close to the glass as possible to minimise glare and reflections (phones are better for this than cameras).

panoramic view of the rooftops of london with river and towers of canary wharf
The best I could do!

5. Beware of inclement weather

You need to head to the Sky Garden’s outdoor terrace for the best views of London.  

However, London’s weather is notoriously fickle and this terrace is open to the elements. The building’s security reserves the right to close the terrace due to inclement weather conditions without warning.

outdoor terrace of sky garden london overlooking the river thames
Outdoor terrace of Sky Garden, London

My Visit to the Sky Garden

I visited the Sky Garden on a sunny day in September. Although it had been on my radar for some time, I was never organised enough to book a ticket and when one became available I jumped at the chance to visit.

For me, the main reason for visiting the Sky Garden was to have London laid out like a model town in front of me. Its garden was a welcome bonus.

After passing through an airport-style security check, I took the lift to the 35th Floor. My first view was looking south over the river with The Shard taking centre stage in all of its splintered splendour.

aerial view of river thames with pointy shard building

To the north, the City’s skyscrapers – The Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and NatWest Tower dutifully lined up like chess pieces in a row.

kyscrapers through the curved windows of sky garden london framed by palm trees

Looking to the east, there was the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, one of London’s most iconic bridges. They resembled toy town models, laid out in brilliant clarity.

river thames and tower bridge

Beyond this, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf stood in a solemn procession. To the west, it was easy to pick out Christopher Wren’s dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral with the BT Tower in the distance.

the dome of st pauls cathedral london and city streets from the sky garden

But the Sky Garden is more than just a viewpoint. The clue is in “Garden”.

The greenery in the Sky Garden itself was 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.

When I visited, there were majestic palm fronds, African lilies and birds of paradise (the non-feathered variety) alongside fragrant herbs such as French Lavender and Rosemary.

people walking down curved steps in sky garden with lush ferns and curved glass window and ceiling

How to Get to the Sky Garden, London

The visitor entrance to the Sky Garden is on Philpot Lane, at the southwest corner of 20 Fenchurch Street (look for signs at the ground level of the building).
 
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.

The Sky Garden vs. the View From The Shard

Soaring to a height of almost 310 meters above the River Thames, The Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom (and the seventh-tallest in Europe). It is home to The View from The Shard, the highest viewing platform in London.

Like the Sky Garden, The View From The Shard offers 360-degree views of London. But due to its higher vantage point, it has an edge when it comes to those killer views of London.

aerial view from the shard of the river thames and 4 of its bridges

The very large fly in the ointment is that these views are usually attached to a hefty ticket price.

Although you need to book ahead, entrance to the Sky Garden is free. And with its lush vegetation, it is also more than just a viewing platform with a few bars and restaurants.

In an ideal world, I recommend visiting both The Shard and the Sky Garden. But if you want to save money and can book in advance, I’d plump for the Sky Garden.

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman is a Londoner and has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.