Are there better ways to see London than paying the View from the Shard prices? It turns out that visiting the Shard instead may be one. This can seem a little paradoxical until you realize that the View from the Shard is not the only area within The Shard open to the public. While The View on the 72nd floor may be the highest one, The Shard has a number of bars and restaurants on lower floors (about 32nd) which also offer fantastic views of parts of the city for only the cost of a drink.
The other day, as the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo blew out over London and the sun was setting, I went to explore this with a friend. Arriving at the entrance, next to the Shangri-la Hotel, we were met by security personnel, who will turn you away if you do not meet the dress code. Once inside it is an ear-poppingly brief, 10 second lift ride up to the 32nd floor, where yet more security will ask you about your business before you can head for the bars and restaurants.
Aqua Shard Bar and Restaurant
Walking through some doors, the first thing to greet you is the three-storey high atrium of the Aqua Shard bar and restaurants. The bar is quite amazing, with a stunning views over the City of London. Around the room are various tables and chairs.
Aqua Shard is open from 3pm when they serve afternoon tea until about 5pm. A 'simple classic' afternoon tea will set you back £34, or £45 if you add champagne. As can be seen from the menu, this classic tea includes quite a bit to eat. During the winter, getting an afternoon table will also naturally include sunset views over London. From 5pm onwards the area becomes a cocktail bar.
While most of the Aqua Shard Bar faces north, over the City of London, the Aqua Shard restaurant faces west, giving great views up the river towards Westminster, The London Eye and over St Paul's Cathedral. Virtually all of the tables for two are right next to the massive windows, so intimate diners actually have the best views. Most of the main courses will set you back about £30, so I guess an evening dining here plus wine will probably come in around £80 per head or so.
Heading up a level will take you to the very Chinese themed Hutong Bar and restaurants. I found the bar quite dark and small, less than one story high once the ceiling decorations were installed. There are a few tables and chairs, but you have to get in quite early to get hold of one. Naturally, people come in as fast as they can after work to try to get one for the sunset views. Like the Aqua Bar, this Hutong Bar faces north though you can also see east towards Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf.
Thankfully, the bar staff will not harass you to order more, and it is easy to relax here with a glass of wine for an hour or so taking in the changing scene of London at sunset. Wine starts at about £7 per glass, but budget for about £10 once service is included. That may seem expensive, but compared to the £25 View from the Shard Price, or many other bars in London, probably not so. So relax, and enjoy the changing views, or watch people scurrying around the trains of London Bridge far below like something out of a model railway.
And where else in London do the toilets have full length window views of London from the 33rd floor? Placing the urinals facing the glass is an interesting touch. I liked the lanterns decorating the wall next to the Hutong Restaurant.
The Hutong Restaurant faces east, giving views over Tower Bridge and the Docklands. Food here is based on the dishes that used to be served in the imperial palaces of what was then Peking in the Shandong Province of Northern China.
These are but a two of the reaturants in The Shard. If you have a bit more money to spend, then why not book a table in the GŎNG, on the 52nd floor, billed as "the perfect place for sunset cocktails and late-night drinks". You may still be 20 floors below The View from the Shard experience, but will have much more comfortable surroundings and a glass of wine for about half the price.
My conclusion, then, was that it is indeed possible to get excellent views over London without visiting The View from the Shard. Simply visit the one of the bars in the Shard instead. Just check out the London weather before you go.
For more pictures from The Shard, see my Shard Ablum on Flickr.
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