In a city not known for its skyscrapers, the public opening of The Shard on February 1 was almost a drumbeat for the transformation of London’s traditionally low-rise skyline. Designed by the celebrated architect Renzo Piano, the 310-meter tower is, for now at least, the tallest building in Western Europe. Hopes are high—if you’ll excuse the pun—that the steeple-shaped Shard, elegant in its gleaming sheath of glass, will inject the south side of the Thames with a jolt of energy by pulling in both locals and tourists alike.
While a Shangri-La hotel is slated to open on the building’s 34th to 52nd floors later this year, for now, the main attraction is an observation platform dubbed the View from The Shard (44/844-499-7111; theviewfromtheshard.com; adult tickets about US$40). Getting up there is half the fun. After passing through a corridor lined with comic montages of famous Britons (is that Prince Charles judging a sand-castle competition?), you are whisked by a high-speed elevator to the 33nd floor at an ear-popping six meters per second, where you transfer to a second lift for the ride to the 68th floor. Just in case the ascent isn’t already sufficiently dramatic, a special composition recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra provides a stirring soundtrack.
Nothing, however, prepares you for the jaw-dropping vistas from the main viewing gallery, one flight of stairs up: on a clear day, the panorama stretches as far as 65 kilometers in every direction, even from the bathrooms. Digital telescopes can help you zero in on more than 200 landmarks, including Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, while those seeking an even giddier vantage can head up to the 72nd-floor open-air deck. At 244 meters above street level, it offers the British capital’s most elevated experience. -Daven Wu
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of DestinAsian (“Getting to the Point”)