When visiting urban centres with the kids, finding the best view of the city tends to be high on our list. By high I mean high above the city, like from the One Liberty Observation Deck in Philadelphia or the Empire States Building in New York City. But these views usually come with a price. When visiting the UK we found the best scenic view for free in London.
Twenty Fenchurch Street is home to the Sky Garden, on the 35th floor of the 38 story building. The building is referred to as the walkie-talkie for its innovative design but it’s large curved top had us thinking more of the Bugs Bunny cartoon character Gosamer. A trip up to the Sky Garden is free but in order to keep the crowds down you need to book your one hour time slot in advance online. We grabbed a 10 a.m. slot on a Thursday, looking to avoid the evening and weekend crowds.
The poor security guards at the entrance, constantly fielding questions on the entrance to the Sky Garden (which by the way is around the backside of the building when we visited due to lobby construction). Be sure to bring a print out of your entrance confirmation and it’s recommended that you arrive about an hour before your slotted time. Even picking our early morning visit midweek, there was still a line-up to enter the building.
After passing security (I was told to remove the mic on my camera before entering the building), we took an express elevator up to the 25th floor. As we stepped off the elevator and turned to the right, we were hit with an expansive lobby like area surrounded by glass. It was jaw dropping.
The Best View for Free in London
The amount of light and airiness of the space was like entering a large cathedral. Set back from the view is a main bar as you entered the space. Here you could grab a drink such as a tea or coffee and they had an assortment of delicious looking pastries. Should you arrive later in the day you could partake in a handcrafted cocktail. Scattered around this open lobby area beyond the bar were clusters of seating and tables to enjoy our morning snack.
To the front of you is a wall of windows that overlook the outdoor terrace but if you were to turn around, facing the elevator bay you would see the area flanked by lush greenery climbing up and toward the back of the building. Head for the stairs on either side to take you up to the next level. As you climb these stairs you can look out to the city below, seeing the London Eye to the right and Tower Bridge to the left.
You’ll find more seating on the second floor, giving you a view of the city behind the Sky Garden. Key landmarks are indicated on the window as you walk around. There’s also a second bar on this level so no need to head down stairs.
Walking up the stairs, around the back, and down the stairs on the other side gives you a complete 360 degree view around the building with the atrium style walls and glass all around. Even surrounded by glass we didn’t feel really hot but rather comfortable. The public areas are naturally ventilated so while it was comfortable for our visit, other days may feel cooler.
Enjoy the Garden in the Sky for Free in London
In case you think you’ve reached the top, there is an additional level you. Behind the City Garden Bar on the second floor your’ll find a subtle stairway to the side taking you up to the Fenchurch Restaurant but also the Fenchurch Terrace. This upper area with it’s couches gives you a birds eye view of the lower lobby area and an even different perspective to the city through the windows below and around.
While the view from the various levels of the Sky Garden is spectacular you have to venture out on the Francis Golding Terrace should the weather allow. Being outside offers a different feeling, touching your senses in a different way. We were lucky enough to catch Tower Bridge, a drawbridge, opening to let a boat pass through. Seeing it from the terrace offered a perspective not available from anywhere else.
Our visit in the morning meant slightly less crowds though we did have to wait a little before entering the building. We spent about an hour touring the Sky Garden and taking in the city from various points of view. Although visiting in the morning gave us time to explore the city that afternoon and evening but I can only image how spectacular the view would in the evening while watching the sun sets over the city.
If you’re looking for something free in London to do with the kids, a trip to the Sky Garden for the best scenic view is a must. You can view our video below to get a sense of what our morning was like:
You can take a walkthrough our London apartment here.