Tips on Visiting the Shard, London for Free – It was the Sunday morning of my weekend in London so my money was kinda … well … spent and I wanted to visit the Shard as it seemed to glint at me wherever I went. I checked the prices and for a solo adult to visit the viewing platform it came in at £25.95, a child was £19.95. I just didn’t want to spend that much to essentially look out a window, so here’s how to visit as cheaply as possible.
1 – Decide How High Do you Want to Spy.To get to London’s highest viewing platform (Levels 68, 69 and 72) at the top of Western Europe’s tallest building you have to pay the big bucks, but rather than going to the very top how does Level 31 sound? You still get amazing views of London within the iconic Shard, experience great food and drink, a relaxed ambience and save pennies at the same time. On Level 31 is AquaShard, a luxurious bar and restaurant you can visit for free. If this interests you read on.
2 – Turn up at an off peak time. If a venue is busy then guests with reservations will obviously be prioritised over solo travellers with two buttons to rub together. I arrived at 1130 on a Sunday morning and AquaShard was virtually empty – my custom was welcome.
3 – Dress the part. Just because you don’t want to spend a lot doesn’t mean that the Shard isn’t a upmarket establishment. The dress code is ‘smart casual. Aqua Shard regret that entry will not be allowed to those wearing shorts, flip flops, sports kit or sports shoes’. My gold plimsolls got a few glimpses which made me realise that I probably was breaking a dress code I hadn’t anticipated but thankfully the rest of my attire was smart and I got away with it. My ‘sports shoes’ were clearly a fashion statement rather than for sporting use – I realise this sums me up in so many ways. My visit was spontaneous and unplanned but I feel I was very lucky to get access, and I probably only did because I visited when the building was so quiet.
4 – Go to the Bar – Once you’re in the AquaShard you can see if there’s capacity for having brunch – the set menu is £48. This sounds a delightful treat, and there was one table available when I arrived, but this was beyond my budget. Thankfully the Bar at AquaShard ‘operates on a walk in basis only, no reservations are taken. Entry is subject to capacity’. Basically that means you’re in the Shard for free. Da-da!
5 – Order a Drink – now that you’re in the Shard without having paid a penny you’re able to take your photographs, enjoy the views and soak in the atmosphere. But when you go to a bar you do have to have a drink, I’m not suggesting you skulk about trying to avoid the courteous staff. Coffee and tea aren’t for sale as they’re part of the brunch menu so I was handed a drinks menu. Beer comes in at around £6.50, not bad at all for London prices, wine was around the £8 mark upwards and I noticed a Sancerre for £10.50. Strangely there is no prosecco or sparkling wine offering except champagne. Because I hadn’t spent thirty quid on entry and I’m so rarely in London I treated myself to a Veuve Cliquot (the online menu lists this as £14.50 but it was £16). It was bliss.
It was a lovely experience. The bar staff even photo-bombed my image of the bar with a thumbs-up so they clearly have a sense of humour. Is £29.95 too much to visit the viewing platform? I don’t know, I can’t say I’ve been to the top of Western Europe’s tallest building so I can’t be one to judge. I totally understand if people feel the whole point of the Shard is getting to the highest point. What I do know is that I don’t for a second feel I missed out. Having two tiny children, Mr Toddler and Mr Baby, spending a morning to myself sipping bubbles was a fabulous break. And yes, I’d rather spend money on champagne but each to their own.
The Lowdown – I flew from Aberdeen to Heathrow with British Airways and returned London City to Aberdeen with FlyBe. If you are visiting the Shard with children please bear mind that in relation to AquaShard ‘children, (under 18,) are not permitted in the bar after 6pm and therefore the last entry time to the bar for children is 5pm. Children are welcome in the restaurant at all times when accompanied by an adult’. I did see a lot of children about to have family brunches and they looked delighted with themselves. Happy travels.