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.

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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.

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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.

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Views of St Paul’s

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!

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AquaShard Bar

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.

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Getting a thumbs up from the staff

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.

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Views of Tower Bridge

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33 Comments

  1. Reply

    joylovestravel

    June 30, 2016

    I’m with you on this one – the views look great and if you have champagne, well that’s even better!! We’ve never been up the Shard, the price put me off to be honest but never thought of doing it like this – great tips.

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      June 30, 2016

      The Shard is quite spectacular but, yes, add champagne and you’ve got a happy lady!

  2. Reply

    pigeonpairandme

    June 30, 2016

    I’d rather spend the money on champagne too! I haven’t been up the Shard yet. Really must try it out soon.

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      June 30, 2016

      It was wonderfully civilised and a real treat for me having some time to myself. Hope you get there soon.

  3. Reply

    fifi + hop

    July 1, 2016

    Nice tips if we ever make it there – have to say that bar looks awesome!

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 3, 2016

      Even more awesome without my delightful angelic little children 🙂

  4. Reply

    California Globetrotter

    July 5, 2016

    I wish I had known about this before May 2015! We dished out the money to go up to the top! 🙁 And we had made an appointment time to go up and on the day we were supposed to go up, it was raining cats and dogs and the fog was so terrible I knew we wouldn’t be able to see anything. Finally, they let us rebook our appointment for 2 days later, which ended up having great weather! #CityTripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 5, 2016

      That was good of them to let you rebook. The reason I wrote this was I was googling the heck out of ‘Shard’ ‘Free’ and not getting very far so I thought I’d turn up, ask the questions, find the answers, write the post!
      Good news that the sun shone for you the second time around.

      • Reply

        California Globetrotter

        July 5, 2016

        Well I wouldn’t mind going up again next time so I will definitely keep this in mind!

        • Reply

          tots2travel

          July 5, 2016

          Aquashard is a very nice bar!

  5. Reply

    katy@untoldmorsels

    July 5, 2016

    Level 31 suits me just fine! Thanks for an excellent tip #citytripping

  6. Reply

    Ahila

    July 5, 2016

    Lovely to see that you enjoyed your visit to Level 31. The views look great. I lived 5 mins or so from the Shard last summer but did not know till I was about to leave that one could go to Aqua Shard for free, besides ordering a drink of course, instead of having to pay a lot to go to the top floor. #CityTripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 5, 2016

      I’m not saying it’s the same as going to the top but it was good enough for me, in fact you got great views of key London attractions which would obviously only get smaller the higher you went. Lovely destination.

  7. Reply

    Mellissa Williams

    July 5, 2016

    I’m bookmarking this as I want to go when we visit later on in the year. I would love to eat and have cocktails at the Aqua Shard, it looks amazing #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 5, 2016

      That’s great. I have no issues spending money on treats, and the brunch would have been a lovely treat but as I was on my own I went for the budget option!

  8. Reply

    Tanja

    July 5, 2016

    this is a great tip! I wish you wrote it before my last trip to London, I did sky garden!:) yes, it’s a lot of money for the Shard:) #city tripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 5, 2016

      I did the Sky Garden too – think I got an ‘ascend all tall things’ vibe going on that weekend.

      • Reply

        Tanja

        July 5, 2016

        🙂 I I like towers and viewpoints too:)

  9. Reply

    WanderMum

    July 5, 2016

    You are definitely my kind of gal! Champers all the way! I recently went to Hutong (one more level up) for lunch and it was brilliant. You can just have a drink at the bar there too (if I hadn’t been pregnant I’d have been getting on the fizz). I haven’t been to the top of the Shard so I can’t vouch for the views there but you could see plenty from those levels! I like the get there early tip…it was fairly quiet when we went there for lunch on a Sunday. Thanks for linking to #citytripping and great to meet you at BML! xx

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 7, 2016

      I know! That’s why I totally understood when you dashed off for bubbles at bml16. Hutong was shut when I arrived so know idea what it’s like but those levels, whilst not ‘the top’, have fantastic views of London and are so civilised.

  10. Reply

    Ruth

    July 6, 2016

    This is brilliant! This is the kind of insider knowledge I like. I would not mind soaking the views from that gorgeous bar. And, the staff seems pretty cool! What else you can ask for?

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 7, 2016

      Great. It was really nice that the bar was relatively quiet, a lot to be said for Sunday morning exploring.

  11. Reply

    aandj8804

    July 6, 2016

    Awesome post! And great photos! I’m definitely going to be saving this post for later. As an unplanned visit, I imagine I would probably be breaking the dress code in some way too. It’s much easier to abide by rules when you have a plan.

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 7, 2016

      Yes, it wasn’t planned. Overall I was looking smart, you know when you wear plimsolls to tone down a dress for a daytime look, it was Sunday morning after all, so I think staff often take your the whole picture into account. Hope you can visit soon.

  12. Reply

    MummyTravels

    July 6, 2016

    That’s a clever idea – I’ve done similar at other tall buildings to skip queues (Toronto’s CN Tower has a separate entrance if you have a table in the restaurant and you needn’t pay entry) but I think enjoying the views over a drink has to be the nicest way to do it. Those prices are steep even for London though! Thanks for joining up with #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 7, 2016

      There’s some destinations which will always be a treat and you know you’ll spend a little extra but it’s just budgeting what works for you. At the end of bml16 I felt I’d had enough treats but had room for a little champagne. I’ll bear in mind the Toronto tip too.

  13. Reply

    Cultural Wednesday

    July 7, 2016

    Top tip! We have a week when both children are away on school trips, I can feel a grown up outing coming on.
    #CityTripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 10, 2016

      Go for it! A great location to spoil yourself.

  14. Reply

    tinboxtraveller

    July 8, 2016

    Great tip fort visiting the Shard Janice! We thought about it when we stayed in London in April but we decided it was far to expensive, especially when the kids are so young. It never occurred to us to go half way up and still enjoy the experience. What a great way to enjoy your Sunday afternoon! #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      July 10, 2016

      Hope you get to visit (a little more cheaply) next time you’re down.

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