On a cold but sunny Friday in London – the last official day of the kids’ half term, we had nothing planned. Panic had almost set in, but on a friend’s recommendation, we decided to visit the Sky Garden. It’s billed as one of the top places to go to for some stunning views of London and best of all, it’s free.
You have to pre-book tickets for allocated times, with slots released online on a weekly basis for bookings up to three weeks in advance. Leaving it so late in the day, it was no surprise that the allocated slots were fully booked but with the venue also welcoming walk-ins, we decided to try our luck – and prove to our 7- and 8-year old that’s there’s nothing more exciting than a spontaneous family outing!
If you are lucky – or organised enough to bag tickets in advance, you’ll need to confirm the names of each ticket holder at the time of booking and bring ID. Children don’t require ID but those under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 years or over and one adult can bring a maximum of three children with them.
Located at 20 Fenchurch Street in the heart of the City of London, Sky Garden spans three floors and is housed in a 38-storey building, dubbed the ‘walkie-talkie’ because of its distinctive, unusual design. It’s easily accessible via public transport, with the nearest tube, Monument, just a few minutes walk away, while Tower Hill, Tower Gate, Aldgate, Bank and Mansion House are around a 10-minute walk.
At the time we visited, around 2pm, the queue – a mix of those with tickets and walk-ins, was long, stretching all the way outside, but much to our delight, we only waited 10 minutes before entering. Being in the queue is an experience in itself – the kids were easily entertained, trying to take pictures of the towering building above on our phones. Once inside, you have to pass through airport-style security screening but this was seamlessly done with very welcoming and attentive staff. We were then ushered towards the lift that whizzed us up to the first level on the 35th floor – your ears might even pop!
Stepping out of the lift, we entered a massive lobby with tables, chairs and more relaxed sofa-style seats surrounding a bar, food area and the plants. The star attraction – besides the plants, is an outdoor terrace lining one side – the place to head to for views of London’s skyline with plenty of photo opportunities – note that selfie sticks are (thankfully) banned! It was pretty much heaving while we were there but such is the layout – both inside and on the expansive outdoor terrace, that it never felt crowded. You can wander freely all the way around the 35th floor and the kids loved going full circle several times, before heading up the stairs – positioned at both sides of the ‘lobby’, to the next level for some more viewing time. The stairs are lined with plants and there are platforms you can wander across so you can really immerse yourself in all the greenery.
My 7-year-old son is fascinated more by London landmarks than by plants and had bought his binoculars, but these were quickly discarded in favour of the telescopes dotted around, all free to use. Both kids loved spotting some of London’s most iconic landmarks, such as the London Eye, Big Ben, the Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge.
If you need to pause for a snack – and let’s face it, who doesn’t with kids, there are plenty of options to suit all tastes and budgets. The kids enjoyed an impromptu afternoon tea of muffins, lemon cake and hot chocolate while we opted for early cocktails. If you want to make a day of it on the weekend, the Darwin brasserie on the 36th floor features a weekend brunch with starters, main course and dessert – kids will love the unlimited starters and desserts from the buffet.
Our only gripe was the long queues for the toilets but it did the job in making the kids think twice about asking for another drink!