London is great for many reasons, a big one (in my eyes) is the fact that so many things are free; The V and A, The British Museum, The Natural History Museum (to name a few) and also, The Sky Garden. Located in ‘The City’ which misleadingly, is a small area of London near Liverpool Street station, it is at the top of an office building known affectionately as ‘The Walkie Talkie’.
The Sky Garden (tagline: ‘London’s Highest Public Garden’) is free to book, you just have to get in early with the bookings online – they release them the week before, so keep an eye out. Top tip: if The Sky Garden itself is booked up, often the cafes/restaurants/bars within it, are available and also free to book. This is exactly what happened to us, so we booked an early morning trip to the Sky Pod Bar (for a cup of tea, not alcohol, I promise).
A few people have given it bad reviews and honestly, I can kind of see why. On the logistics and organisational side, it is a bit of a nightmare; upon arrival, its all a bit of a mess. I happened to follow two people that looked like they might be going to the Sky Garden and lucky for me, it turned out my guesswork was correct but otherwise, I think I would have been a bit lost. The building itself is easy to see but there is more than one entrance to the building; the main one on the opposite side to the visitors entrance to the Sky Garden, which is at the back.
Once there, the queuing system is confusing and not very well organised; you have to go through a full on security check, which is completely understandable, but takes an absolute age. Then (at least this was my experience) when you actually make it to the top, there is no one there to greet you. I mean, this actually worked out quite well for me but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I had booked into the Sky Pod Bar because there were no slots available in the Sky Garden itself and so, I assumed they would be desperate to ensure that people doing that actually had a seat and were so inclined to buy something from them… Nope. No seats were allocated (that I could see) and there were no staff around at all, in fact I walked in with everyone else and was treated no differently.
Naomi, Hamilton and I had agreed already that we wanted to get a cup of tea and therefore were prepared to do so whether or not they expected us to but really, you don’t have to (I think it was a fiver for tea and a pastry by the way, which to me is pretty normal prices – I assumed that they would want to hugely hike up the cost of drinks because people would be willing to pay it but surprisingly they didn’t). So basically, unless we got there on a very strange day where they were massively understaffed or something had gone wrong, if you book in at the Sky Pod Bar as opposed to the Garden, it makes no odds. Just do as you please – it is situated in the middle of the Sky Garden itself, so anyone can grab food/drinks from there. This also means that if you’re just a straight up Sky Garden visitor, you too can buy drinks. I understand the general idea behind it but I do feel it makes a mockery of the whole time slot booking thing.
I guess in that way I don’t know why I’m moaning – I got the same access as The Sky Garden visitors even though I wasn’t meant to. I suppose it’s just that I found the whole thing quite misleading and not the relaxing setting I assumed it would be – because the bar isn’t separate at all, it’s quite busy and loud. If you’re looking for a quieter experience, there are other restaurants within the space (Fenchurch Restaurant / Darwin Brasserie / City Garden Bar) that looked more serene than where we were.
Aside from all that though, the space is nice. It of course has big glass windows and plants around, and as a result is super Instagrammable. The views around it are lovely – one thing that I always think when going up big buildings is how its a shame you can’t see the building you’re in, well the space itself definitely adds something here and you can see lots of famous landmarks from it – the Thames, the Shard etc. It’s also a great place to gawk at people’s fancy roof tops, where there are often people doing yoga/generally enjoying their lux lifestyle. They also do yoga events themselves up there, which would be pretty amazing. On that note, I found out the other day that you can do yoga in the London Eye sometimes. I haven’t done it myself but just while I was on the topic, thought it was worth a mention.
Basically, if you’re willing to endure the slightly nightmarish queuing system and the strange slot booking fetish they have, its a nice experience. We stayed for way longer than we intended to because the queue back down was long (ah, their lovely queues), got some nice pictures and drank a solid amount of tea.
I give it a 7/10 overall because even though its a pain in the bum, it is still free and a cool way to see the city.
P.S. This is petty but it isn’t a warm botanical garden. No one told me it was going to be this was just an assumption on my part. But… Yeh it’s cold, bring a jacket.