London Drum

Visit the Sky Garden’s viewing platform and see London’s skyline amongst the tropical plants

Sky Garden
Where? Sky Garden, 1 Sky Garden Walk, The City · Web: Opening times? 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Fri); 11 AM to 9 PM (Sat-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing Visiting hours may change Price? Free Time required? A typical visit is 1 hour (but more if you plan to stop and eat in the restaurant) Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 25, 35, 40, 47, 48, 149, 344 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Monument Circle District Other nearby stations: Bank, Cannon Street and Tower Hill Train fares

Craig’s review… I used to think of this place as the Palm House at Kew, five hundred feet in the sky, but now I think of it as one of those giant sci-fi cities in the clouds. This is how we’ll all be living soon, enclosed in a giant bio-dome.

The security is always super tight at the Sky Garden. First of all you have to book a time slot on their website, then print off your free ticket, then flash them some ID, then tip all your clattering coins into their lap-tray by the scanner – in goes my phone and wallet but I must have missed something because all of the alarms have gone off, so I get patted down and sent back through the machine and beep beep beep, all the flashing lights go off again so he pats me down properly this time, and jokes that it must have been the fillings in my teeth.

The viewing level on the 35th floor

Once I’ve made it past the scanners and the cold hands of the security staff I’m shuffled into a little lift with ten tourists all wondering what they’re about to see. Their faces are the usual mix of wonderment and puzzlement as the door slides shut and the numbers start whizzing up to 10, 20, 30 – when’s it going to stop?

The viewing level and cafe on the 35th floorPhoto: Craig Cross
The viewing level and cafe on the 35th floor

When you step out onto the 35th floor you’re straight into a scatter of tables and chairs and people drinking Pimms and Pernod. They’ve got a posh bar up here selling cocktails and bottles of Dom Pérignon for 250 quid a pop and the busy floor looks like a cross between a business meeting and an airport departure lounge – half of us are tourists and the other half are suits. Half of us are sitting here with a kid or a camera, and the other half are dictating diktats to their ponytailed PAs.

Tropical plants at the Sky Garden

Tropical plants at the Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
Tropical plants at the Sky Garden

The greenhouse garden is what everyone comes to see but it’s just a giant rockery really, like an avalanche of mud down either side, planted with palms and tropical trees. It’s never very colourful when I’ve seen it before, just a load of rubbery green leaves and peeling trees, but the plants are looking jungle lush this morning.

They’ve got fiery red flowers and huge tubular blooms with giant white feathers, all decorated with purple pebbles and a bark carpet of wood chippings. What they need are a few pipes pumping in a drizzle of mist to make it look like a rainforest.

View of London’s skyline

The front window at the Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
The front window at the Sky Garden

But the garden is just a sideshow compared to the view outside. The front window is absolutely ginormous. The best way I can describe it is this: imagine looking through a see-through cliff-face at the sky behind. It really is that impressive. If you’re lucky then you’ll be able to walk through the revolving door onto the open-air balcony where I’m always expecting to get my teeth sucked out of my mouth in a swirling vortex of wind, but it’s surprisingly serene today. The last time I came here they weren’t letting anybody out because it was too windy, but there’s hardly even a breeze this morning.

The outside balcony at the Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
The outside balcony at the Sky Garden

Let me rattle off a list of landmarks and you can award yourself a point each time you find one – Front window: City Hall and Southwark Cathedral are pretty easy, but Big Ben and The Monument might take you a little longer.

View of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
View of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye from the Sky Garden

West window: Try and find St. Paul’s to start with because that’s ridiculously easy, then Cleopatra’s Needle (still easy), and the Bank of England, Globe Theatre and London Eye (easy, easy, easy). You might have to give your eyes a quick polish to find Nelson’s Column and the arch of Wembley Stadium – well done if you manage to spot those. If you know London really well then try and find the Old Bailey and the Royal Courts of Justice.

From this height the river almost looks solid, like a sheet of shining steel, and the tops of the office blocks are littered with all sorts of solar panels, satellite dishes, air-conditioning fans and flags, pipes and vents. Some of them have got gardens and greenery on top, and I can even see a few trees where the chimneys used to be.

View of Tower Bridge and the Tower of LondonPhoto: Craig Cross
View of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London

East window: This is my favourite window in all of London because you get a fantastic view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London from here – you can see all of the crenelated walls and pick out the barracks and chapel and Bloody Tower. After that you can follow the bend of the river all the way round the Isle of Dogs and skyscrapers at Canary Wharf, to the runway at London City Airport.

View of The Shard and London Bridge from the Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
View of The Shard and London Bridge from the Sky Garden

You can’t see much out of the south window because there’s a solid wall of skyscrapers rising up behind it.

A final tip: there’s still one more level above the main one if you want to climb even higher. If you walk around to the west window and look behind the plants you’ll see a flight of stairs leading up to the Fenchurch restaurant. It looks out of bounds to non-diners but they don’t mind people standing on their terrace.

Worth a visit? Value for money? freeGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try London Eye (catch a tube from Monument to Waterloo); One New Change (walk it in 12 mins or travel from Monument to St Pauls via tube) and The Shard (you can walk it 10 mins). Or maybe you’d like to see a proper greenhouse at Kew Gardens?

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon. This review was updated on

Your comments and questions

J1960 Will definitely visit next time I visit family. Thank you,

Simon369 Are dogs allowed on a lead?

Craig Hi Simon. It doesn't look like it, no. This is what they say on their website: "Pets and other animals are not allowed into the Sky Garden, except for Guide Dogs" -​faqs-search/​

Sajid The sky garden has got one of the best view of London. It is amazing to see at the sunset. It is free, and worth to be visited. I have some of my best shots there.

Eunice My son and I will visit Sky Garden this summer. Can we sit and eat a snack at cafe without making a reservation? We do not drink alcohol, can we still sit at the bar or is it ok to sit at the bar for a teenager? Thank you.

Craig Hi Eunice. You don't need a reservation for the bar in front of the big window. They sell tea, coffee and other non alcoholic stuff. They've got a completely separate restaurant up there as well which might need a reservation, depending on how busy it is. But remember that you still need to book a ticket to get into the Sky Garden itself. They won't let you in if you just turn up on the day. All you need to do is book a free time slot on their website, and remember to take some ID with you as well, because they'll check that.

Eunice Thank you for responding to me

isla Must you book in advance to visit the sky garden

Craig Hi Isla. You do, yes. You have to book a time slot on their website before you go, which is free. Then you either print off the ticket or show it on your phone. If you just turn up at the door without a ticket they won't let you in.

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