Simon Calder: Look sharp if you want a Shard sunset

The man who pays his way

The train just arriving at platform 16 of London Bridge station has been on a journey of less than 40 minutes – yet it has touched all four compass points. The service begins in West Croydon, and snakes through the suburbs pausing, in the correct order of rotation, at North Dulwich, East Dulwich and South Bermondsey.

Emerge from the ticket barrier at the terminus and you pass a sequence of enterprises that begins predictably enough: M&S Simply Food, Upper Crust, Caffe Nero. Suddenly, up pops the tallest building in Western Europe. New arrivals at London Bridge now have the choice of descending to the Jubilee or Northern Line, or ascending to the 72nd floor of the Shard. Last weekend, Britain acquired another tourist attraction in the exquisite shape of a glass and steel pyramid rising from the concourse of London Bridge station. The View from the Shard is the latest landmark on the tourist's globe. But is it the greatest? On opening day, I set out to find out.

The Shard transforms London's skyline for the better. But it could also transform your finances for the worse. By any measure you choose, this is the most expensive "altitude experience" in the world. Turn up on the day and book the next available tour, and you pay £29.95. Children aged 4-15 are £23.95. If you consider your personal wealth entitles you to jump the queue, £100 will buy immediate access – with no child reduction. With the viewing platform 800ft high, that is a rate of just 8ft for every £1 – an "altitude index" 10 times as expensive as nearby competitor, the Eiffel Tower.

To be fair, the View from the Shard strongly recommends booking in advance, and gives a fiver discount if you do. So I booked for the 5pm sunset slot and paid £24.95. Even at this, the cheapest option, each £1 buys just 32ft of latitude. The only altitude attractions close to that rate are the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Empire State Building in New York, where £1 translates to 40ft and 44ft respectively. Better value is offered by Tokyo's Sky Tree and the CN Tower in Toronto, both at 67ft per £1. For the best deal of all, go to Houston's JP Morgan Chase Tower. No barriers, no charge. Just take the lift to the 60th floor, walk to the picture window and see Texas laid out before you. On a clear day you may feel you can see to the end of the world, or at least the end of Texas; many Texans equate the two.

Shard and froideur

The Shard company promises a "premium quality experience with no waiting and no queues". In fact, just as at the Disney theme parks, my ticket was a qualification to queue. I joined the line at 4.40pm, and spent the next half-hour discovering a new term: Shard and froideur. I define it as shivering in the queue for a tall, sharp building, but it could also mean the pleasure that others in the line – at least those wise enough to have worn warm clothing – derived from my snuffling.

The security check is so airport-style that even the laptops-out rule is enforced. Then you take one lift to the 33rd floor and a second to the 67th. When you step out of the lift you see a vast pane of opaque glass. This is deliberate, to avoid the risk that jaw-dropping visitors will stand and stare rather than climbing one storey to the main viewing platform on the 68th floor – which, an hour after starting to queue, with the sun long set, I finally reached. And immediately cheered up.

London is suddenly unlocked by the Shard. This is a city view like no other, because London is a capital like no other. A lone colony of high-rises pops up to the east, in the shape of Canary Wharf. St Paul's looks dainty. The London Eye is distinct, but distinctly low rise. To the left, you see a new sight – a crescent of sapphire light at the top of the Perspective Building, the former headquarters of MI6. The spymasters' high-rise hideaway is now spied upon by every tourist in town.

Step up to the 72nd floor – partially open to the elements – and you get the freshest of perspectives, and to see how the arteries of the capital are constantly flowing. Yet there are no freeways, just streets radiating out on the ancient, straggly street plan defined by the centuries. What strikes you most about the View from the Shard is that London is a vast city on a human scale.

Sign of the times

From 800ft, it seems inconceivable that you are standing above a scruffy corner of Southwark that, five years ago, was a building site. Today, as you discover when you descend, it's a scruffy corner of Southwark that is currently a building site. Any hope that the Shard would help to boost the area are dashed by the official contractor's warning sign: "Sorry for an enconvenience. Padestrian access temperory closed."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power