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."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Romelu Lukaku
sportChelsea striker sends second teasing tweet of the day
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series