The Sky Garden | A Free Alternative to the Shard
This post covers how to visit the Sky Garden, London’s free observation deck, including information on hours, directions, where to eat, and other things to do. The Sky Garden is 1 of our top 10 free things to do in London and is located near the end of our Old City of London Tour.
Londoners have a habit of naming buildings after the items we think they look like (The Gherkin, The Cheese Grater, etc.) and the Walkie Talkie is another to add to the list! A commercial skyscraper in the City of London, the actual name of the building is 20 Fenchurch Street. The distinctive shape of the building, which is larger at the top than at the bottom, has led to the nickname ‘Walkie Talkie.’ The building has been a hotly debated construction, with many believing the building has negatively impacted the view of the City of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London. In fact, the building was originally intended to be another 40m (131 feet) taller but was shortened as a compromise.
Spreading across three floors, the garden offers uninterrupted views of the London. There is a landscaped garden as well as a bar and restaurant. Obviously, it costs to drink and dine at the venue but the garden itself is actually free to the public, as part of an agreement made before planning permission from the building was granted.
Some think the word ‘garden’ is a bit generous when used to describe this part of the building. So, expecting lush green grass and countless plants, flowers and trees will leave visitors disappointed. However, the plants and trees that are on display here are lovely and give a somewhat surreal feeling while standing so high up above the ground. Besides, for the price (particularly when compared to the London Eye or the Shard), this is definitely one of the best views of the City of London / South of the Thames on offer.
The Sky Garden at Fenchurch 20 is one of the most popular destinations for both locals and tourists in London. In fact, it ranks #22 of Things to Do on TripAdvisor. As one guest writes, “for something that is free to use and so easy to get to, you can’t go wrong!” Many say that they are pleasantly surprised by just how incredible the views are and that this visit was one of the highlights of their trip. Though a vast majority of the reviews are positive, some visitors write that they were put off by the chilly temperatures due to cold air coming in from the rooftop terrace. However, most who visited during winter say that this can easily be averted by bringing warm clothes and avoiding seats next to the automatic doors.
The Building that Melted a Car
The Walkie Talkie received international fame in the summer of 2013 because of a very interesting event: the melting of a car! The unique shape of the building means that for around two hours of the day, the sun shines directly onto the concave windows of the building, reflecting onto the streets to the south. It is estimated that the glare reflecting off the windows is around 6 times brighter than direct sunlight! The reflection was so strong, in fact, that it damaged vehicles parked on the road nearby, including the partial melting of the framework of a Jaguar car!
20 Fenchurch Street is located at (you guessed it), 20 Fenchurch Street (map and directions). The building is located within the City of London and can be best accessed by the London Underground from the Monument Station (Circle and District lines). It can also be accessed by Bank Station (Central, Northern and Waterloo and City lines). We recommend using this Google map for directions to 20 Fenchurch Street from anywhere in London, including bus lines.
Sky Garden Opening Hours:
The Sky Garden is completely free to visit, but advanced reservations are required. In order to book tickets, visit the Sky Garden website and select your preferred date and time. Spaces are limited, so be sure to make your reservation well in advance. Typically, time slots are for 1 hour periods and are available every 15 minutes from opening time onwards.
For those who are unable to book a reservation ahead of time, there are a limited number of walk-in tickets available. Walk-in spaces are released Monday-Friday (none on weekends) between 10.00 am – 11.30 am and 14.00 – 16.30. Sky Pod Bar welcomes walk-in guests more frequently. Read our section Restaurant & Bar to learn more.
Entrance / Exit: In addition to being home to the Sky Garden, the Walkie Talkie building also features several floors of private offices. The main front door entrance is exclusively for people who work in the building. If you are visiting the Sky Garden, you must enter on the back side of the building. There should be a person with a clipboard standing at the door who can guide you inside.
Regulations Worth Noting: The building is subject to airport-like security: no liquids of less than 100 ml allowed (baby food/drink excepted) and no bags larger than 8-inch x 17-inch x 19 inches. – No groups of more than 6 are allowed. – ID that matches the reservation name is required. Also be sure to arrive on time. Visitors that are more than 10 minutes late for their time slot will likely be turned away at the door. Read our post on where to store your luggage.
There are several different restaurants and bars open to the public in the Walkie Talkie building. In addition to serving great food and drink, they also allow guests the only opportunity to visit the Sky Garden at night during the months of April-October. Also, if you are unable to book a reservation in advance to the Sky Garden, both the City Garden Bar and Sky Pod Bar welcome walk-ins.
- A very elegant restaurant serving contemporary British cuisine. Be aware that there is a strict dress code prohibiting shorts, sportswear, sports trainers, and flip-flops. You can bring your own wine, but there is a £30 corkage fee.
- Lunch: Mon-Sun: 11:45am-2:45pm
- Dinner: Mon-Sun: 5:45pm-10:15pm
- Located on 36th floor, this all-day brasserie serves classic British dishes made with seasonal ingredients found around the local area. A smart/casual dress code is encouraged and shorts, sportswear, sports trainers, and flip-flops are prohibited after 17:00.
- Breakfast: Mon-Fri: 7:30 am – 10:30 am, Sat-Sun: 8 am – 10 am,
- Lunch: Mon-Fri: 11:30 am – 4 pm,
- Sat-Sun brunch: 11:30 am – 3:30 pm,
- Dinner: Mon-Sat: 17:30 – 22:30, Sun: 17:30 – 22:00
City Garden Bar
- City Garden Bar is located in the center of the Sky Garden and serves both food and drink. Choose from a wide selection of soups, sandwiches, and salads, amongst other dishes.
- Wed-Sat: 10:00 am – 24:00, Sun: 10am-6pm
- (Last Entry: Wed-Sat: 23:30)
- Evening walk-ins are welcome.
Sky Pod Bar
- The Sky Pod Bar is another all-day drinking and dining venue that features live music. Reservations are encouraged if you wish to visit in the evening, though walk-ins are welcomed if space permits. A smart/casual dress code is advised.
- Mon: 7am-11pm, Tues: 7am-12am, Wed- Fri: 7am – 1am,
- Sat: 8am-1am, Sun: 8am-11pm
- (Last Entry: Sun-Mon: 10:30pm, Tues: 11:30pm, Wed-Sat: 12:45am)
- Evening walk-ins are welcome.
Due to its central location, the building is near many other famous London sights and attractions which can be planned to be visited on the same day including: