20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the ‘Walkie Talkie’ is the home of the Sky Garden. Open since 2015 in the City of London, it is a private office block with public access to the top floors.
While the Walkie Talkie certainly isn’t the tallest building in London, it is dominant on the City skyline with its unusual reverse tapered design. This clever planning means the 37-storey tower office block has a smaller footprint than the previous building yet it expands wider at the top because higher floors can demand higher rents. This has given us a deceptively large amount of public space for the Sky Garden, a condition of the planning permission. This three-storey atrium space is central London’s highest public garden.
You can see across The Thames and soon discover that the Sky Garden only comes up to about halfway of The Shard. But it is free and the views are good. Close by you can see the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Tate Modern. And in the distance, you can see Wembley Stadium, Canary Wharf and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Did You Know?
The ‘Walkie Talkie’ was shortly nicknamed the Fryscraper due to its tendency to focus light onto a patch of ground that could just about cook an egg, or melt all of the plastic on very expensive parked cars below.
What’s Up There?
The Sky Garden is on levels 35, 36 and 37. It is 45,000 sq ft of high level ‘amenity space’ with 360-degree panoramic views of London. There are event spaces available for hire as well as two restaurants, two bars and a private dining room.
Sky Pod Bar is the cafe on level 35. It’s a ‘coffee and cake’ place during the day and a cocktail bar at night. There are sofas, tables and chairs plus stools and high tables to enjoy the view. This area isn’t enclosed so has no heating but is ‘naturally ventilated’ which basically means it can be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. A bit like the outdoor temperature but without the wind. In case it is a bit chilly there are blankets available to keep you warm.
The outside viewing area is on this level too. It is called the Francis Golding Terrace after the architect who died in a cycling accident in 2013.
The two restaurants above have heating and air-conditioning so are not as affected by outside temperatures. To dine at either of the restaurants you must book in advance. Darwin Brasserie hovers above the Sky Pod Bar and has views out towards The Shard. Fenchurch is on level 37 and is the most expensive eatery yet it has the worst view as it has frosted glass windows. This is all about privacy and an exclusive place to be rather than the sights.
How To Visit the Sky Garden Without a Ticket
Most visitors book a free ticket which is available for a set entry time. The hours are from 10 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday and 11 am to 9 pm on weekends and Bank Holidays. Tickets are released 3 weeks in advance and often sell out quickly.
Book a Table
If you book to eat in one of the restaurants, you do not need a separate ticket to enter. But, obviously, that is going to cost you the price of a meal.
Sky Garden’s capacity has increased so there are more spaces for bookings and walk-ins. If you do not have a ticket, you can ask if there is space to enter from 10 am to 11.30 am and 2 pm to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday. There are no walk-in tickets available at the weekend.
My Preferred No Ticket Option
While the Sky Garden public ticketed time starts from 10 am, the Sky Pod Bar (the cafe) is open from 7 am Monday to Friday. So, you can go without booking a ticket to see the sunrise over London. And this is what I did as part of my Free Things Challenge. I literally turned up at 7 am, passed through the security checks and went up in the lift to have the whole place to myself. Honestly, there was no-one else there (except a member of staff getting the cafe ready).
You can go in for a coffee without a ticket from 8 am to 11 am on the weekend too.
If a cocktail appeals more than a cuppa, you can enter without a ticket from 6.15 pm on weekdays. and from 9.15 pm on the weekend.
What’s it Like To Visit?
The Sky Garden entrance is around the back of the building. Remember to bring ID and everyone goes through airport-type security.
There are two lifts that travel at up to six metres per second making it an ear-popping whoosh to the 35th floor. I love the ‘wow factor’ view as you enter level 35 and see The Shard across the river.
There is a gently-sloped, wide staircase on each side of the building to lead you up to the higher levels. The staircases are wide enough space for you to stop and admire the view on the way without blocking access. As you walk up there is space to stop on level 36, not in the restaurant, to sit down.
While you are instantly aware you are high up, the ‘looking out rather than down’ feeling of the tapered building helps with vertigo. Background music is played all of the time and, I understand, this is to help distract nervous visitors.
The planting is essentially a lot of greenery. The sections between levels 35 and 36 are supposed to look like mountain slopes and the sections between levels 36 and 37 are more palm trees and taller planting. The flowering plants include African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) interspersed with fragrant herbs including French Lavender and Rosemary.
Level 37 is really no garden at all and has a few potted trees. But there is a second cafe so you can have a drink and see the views of The City. And then you can walk down the other side to complete your 360-degree views.
Security men patrol the Sky Garden and children are welcome. I’ve visited many times over the years (twice for the sunrise!) and will definitely go back again.
Official Website: skygarden.london
Address: 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3BY