The Shard observation tower

Every time I ever draw into London Bridge train station I am fascinated by the gigantic building that shoots upwards piercing the sky with it’s point, The Shard.

The 87 storey skyscraper stands 309 metres (1,014 ft) high and is currently the tallest building in the European Union. It is 72 habitable floors and I visited the viewing gallery and open air observation deck on the 72nd floor.

IT WAS AMAZING. No, it was better than that, it was breath taking, it was utterly stunning. It was the most memorable occasion. It was the most fantastic experience and I’d do it all over again and again.

The Shard Tower bridge and Canary wharf

Your journey starts at the bottom, I know you know that but you will be pleasantly amazed by each member of staff who are polite and engage in conversation with you, with a smile on their face too! This is why it’s going to be one of the best experiences ever.

I had an online ticket from Attraction Tix which I had to exchange the print out for my real ticket at the cash desk. You then make your way over to the security check and an optional souvenir photo if you wish.

Have a look at all the different Fun Days out for Couples

Shard St Paul's Cathedral

There are two lifts, the first takes you to level 31-33 where the restaurants are situated, here everyone gets off and makes their way around to the second elevator which will take you to the observation rooms. By the way even the journey in the lift is exciting with a great film to watch on the ceiling.

Shard lift entrance

The second lift arrives at level 69 and you follow the path around and up stairs to The View.

Shard opbservation tower level 69

There are two floors to visit, the first is enclosed and is very high with floor to ceiling glass. As you walk around some of the capitals most famous monuments are written above your head encouraging you to look for them in the distance.

There is a champagne bar selling it at £10 a glass but offering soft drinks too. There is also a shop worth visiting as it has the usual souvenirs plus some very interesting merchandise.

You can then go up a level for some more fantastic views, at this point it is n longer enclosed, you feel and hear the wind whistling around you, a plane passed over head on it’s way to City Airport and i felt it was so close. and if you look up, this is what you see… isn’t it beautiful?

When to Visit The Shard?

  • Valentine’s day with champagne at the top and maybe dinner after?
  • A family day out with a good cultural, historical and architectural foundation.
  • A special birthday or occasion treat.

Shard looking up

Here is my favourite view of The City

The Shard - view of the city

This is the Tower of London zoomed from level 71.

Shard tower of London

Tower Bridge which we visited back in the summer, another great place to visit.

Shard view of Tower Bridge

The London Eye, which is another great observation point of London

Shard London eye

HMS Belfast from above

Shard view of HMS Belfast

The view from the Shangri La restaurant will look like the one Jen has photographed, equally stunning and she tells us excellent food too!

Renzo Piano – the architect

The Shard was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and replaced the previous occupant Southward Towers, a 24 storey office block built in 1975.

Renzo Piano designed the Shard as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames. He was inspired by the railway lines next to the site, the London spires depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto and the masts of sailing ships. Piano’s design met criticism from English Heritage, who claimed the building would be “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London“, giving the building its name, The Shard.

Piano considered the slender, spire-like form of the tower a positive addition to the London skyline, recalling the church steeples featured in historic engravings of the city, and believed that its presence would be far more delicate than opponents of the project alleged. He proposed a sophisticated use of glazing, with expressive façades of angled glass panes intended to reflect sunlight and the sky above, so that the appearance of the building will change according to the weather and seasons. The building features 11,000 panes of glass, with a total surface area of 56,000 square metres (600,000 sq ft). Wikipedia

Shard level 72 open air

 

Disclosure: I received a ticket to visit The Shard for the purpose of this reveiw

Ripley's Believe it or not London

We were recently invited to have a look around Ripley’s London collection and having never been before I was intrigued to discover what Ripley’s Believe It or Not! was all about.

The London Ripley’s museum is the world’s largest and it opened on 20th August 2008. It is home to over 500 exhibits from educational artefacts to the mind boggling weird and wonderful.

Ripley's price list London 2014

It all started when Robert Ripley picked up on sports feats in his cartoons in the New York Globe in 1918, slowly he added non sports features and then changed the name to Believe It or Not! where he indulged on a research for unusual facts with the help of his researcher.

Ripley's mini cooper london

The London Ripley’s Believe It or not! is set on six floors and the entrance opens onto the famous Piccadilly Circus. As we queued we past a robot and a Mini Cooper covered all over with Swarovski crystals – a million of them to be precise.

Robot Ripley's london

You then take a lift to the sixth floor and start to work your way down.

There is a LOT to see, a knitted Ferrari, a dinosaur, the sweet making machine out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Everywhere you look there is something to marvel at and later on to be repulsed at, or horrified at. 

Ripley's Diana Ross

 

It’s a weird and wonderful collection, it’s a bombardment to your senses and to your morals.

Ripley's toast art

There is a fabulous art collection with famous faces made out of all kinds of objects and materials including human skin.

Ripley's human skin

On your way down you will be invited to take a tour in the hall of mirrors which is amazing and frustratingly good. The girls and I had a go but there were a lot of other kids in there shouting out to their friends, it scared the girls and we ended up leaving via the entrance which we had ended up at again.

Ripley's car bonnet art

One part they really enjoyed was the graffiti wall where they were given a computer run aerosol can and invited to write their names (or draw) on the wall.

I must admit a lot of the exhibits were too advanced for my twins to enjoy but I know older kids would love and be fascinated by. There is something for everyone but if your kids are still at infant school like my twins I’d save this trip until they were a little older and they would get even more out of it.

I’d say perfect from 8 upwards.

Disclosure: We received free entry (me and the twins) for the purpose of this review)

 

Tower Bridge London

Tower Bridge is my favourite bridge over the River Thames out of the 34 that connect the two London embankments from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford to the Hampton Court Bridge in East Molesey.

This year Tower Bridge celebrates it’s 120th anniversary and we were invited along to complete the tour to learn more about it.

Tower Bridge tour

My dad told me when I was a child that an American, Robert McCulloch, had visited London and wanted to buy Tower Bridge for his retirement real estate development on Lake Havasu. Only he made a mistake and bought London Bridge instead! This was a popular belief which is vehemently denied by Mr McCulloch and Ivan Luckin who sold the bridge but funny all the same.

Tower Bridge from walkway

I can certainly understand why anyone would want to buy the bridge as it is pretty spectacular and by visiting it we were able to see even more closely how unique this bridge is.

Tower Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1894 after 8 years of construction. It was the result of a public competition to design a new bridge held in response to London’s massive growth and the need to connect both sides of the river as east London had expanded and was fast becoming an important trading port.

Tower Bridge walkways

Sir Horace Jones won the competition and worked alongside civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry on the £1.1m project. For more details visit the Tower Bridge website

The Tour of Tower Bridge

The tour starts on the Tower of London side at the north west tower. A lift takes you up to the walkway level which is 44 meters above the river at high tide and you arrive in a small room where you can listen and watch a wonderful enactment that explains the history of the bridge and a few details of its construction.

Tower Bridge tour

You can then walk along the walkways and take in the breathtaking views of London to the east and to the west.

Descent is via a staircase on the south east side but there is a second video to watch with more construction detail first. There is a lift also for those in need.

Tower bridge display

The way down has plenty of art and interesting things to look at and on arrival at the bottom you are back out on the street again.

By following the blue line you are lead along the bridge and down onto the walkway along the Thames. Once under the bridge the blue line leads you to the Victorian engine rooms and here you can see how the bridge used to be worked. When it was built it was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.

This was the winner of the most recent Design a Bridge competition, what do you think?

Tower Bridge design winner

The bascules were operated by hydraulics using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so when the bridge needed lifting the energy was available. The Accumulators fed the driving engines which drove the bascules up and down. The bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.

view form tower bridge walkway

Today the bascules are driven by oil and electricity rather than steam but the original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are well worth a look as it is amazing. There are also interactive games to help the children understand how it worked.

tower bridge engine rooms

There are constant art exhibitions on show adding to the wow factor and making this a great place to visit for all the family

 art at tower bridge
 
An excellent exhibition which we thoroughly enjoyed
Disclosure: We were given free entrance for the purpose of this review, tickets aren’t expensive 1 adult + 2 children costs £14.10 see here

Start of the poppies at London Bridge

A while ago I took the girls up to London to visit Tower Bridge, we walked from Tower Hill tube station and I wondered what all the poppies were about.

I have recently seen on the news exactly what the Poppies are about. Each ceramic poppy represents a life lost fighting in the first World War

The installation continues until November, I want to go back and take more photos in September and then again in November and pay homage to those lives lost for us.

Poppies at Tower of London

 

Buckingham Palace

For the girls birthday my treat this year was tickets to go inside Buckingham Palace and see how a real princess lives, a Royal day out. With an entire year of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel and then the Frozen sisters Anna and Elsa I knew I was on the right track.

I wanted them to start learning about our British history and about the Royal Family too. They have spotted ‘baby George’ on the TV and in newspapers so the discussion has begun.

I found various Buckingham Palace tours on the Royal Collection Trust website and opted for a tour of the State Rooms and Garden Highlights tour. For 1 adult and two children under 17 the total cost was £63.75 and I think it’s important to note that most of this money goes into the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, find out more where the money goes here

Changing of the guard

Our time was set for 11.45, in hindsight I wish I had chosen a later time as the Changing of the Guards starts daily at 11.15, it would have been great for the girls to witness that beforehand, however we did get a glimpse of the guards as they made their way to the palace and it was stunning.

I would advise getting there at least 15 minutes early, we got held up by the Changing of the Guards and I had to run the last bit and queue to collect tickets.

Guards of Buckingham Palace

 

On entering the palace all bags are scanned and checked, my rucksack was kept and taken to the end of the tour for me to collect later. NO PHOTOGRAPHY is allowed inside the palace or on the Garden Highlights tour either.

Then, if you wish you can collect an audio guide. We went for the Family Audio and the girls loved it. It gives a great description of each room and on the guide you can touch ‘Rex’ the resident corgi who will tell you lots of extra secrets about the rooms you pass through. There is also a section with games and extra buttons to touch to find out about the art, or gilding or other objects of interest that you see around you.

Buckingham Palace detail

I loved spotting where the Secret Door hides in the White Drawing Room which the queen uses from her personal quarters, closed to the public into the State Rooms. It’s very clever and you have to look hard to see it.

We stopped half way through the tour to sit and watch a brief film made from the Royal Family’s personal videos, this year the focus is on Royal childhood and there are lots of toys, prams, clothes and more from various members of the Royal family.

Buckingham Palace Bow room exit

We arrived in the Bow Room which is also the end of the tour of the State Rooms at around 1pm. The girls were in need of a drink and something to eat and I was disappointed to discover there was no where to eat a packed lunch.

I took them to the Palace cafe and ordered a scone, some water and a cup of tea to tide us over.

Buckingham Palace cafe

We also visited the Family Pavilion which was air conditioned and had tables laid out with sheets to do some drawing or dot to dots on. There was a box of clothes to dress up in and an area to play in. There was also a blackboard where the children were invited to write on, every day pictures are taken and shown to the queen so she gets to see every message left. Whilst we were there the board was wiped clean and set up for a new set of young visitors but I was assured the photo had been taken.

Buckingham Palace - family pavilion

At 2.15pm our Garden Highlights tour commenced. Again no photos were allowed which I was really disappointed at as it was one of the major reasons I had chosen this tour. Our guide was Alan Lion and he led us along a very interesting walk through the private gardens passing the Royal summer house and a beautiful rose garden. There are trees centuries old planted by many royals including Prince Albert and I learnt lots of facts, like Queen Charlotte kept an elephant in her back garden. That the garden had been home to a giraffe and a zebra in it’s time and that the pesky fox have killed off the flamingo population.

Buckingham Palace Garden

8 gardeners look after the 36 acres of land and we walked around one side ending up at the bottom.

We decided we wanted to see the shop so we back tracked up the path and I was pleased to see there were a few ideas in there that were in pocket money reach but mainly above.

A beautiful pink Faberge egg caught my eye and the price tag £9,995.00 made me gasp but I guess that’s what they cost these days? I’m not sure what husband’s reaction would have been  if I had returned with it?

Buckingham Palace souvenirs

The tin tray costs £7.50 from this year’s Limited Edition, the crowns above were around £10 and the cushions start at around £35.

The girls each chose a Princess Alice at £12.95 and I treated them to the book ‘Does the Queen wear her crown to bed?’ which we all read later that night and will act as a great reference book too.

Top Tips for a Royal Day Out

1. Keep in mind the Changing of the Guard at 11.15 when booking tickets, the roads are closed and it is busy, if you want to add this into your day get there for 10.15 – 10.30 for a good place.

2. If going with children I think leave out the Garden Highlights tour and maybe add on the Royal Mews for a visit to the Royal Carriages instead.

3. No food or drink can be eaten in the palace and there were no facilities to eat outside either, we had to hang around for the Garden tour but opposite the palace is St James Park with lots of green space to picnic on and a play area for children to let off steam.

4. If you go to St James Park take some bread to feed the ducks but only in the designated gravel area.

5. Don’t forget to get your tickets stamped on exit so you can return one more time within 12 months to see the same tour.

6. Nearest tube St James Park or Victoria; we walked from St James Park through the park.

guard at Buckingham palace