The Shard in the London skyline

The View from The Shard is bound to be one of London's hottest new attractions in 2013, with its unparalleled panoramic views of the capital. Our sneak peek at the amazing London cityscape did anything but disappoint.

London’s hottest new attraction is scheduled to open in early 2013, but I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview. The View from the Shard, offering one of the most eagerly anticipated views of the city, is situated on the 68th, 69th, and 72nd floor of the nearly completed Shard, the capital’s tallest building and the tallest building in the EU at roughly 310m (1,016ft).

I was sceptical that The View from the Shard was going to live up to my expectations; the supposed “best view of London” was all I had been hearing about, and after so much hype, I wondered if it was really true. Next to St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and Tower Bridge, I wondered if the Shard would really stand out among the other spectacular views of London.

shardThe exterior of The Shard
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

As I walked into the sleek and chic finished lobby of the Shard, it was hard to detect that the building was still under construction. The immaculate space almost glittered, from its polished hardwood floors to the spotless white walls and reception desk. The public, however, won’t catch a glimpse of the shimmering lobby once the attraction officially opens on 1 February; a newly constructed entrance from London Bridge underground station will be used instead for easier public access.

We were escorted through the lobby to the first high-speed lift, where our journey up 244m (800ft) to the viewing deck began. Our large group crowded into the not-so-large lift and needless to say, the ride was a little cosy for my liking.

My discomfort was short-lived as the lightning-fast and eerily noiseless lift pulled up to the 32nd floor in only seconds. We shuffled out onto the “transition floor”, where illustrations and images of London’s iconic people and places will adorn the walls and floors. Three restaurants will be also be located here.

For the final leg of the journey, we shuffled again into a second, even more cramped elevator. After another unimaginably short ride in the high-speed lifts, we stopped at the 69th-floor viewing deck and caught the first glimpse of the Shard’s breathtaking, 360-degree panoramic view of London.

The viewing deck, which has room for 250 people, has floor-to-ceiling windows so clean and clear that nothing but reflections in the glass and the window beams obstruct the fantastic views of the cityscape. Though I have gawped at all of London’s world-famous landmarks, this startling height offered an entirely new perspective of the city.

Shard view 1Amazing cityscape from The View from The Shard
Hannah Warne

Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral looked so small that at first, it was hard to distinguish the iconic clock face or the trademark dome from the other thousands of buildings sprawled out in every direction around southeast London. The only easily identifiable icon was Tower Bridge and the ribbon of the Thames snaking its way through the landscape below. The trains and tracks leaving London Bridge station below splintered their way into the distance, and pedestrians, who looked more like moving specs, inched their way along miniscule pavements. Just be careful if you’re prone to vertigo; the dizzying experience of staring straight down into a seeming abyss gave me minor waves of panic.

On a clear day, visitors should be able to see nearly 64km (40 miles) into the distance; other sneak-peek viewers on earlier visits have caught a glimpse of Windsor Castle, located 48km (30 miles) to the west.  Even with hazy skies during my visit, the stunning view was clearly unrivalled.

To enhance the Shard experience, the viewing deck features 12 high-tech telescopes, called Tell:scopes, offering pre-recorded day and night time views of the city (great if the weather is bad when you visit) as well as real-time views on a large touch screen. Visitors will be able to select one of 200 landmarks at a touch of a button to learn a little of its history.

shard view 2London skyline from The View from The Shard
Hannah Warne

The 69th-floor observation deck will be only half of the Shard experience when the attraction opens. The 72nd floor will be transformed into an open-air observation deck where visitors will be completely exposed to the outdoor elements. Not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, on my visit this deck had not yet been completed so I missed the opportunity for an even higher (but very chilly) view unobscured by beams and window supports.

In addition to London’s soon-to-be most sought-after views, the Shard will house a hotel, and inconceivably, exclusive residences, with the same dazzling view of London’s iconic landmarks that visitors see on the observation levels.

Though undoubtedly an experience unlike any other, The View from the Shard comes at a steep price; at £24.95 for adults and a pricey £18.95 for children. But, if you’re willing to pay for the unparalleled views, you won’t be disappointed.

The View from the Shard
Open 1 February 2013, Mon-Sun 0900-2030.
Admission: £24.95 (adults), £18.95 (children).

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