x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

London's Shard ready to reach for the sky

The Shard, Western Europe's tallest building at 309 metres is set to open on London's South Bank.

The Shard stands above rows of period houses and offices in London. The building is located on the opposite bank of the River Thames to the 11th-Century Tower of London. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg News
The Shard stands above rows of period houses and offices in London. The building is located on the opposite bank of the River Thames to the 11th-Century Tower of London. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg News

Although it can't hold a candle to Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, a towering property in London is still setting hearts aflutter.

The Shard, western Europe's tallest building and partly owned and funded by Qatar, opens its doors to the public on February 1.

Tickets are already selling out at £24.95 (Dh147) per adult.

The first two days are full and first evening entrance is available on February 3 for the trip as high as level 72, the highest public floor of the tower, at 244 metres. On a clear day, visitors can see for 64 km.

"We're aiming for a million visitors a year and I think we'll achieve it," says Andy Nyberg, the chief executive of The View From the Shard company.

"We've been on sale since July and we've well surpassed our expectations. We've sold tens and tens of thousands [of tickets].

"We're recommending people book about 10 days in advance because we don't want them to be disappointed."

The Shard, which stands at 309.6 metres on London's South Bank, is owned by LBQ, which brings together Qatar - the majority shareholder - and Sellar Property Group, with non-equity funding by Qatar National Bank.

The building will house offices, homes, a hotel and three floors of restaurants.

Visitors take two separate lifts to reach the viewing galleries on levels 69 to 72. These elevators are in the centre of the building, with no view. They travel at six metres a second, and visitors travel in them for about 60 seconds.

Landmarks visible from the top include the Olympic Stadium, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, the Thames Barrier, St Paul's Cathedral, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Battersea Power Station, the Oval, Wembley Stadium and Alexandra Palace.

"What's so special about the view?" says Mr Nyberg. "London. No other viewing attraction in the world has the kind of vistas you can see from The View From the Shard. We're a 21st-Century tower right across the river from an 11th-Century tower, the Tower of London. You don't get that anywhere else."

The closest rival as a viewing attraction is the 135-metre tall London Eye, where a standard ticket starts at £17.28, while adults and children pay £29.16 for fast-track tickets on the day.

The London Eye is closed for annual maintenance until Saturday.

The highest point in London other than the Shard is Westerham Heights, in Bromley, at 245 metres above sea level.

The 360-degree views from the Shard are impressive and it's likely to become a popular attraction for visitors to London. Digital telescopes - you look at the view on a screen - identify places of interest and provide information on 200 landmarks in 10 different languages.

Mr Nyberg has a head for heights: He was previously a director of Burj Khalifa, where the viewing deck is on level 124. Before that, he worked at the Skydeck, on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago.

An introductory ticket to the At the Top viewing area at Burj Khalifa costs Dh100 (US$27.22).

The Skydeck is $18, or $35 fast-track. It costs $16.02 to get to the top of the Tokyo Tower, while it's $25 for the main deck of the Empire State Building and $27.65 online for the CN Tower in Toronto. Some attractions have a range of prices.

For the Shard, a family of four might pay £87.80. The top of the Eiffel Tower, by comparison, costs €14 (Dh68.73) for adults and €12.50 for kids. View From the Shard representatives say tickets are in line with other crowd and queue-free London attractions. Tickets are for a timed entry so guarantee fast-track entrance.

There is nowhere else in central London where you can take in a 360-degree view from anywhere near the same height.

Restaurants are scheduled to open in coming months. Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney, the owners of Zuma, plan a rotisserie and grill and a bar on the 32nd floor, while Aqua Restaurant Group will open venues on the 31st and 33rd floors.

Diners will use a dedicated entrance on St Thomas Street and two express lifts will take them to level 32. There will be a central triple-height atrium bar.

And whatever, your tipple, a trip to the top is a guaranteed head-spinner.


* with Bloomberg News