The Shard, with a height of 309.6 metres, is the tallest skyscraper in the UK. It resembles a shard of glass, hence the name. It stands on the site of the old Southwark Towers, which was demolished in 2008. The building forms the centrepiece of Shard Quarter on the south side of the River Thames. It’s close to several London attractions, including Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral, and The Clink Museum.

The Shard’s lead architect was Renzo Piano. His ambition was to create a Vertical City where people could live, work, and relax. This vision was realised in 2012. Office space fills the lower floors of the building, while the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel occupies levels 34 to 52. Sandwiched between both are several fine dining restaurants. Above the hotel are 12 floors of exclusive residential apartments with some of the best views in the capital. Two observation decks top off the structure, collectively known as The View from The Shard.

The Shard in London - one of the highlights of 13 Most Instagrammable Places in London and 12 Best Things to Do in London (Read all about London here)

A brief history of The Shard

Initially, things didn’t run smoothly for The Shard. English Heritage objected to the choice of location, claiming the building would be out of place. Even so, the Mayor of London backed the project, keen to revitalise this neglected part of the city. Jitters in the global financial markets almost killed off the project before it began.

Fortunately, with designs and planning permission in place, Qatari investors guaranteed the funds required to see the project through to completion. The top-down construction method was a first for a British skyscraper. 4 cranes rose with the tower as it gained height. The build went smoothly and by 2011, One Canada Square, formerly the UK’s tallest structure, had been relegated to 2nd place.

The spire was the last part to be installed. Engineers mocked up a 3D model to see if the design could be realised. Prefabricated in Yorkshire, the real thing would take a crane taller than anything ever seen in the UK to hoist it into place. When finished, The Shard ended the reign of Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Tower as Europe's tallest building. However, following Britain’s departure, the German skyscraper regained its title.

What are the highlights of The Shard?

The View from The Shard is London’s highest viewing platform – in fine weather, you can see for up to 40 miles. The best part of the 360° panorama lies across the River Thames to the north. You’ll look out at iconic landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of LondonBig Ben and more. On the 72nd-floor outdoor observation deck, the only thing in London that’s higher is the sky itself. You can feel the breeze in your hair as the upper parts of this lofty level are open to the elements.

For the ultimate view over London, The Slide is hair-raising in an unusual way. If you’re brave enough, pop on a virtual reality headset and strap in for a unique ride that makes you feel like you are being hurled off the side of The Shard for a 100-mph high-adrenaline descent. Of course, as it’s virtual there’s no danger, but it’s certainly a thrilling way to experience the London skyline.

Good to know about The Shard in London

During The Shard's early days, an unusual resident managed to live rent-free. A fox, nicknamed Romeo by construction workers, had wandered in unnoticed and found itself trapped. He survived by eating scraps of food left lying around until rescuers captured and checked it into a nearby animal sanctuary. Staff members gave the resourceful Romeo a clean bill of health before releasing it onto the streets of Bermondsey. 

The Shard’s height is a guaranteed headline grabber. Soon after the structure topped out, it hosted a fundraising abseil event in support of Outward Bound Trust and the Royal Marines Charitable Trust. But not all users have been authorised – security personnel have escorted numerous BASE jumpers, climbers, and urban explorers from the premises. The Shard also made an appearance in the closing scenes of the Marvel blockbuster, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).

The Shard in London

Location: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK

Open: Hours vary by season

Phone: +44 (0)344 499 7222

Julia Hammond | Contributing Writer