by Sharon Henry
High inside the Sky Garden Walkie Talkie building, a soft mist falls, leaving beads clinging to furry New Zealand tree ferns, 37 floors up. Like a light shower of rain, it moistens clusters of ginger flowers and dampens the leaves of 100-year-old palms whose roots once veined the soil at the foot of Mount Etna.
This is the Sky Garden London on 20 Fenchurch Street, nickname the Walkie Talkie building because of its distinctive shape. It’s the highest public gardens in London and one of the best free things to do in London England. It spans three floors and has 360 degree views over this remarkable city.
London Panorama You Can See For Miles
My ears popped on the quick elevator ride up, the Sky Garden lift speed is six metres per second! I was awe-struck the minute the doors slid open. We stepped out into a huge atrium, three-storeys high, entirely encased in glass (roof included) which reveals what must be the best view of The Shard. Behind us stood what looked like a slice of a mountainside, green and leafy.
We made a beeline for the open air terrace, there were so many London landmarks to consume and photograph I didn’t know where to look first. This is London sightseeing on a whole new level. The Shard, HMS Belfast, More London, Tower Bridge, boats on the Thames, red double-deckers, ant people crossing London Bridge, the golden pinnacle of The Monument, down onto rooftops, Battersea Power Station…so many London points of interest. Suffice to say, umpteen photos were taken of the Sky Garden view.
The 20 Fenchurch Street building is 160m (525ft) tall, and is the sixth tallest building in the city of London.
Sky Garden Walkie Talkie Building
It took a while before we ventured back inside. The Sky Pod Bar London is on the lower level and above are more Walkie Talkie building restaurants and bars. To the far left and right are stairways leading to the gardens and the top-most floor where you can stand head to head with London skyscrapers the ‘Gherkin’ and ‘Cheese Grater’.
Unfortunately, the garden section had to compete with the spectacular bird’s eye London view and it took a while before we felt sated enough to turn away from the cityscapes and followed the path under the tree fern canopy of the Sky Garden design.
Must See On Your London To Do List
But now that I’m here I don’t want to leave. The range of Sky Garden plants reminds me of home; the tree ferns of our cloud forest up on Diana’s Peak, the succulents, creepers, ferns and shrubs – the rest of St Helena Island. Along with the red hot pokers, agapanthus, birds of paradise and cockroach grass.
It’s peaceful and calming standing amongst them and for a few moments as the sun shines directly onto my skin, it’s pure bliss. The Sky Garden Walkie Talkie London has made me feel homesick!
Walkie Talkie Sky Garden Construction
The Walkie Talkie roof garden has its own microclimate and there are three planting zones, a shade tolerant forest at the top, sloping to the sunniest area at the bottom. The plants are ‘drought resistant’ and were carefully selected to give colour and flowers throughout the year. Misting units come on automatically to regulate the humidity to 75%. I love the smell they generate; earthy, just like any garden after a shower of rain.
The plants come from Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean. The New Zealand tree ferns are some of the tallest in Europe. The Sky Garden was created by Gillespies landscape architects, Willerby Landscapes took on the complex task of its installation.
The naturally ventilated space of the Sky Garden is good for pest control as the temperature range does not encourage infestations.
Unique Things To Do In London
We’ve been allotted an hour, but there are no signs of anyone monitoring this. No Tannoy announcements or attendants reminding us that, ‘time’s up,’ guess it’s self-regulating; some people who queued with us left a while ago.
Either way, we shouldn’t overstay our welcome. But what a place, the Sky Garden Walkie Talkie has the best views in London, and a feel of St Helena, we love it. Let’s just take one last photo…
Thumbs Up Sky Garden Review
It’s easy to make a Sky Garden booking on the official website. Admission is FREE although limited in availability and in one-hour time slots. We highly recommend a visit. Unsurprisingly for this most brilliant of London tourist attractions, Sky Garden tickets are snapped up fast. Tickets are released on Monday’s for the following three weeks.
That said, a reserved number of Sky Garden walk in spaces are available between 10am to 11.30am and 14.00pm to 16.30pm on Mondays to Fridays. But off course, there’re subject to availability so to avoid disappointment it might be best to get your Sky Garden London tickets beforehand.
Sky Garden Opening Times
Thankfully we got lucky when we made our Sky Garden reservation just last night. It’s a simple and instantaneous process and you can either print a hard copy of your ticket or bring it on your phone. The ticket holder will also need to bring ID.
Public ticketed hours are Mon-Fri, 10am to 6pm, and 11am to 9pm on weekends.
There are queues and a security check but it’s reasonably fast moving, it took us just over half an hour to get in. Come at least half an hour early.
Visit London On A Layover
The Sky Garden is great for people with one day in London or a few hours to spare on a layover, there were a few with carry-ons on our visit.
There is a size limit however on personal belongings; handbags, backpacks and shopping bags and equipment. Anything bigger than 61.5cm x 41cm or 24.2in x 16.1in will be denied access to the Sky Garden.
For those planning a longer trip, check this UK Top 27 Bucket List for great ideas and here for recommendations on where to stay in London. This 4-day London itinerary is also great.
The Sky Garden Location
Oh, and don’t do what we did and go into what is the actual front door of 20 Fenchurch Street. This is the reception area for the corporate side of the building – not for tourists. The Sky Garden entrance is around on the opposite side, via Philpot Lane. The long queue should’ve been a clue – duh!
The Sky Garden address is 20 Fenchurch Street London EC3M 3BY.
The Sky Garden is a relatively new attraction, only opened to the public in 2015. The property developers were granted permission on condition that free admission was given to the public.
Sky Garden Dress Code
The Sky Garden operate a smart/casual dress code and do not permit beachwear, sportswear or flip flops. The garden is a naturally ventilated space so dress accordingly for the weather.
The Sky Garden Nearest Tube Station
The nearest London Underground Station to get to the 20 Fenchurch Street Sky Garden is Monument on the Circle and District lines.
A Sky Garden Restaurant London List
Visitors are not permitted to bring food or drink but there five restaurants/bars available. The Sky Garden prices are what you’d expect of London prices; a little steep, the Fenchurch Restaurant is at the high end of the scale and the Sky Pod at the bottom. To eat at the Sky Garden book a table in advance to avoid disappointment.
Dress code for all the bars and restaurants is smart/casual, shorts, beachwear and flip flops are not permitted.
Fenchurch Restaurant Sky Garden
An elegant rooftop restaurant and bar with west facing views of London located on the top floor (37) of the Sky Garden Walkie Talkie. A £30 corkage fee is applied to guests who bring their own wine.
Open for lunch: Mon-Sun, 11.45am – 2.45pm. Dinner: Mon-Sun, 5.45pm – 10.15pm.
Terrace with unspoilt views from top of the Sky Garden on the 37th floor.
Open Mon-Fri 6pm – 10.15 pm. Sat 9pm – 10.15pm.
Walk-ins welcome from 6.15pm on weekdays and 9.15pm weekends, subject to availability.
Darwin Brassire Sky Garden
Walkie Talkie restaurant overlooking the Thames that offers the best of classic British dishes.
Open for Breakfast: Mon-Sun, 7.30am – 10am.
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11.30am – 4.30pm.
Dinner: Sun-Thu, 5pm – 10pm. Fri-Sat, 5pm – 10.30pm.
Weekend Set Brunch: Sat-Sun, 11.30am – 4.30pm.
City Garden Bar
This Sky Garden bar offers all day drinking and dining on the 36th floor with a selection of sharing boards.
Open Tue-Wed, 11am – 11pm. Thu-Fri, 11am – 11.30pm. Sat, 11am – 12am. Sun-Mon, Closed.
Evening walk-ins are welcome. Last entry: Tue-Wed, 10.30pm. Thu-Fri, 11pm. Sat, 11.30pm.
Sky Pod Bar
Great for a Sky Garden afternoon tea and all day drinking and dining with a selection of bakery and deli choices on the 35th floor.
Open Sun-Wed, 7am – 11.30pm. Thu-Fri, 7am – 12am. Sat, 8am – 1am.
Last Entry: Sun-Wed, 11pm. Thurs-Fri, 11:30pm. Sat, 12:30am.
New Kid On The Block
So there’s a new kid in town called The Garden at 120. It’s an open air, roof top garden that is free and open to the public with no pre-booking necessary. Simply walk in and take the lift to the top floor. It has a capacity of 207 people. The Garden at 120 opened on 15 February 2019, the address is 120 Fenchurch Street.
Opening hours are, Mon-Fri, 10am to 6.30pm (9pm in summer). They are trialling weekend openings for a period, 10am to 5pm.
Walkie Talkie Building Melts Car
The Walkie Talkie made headlines during construction in 2013 when it melted a car and was re-nicknamed the Walkie Scorchie. Its concave shape and mirrored glass, reflected powerful rays of light onto the street below causing damage. The building has since been fitted with a sunshade that deflects light.
More Ideas for Free Things To Do plus Sightseeing in London
It can be tough choosing places to go in London, for those with limited time. It’s a city that has much to offer – for free. However, the Sky Garden Walkie Talkie building is perfect for sightseeing London from one spot! It’s easily one of the best things to do in London.
If you enjoyed this article you may want to check out our post, Photographing London, Best City In The World For Street Photography.
Another idea for a fun day out in London is flying the Emirates Air Line at Greenwich, it comes highly recommended by us.
London’s latest rooftop spot has recently opened – 120 Fenchurch Street. The best bit? It’s free and you don’t have to prebook, just turn up! The rooftop garden is open in the summer months Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays) from 10am until 9pm. With a nifty bit of technology you can also check in real time how busy it is.
One thing worth looking out for is down at ground level. The building has a spacious through-passageway to retain a historic link between Fenchurch Street and Fenchurch Avenue. It’s from here that you catch a lift to the roof. But before you do, look up.
There’s a digital art installation by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier on the ceiling. It aims to act as a camera obscura bringing imagery from the garden down to the street. The best moment comes when the image flickers onto the roof’s live-stream, trained on Tower Bridge. People walk underneath barely noticing, but stop and stare when it grabs their attention.
Thanks so much for this information Jetset Boyz.
For sure now we must go back to check it out and look for these extra details, next time we’re in London.
Wow, this looks amazing. Didnt know about this, could have took the girls in 2016 on our day out to London 😊
This would have made an amazing stop-off on your London day out. The queues are long which might be a problem keeping the girls entertained but once up inside it’ll feel like you have wings! 🙂
Great text and photos as always, and what an interesting attraction. I have a technical question, do you use a polarizing filter to avoid reflections when shooting through Glass? Aside from the great shot of Sharon and the glass ceiling, I didn’t see many reflections.
Thanks Rick and Sally, great to hear from you. We do use a polarizing filter that is carried in the kit bag at all times, however, we didn’t use it for these photos at the Sky Garden. There wasn’t really an issue of reflections looking out, perhaps they have none reflective glass. 🙂
Definately top of my list of thngs to do this year ,((nephew Nigel Henry )) is always Inviting us but sonething always get in the way after seeing your pic it got to happen this year having sat up Dianas peak since 2004 cant get home yet so London it is. ❤️😄
Hee hee love it – going to London to have a sit on top Diana’s Peak! Make sure to take some bread ‘n’ dance with you to complete the feeling. 🙂
Another ‘gem’ Sharon & Darrin- might inspire me to make the effort! – only 20 miles away but your expert description & photos leave little to the imagination. Thanks Chris
Excellent thanks Chris! It’ll definitely be worth the effort, nothing like being there and seeing things in real-life. 🙂
Amazing pictures and a wonderful read you have a way with words. I felt I was there .👏👏 .You have been to so many places I’ve lived in UK for 55yrs and only been to London twice.
Wow thanks for that lovely compliment Shirley. But you made us laugh, fancy only going to London twice in 55 years! London is our favourite city. Suggest you remedy this with a trip to 20 Fenchurch Street. And you’ll feel a little bit like being up on Diana’s Peak sat under the tree ferns. 🙂
Great pictures and creative writing we have come to expect wonderful
Thanks so much Lawson! If you haven’t been already, we totally recommend a visit next time you’re in town. 🙂
Took my family there in 2016 great experience and yes its free all you have to do is book via there website in advance
It’s totally cool right? being budget travellers we’re always on the lookout for free things to do and the Sky Garden in the middle of London is a gem. Great place for a family outing. 🙂