What?: You might not think that an immaculately kept, glass-clad garden on the 35th floor of a top-heavy corporate skyscraper notorious for melting parked cars during clement weather sounds like a particularly intelligent-sounding day-trip destination for a lone, hormone-addled mother and her catastrophe-prone, tantrum-ready toddler. And you’d be right, it isn’t.
So why did I bother dragging the (just about) walking disaster there in the first place? Well, not to shift the blame here but I did get the idea from the usually failsafe Family London by Jimi Famurewa, who assured me that this vertigo-inducing conservatory in the clouds was in fact “surprisingly child friendly” and that I could “expect to see little tykes pushing the squishy log-shaped seats around” (I’ll come back to this in a minute) – a recommendation that was backed up by a handful of ‘Instamamas’ I follow who’ve lugged their tiny Instachildren up into the dizzying heights of the Walkie Talkie, lived to tell the tale and possibly even had something loosely resembling a nice day out.
So maybe not a completely irrational idea, although I did feel like a massive, irresponsible dickhead standing in the queue for the lift for over an hour, sandwiched between a twenty-something couple taking arty photos of their own reflections and a small child named Calum who spent the duration asking his mother how many minutes had passed since their timed entry slot expired while Bab writhed around in her buggy, tearfully appealing for her release while I tried to explain how lovely everything would be when we eventually made it to the top.
And yes, we did eventually make it to the top – despite my best efforts to abandon the queue, which proved fruitless since we were surrounded by reinforced glass barricades on both sides and a 100-deep wall of people to the front and rear; despite the fact that there were only two working lifts due to refurbishment works; and despite my backpack having to go through the airport-style security scanner because I had “too much stuff” for the manual bag check.
Once we’d squashed ourselves into one of the lifts with a dozen American tourists, whizzed 155 metres into the air and left the buggy in the care of a planter for want of a better place to park it, I ushered Bab out onto the viewing deck, where I tried to interest her in, y’know, LONDON for all of 20 seconds before she demanded to be taken back inside. She then spent the remaining 59 minutes alternating between scrambling up and down the two staircases that flank the garden terraces and pushing bar stools into people’s shins – not squishy log-shaped seats, but hard, disconcertingly portable and potentially lethal bar stools. Thanks for warning me about those, Jimi.
But it’s not really Jimi’s fault. He probably had a lovely time at the Sky Garden with his well-mannered brood. You’ll probably have a nice time with yours. Like I always say, every family outing is totally unique and child-dependent: dependent on their mood, their personality, their period of animate existence. Yes, we had a crappy afternoon -mostly because we were both in poopy moods from all the queueing – but that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to love about this vertiginous Shangri-La: the views are obviously spectacular; the horticulture is pleasing, if a little neat for my liking; and the space itself is surprisingly zen considering its popularity. Personally I wouldn’t bring kids here until they’re old enough to at least appreciate a nice sunset but I’d happily come back on my own and get wasted on overpriced cocktails and then press myself up against the glass wall that surrounds the viewing platform and pretend I’m Superman.
Where?: The Sky Garden is located on the 35th Floor of 20 Fenchurch Street, a three-minute walk from Monument (Circle, District), five from Bank (Northern, Central, Waterloo & City, DLR) and 12 from Liverpool Street (Ginger, Central, mainline, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan).
Best Bits: The view.
Worst Bits: The queue.
Facilities: Step-free access, baby-changing facilities. The website states that no food other than baby food should be consumed in the garden, though we cracked out the toddler snacks and no one cared. We didn’t try the cafe as I’d heard it’s (predictably) pretty pricy, and we didn’t clock any highchairs.
Cost: Free, though tickets must be booked in advance and can be tricky to get hold of. Check the site first thing on a Monday morning for your best chance at snagging a couple (little ones need a ticket too).
Would We Come Back?: While the lift refurbishment works are temporary and you shouldn’t normally expect to wait more than 10 minutes to gain access to the top, I still don’t think there’s really anything to be gained from dragging a toddler up a skyscraper unless you or they are particularly into it. I kept thinking we could have gone to the local pub to push some bar stools around and had the same experience, minus the hour-long queue, the Matrix-style high-security lobby and the vague feeling of nausea.
Bab observes her kingdom from the viewing deck at the Sky Garden, Fenchurch Street.