Original Photo by B J Mullan Attribution CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Shard at London Bridge is basically a high-rise building in Southwark, London.  It has also been referred to as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge or the London Bridge Tower and it is officially the tallest building in Western Europe.  Certainly the most prominent building on the London skyline, the good news is that you can visit the Shard and take the lift to what must be the ultimate spot to get a great view over the capital; it's tall enough to give you a view that takes in the entire city.  The bad news is, it isn't free, in fact it is more expensive than the London Eye.  

 

 

The Shard replaced a 1970s office block, Southwark Towers, a rather non-descript 24-storey office building built on the site in 1975.  London-based entrepreneur Irvine Sellar decided to commission architect Renzo Piano, who is best known for creating Paris’s Pompidou Centre in cooperation with Britain’s Richard Rogers. Mr Sellar flew to Berlin in March 2000 to meet Piano for lunch. According to Sellar, the architect spoke of his contempt for tall buildings during the meal, before flipping over the restaurant’s menu and sketching an iceberg-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames. He got his ideas from the railway lines next to the site, the London spires in the paintings of 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, and the masts of sailing ships.

Demolition of Southwark Towers began in 2008, and construction of the Shard began in 2009, the structure was completed in April 2012 and it opened to the public on 5 July 2012.

Opened by London Mayor Boris Johnson, he is quoted as saying, "It’s like something prodding up through the frail integuments of the planet like an intergalactic spear." That was just the warm up, he went on, "It’s like the tip of a cocktail stick emerging through the skin of a super-colossal pickled onion. It looks as though it’s growing.  It looks as though subterranean forces are pushing it up so it will reach your vision of 400m which, of course, air traffic controllers refused to allow you to do." 

It is 309.6 metres (1,016 ft) high, making it the tallest building in Europe. It is also the second-tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom, after the 330-metre (1,083 ft) concrete tower at the Emley Moor transmitting station.  

There are 72 floors that can be used for offices, with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck – the UK's highest – on the 72nd floor, at a height of 245 metres (804 ft). It was designed with an irregular pyramidal shape from the bottom to the top, and is covered entirely in glass, 11,000 glass panels to be exact; enough glass to cover 8 football pitches.   There are 306 flights of stairs, but you don't need to walk up as there are 44 lifts, including high-speed lifts that only take 60 seconds to get from the bottom to the top. The total floor space is 11 hectares (27 acres) and according to the building specifications, 95% of the construction materials were recycled.

Is it worth paying to go up there? Well, there is a great 360° view and on a clear day, visitors can see for 40 miles from the observation deck.  Even in bad weather there are high tech telescopes that use augmented reality to help you learn all about the landmarks around, so it's a kind of virtual tour of London.  

You won't get much change from  £100 for a family of four, but they are expecting a million visitors in 2013, which I guess will help towards the £2 billion cost of construction. 

If 
you do decide to go, you have to book in advance, but at least that means no queuing. I guess it all depends on how much your budget is.  Take a look at the online brochure, and then decide.