If you haven't been to London lately, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a North American City.
Where once the London Eye, or St Paul's top Gallery were the viewing platforms of choice, now the skyline is dominated by dozens of high-rise buildings, many which offer viewing platforms, some of them free, negotiated as part of the development process. With the British penchant for nicknames there's the Gherkin, the Shard and the Cheese Grater all offering new and unique views of the river and the city environs, from Greenwich to Richmond.
I recently visited the unique Sky Garden, located on the 35th floor of the "Walkie Talkie" building at 20 Fenchurch Street in the business heart of the City. It's free but you need a timed ticket to access it.
Tickets can be downloaded online or on your smart phone and a form of identification such as passport or driving license must be matched with the booking number before gaining entrance.
A swift ride in the smoothest fastest elevator I have ever ridden in whisks you to the 35th floor, where you can easily spend a few hours. On the day we visited there was non-stop torrential rain outside but here in this tropical oasis, it didn't matter a bit, even if the view was slightly blurred. The elevator deposits you at a large mezzanine, with plenty of comfortable seating and soft sofas if you just want to take in the atmosphere. There is an Observation deck and open air terrace with points of interest highlighted on information boards, surrounding the building, but on this day it was closed due to the inclement weather. Not a good day for photography which is encouraged.
But there's plenty to do inside. The award winning design is climate controlled to accommodate a luscious botanical garden which flows upwards three stories from the mezzanine to a large glass dome, with rare tropical plants and shrubs sourced from around the world, and labelled with their origins. A staircase winds through it and after you have climbed up and down, among the sweet smelling colourful plants mixed in with lavender and herbs, you might feel like a cup of coffee and a snack. The City Garden Bar, one of four restaurants to choose from, in the centre of the floor offers reasonably priced meals and drinks. The Sky Pod bar at the top end will whet your whistle if you decide to take a break before meandering back down to the main mezzanine.
This is just two of the several restaurants from up market casual to high end and as we were celebrating my sister's birthday, we decided to treat ourselves to a special lunch at the Darwin Brasserie, half way up the garden with wide windows overlooking the view.
With its immaculate white table cloths, smartly dressed servers and impeccable service, we knew this was somewhat special before we even sat down, and it didn't disappoint. Our server was personable and knowledgeable and our drinks order arrived quickly. From an extensive menu I chose roast stone bass fillet with fresh vegetables of the day, which
arrived promptly and cooked to perfection, with a dessert to die for. Service was discreet but impeccable and unhurried and we lingered over our coffee, loath to end this sophisticated but relaxed afternoon. The bill for this pleasant experience was 90£, about double the average sit down lunch in London, but I considered it well worth it to experience one of London's newest and original attractions.
And a pleasant aside for Ladies who like to lunch and shop, although Fenchurch Street is the heart of the financial district, there's even a large upmarket Marks and Spenser's and some boutique stores nearby, worth a look in before you depart the area.
Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers
London is not characterised by any particular architectural style, having accumulated its buildings over a long period of time. Few structures predate the Great Fire of 1666, with notable exceptions including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Banqueting House and several scattered Tudor survivors in the City of London.
The City itself contains a wide variety of styles, progressing through Wren's late 17th-century churches and the financial institutions of the 18th and 19th century such as the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England, to the early 20th century Old Bailey (England and Wales' central criminal court) and the 1960s Barbican Estate. Notable recent buildings are the 1980s skyscraper Tower 42, the Lloyd's building with services running along the outside of the structure, and the 2004 Swiss Re building, known as the "Gherkin".
London's generally low-rise nature makes these skyscrapers and others such as One Canada Square and its neighbours at Canary Wharf and the BT Tower in Fitzrovia very noticeable from a distance. High-rise development is restricted at certain sites if it would obstruct protected views of St. Paul's Cathedral. Nevertheless, there are plans for more skyscrapers in central London, including the 72-storey "Shard of Glass", which is now completed and currently stands as the tallest building in the European Union.
Other notable modern buildings include City Hall in Southwark with its distinctive ovular shape, the British Library in Somers Town, the Great Court of the British Museum, and the striking Millennium Dome next to the Thames east of Canary Wharf. The 1933 Battersea Power Station by the river in the southwest is a local landmark, whilst some railway termini are excellent examples of Victorian architecture, most notably St Pancras and Paddington. London County Council was responsible for public housing projects such as the Edwardian Bourne Estate in Holborn.
Several monuments pay homage to people and events in the city. The Monument in the City of London provides views of the surrounding area whilst commemorating the Great Fire of London which originated nearby. Marble Arch and Wellington Arch, at the north and south ends of Park Lane respectively, have royal connections, as do the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. Nelson's Column is a nationally recognised monument in Trafalgar Square, providing a focal point for the whole central area.
Since 2004, the London Festival of Architecture is held in June, and focuses on the importance of architecture and design in London today.
20 Fenchurch Street is a commercial skyscraper in London that takes its name from its address on Fenchurch Street, in the historic City of London financial district. It has been nicknamed 'The Walkie-Talkie' because of its distinctive shape. Construction was completed in spring 2014, and the top-floor 'sky garden' was opened in January 2015. The 34-storey building is 160 m (525 ft) tall, making it the sixth-tallest building in the City of London and the 12th tallest in London.
Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly and costing over £200 million, 20 Fenchurch Street features a highly distinctive top-heavy form which appears to burst upward and outward. A large viewing deck, bar and restaurants are included on the top three floors; these are, with restrictions, open to the public.
The tower was originally proposed at nearly 200 m (656 ft) tall but its design was scaled down after concerns about its visual impact on the nearby St Paul's Cathedral and Tower of London. It was subsequently approved in 2006 with the revised height. Even after the height reduction there were continued concerns from heritage groups about its impact on the surrounding area. The project was consequently the subject of a public inquiry; in 2007 this ruled in the developers' favour and the building was granted full planning permission.