Best view in London: The Shard, EU's tallest building, opens to the public

Best view in London: The Shard, EU's tallest building, opens to the public

It's a first day sell out at London's 244-meter-high viewing platform

Bird's-eye view? Not really -- few birds get this high.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the opening of the public viewing area of The Shard.

The Shard -- eyesore to some, marvel to others -- on Friday opened to the public, most of whom will head straight to the 72nd floor, 244 meters above ground level.

The 309-meter (1,013 foot) building, overlooking London Bridge in the city's South Bank area and designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, surpassed the Commerzbank Headquarters in Frankfurt by nine meters, to become the highest building in the European Union.

Its viewing floors, called The View from The Shard, offer views twice as high as any other viewing platform in London, looking down on the city's sprawling districts and iconic landmarks.

shard viewing platformOn a clear day visitors will be able to see 64 kilometers (40 miles) across London. The building has already had its share of controversy.

Critics have called it too costly, too big and too likely to detract from London's other historic monuments.

shard toiletThe view from the toilet on the 68th floor makes this one of the world's most spectacular bathroom stops. More recently, the widely reported discovery of a pair of women's underwear in the male toilets also led to suspicions that not everyone might have been visiting the building for the city view. 

That episode though -- lawyers have been called in to investigate -- hasn't stopped tourists booking trips to the main viewing galleries at levels 68, 69 and 72, to look down upon London’s other famous landmarks, including Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the River Thames. The Shard dwarfs the 180-meter, 30 St. Mary Axe nearby.

The View from The Shard is already booked out from February 1-3. Tickets are sold for specific days and times and can be booked here.

The viewing floors also house 12 high-tech telescopes (called “Tell:scopes") that are loaded with pre-recorded views of the city in case of low visibility.

The open-air viewing gallery at level 72 sits 244 meters above street level -- it's the highest floor of the building open to the public.

In addition to viewing galleries, The Shard will house a swimming pool, a 200-room Shangri-La Hotel, million-dollar residences, restaurants and office space.

Some other Shard stats:

  • 11,000 glass panels were used in construction, covering the equivalent of eight football pitches
  • 44 lifts help people get up and down the building
  • Total floor area is 31.4 acres

When London's famed fog rolls in, the Shard's "Tell:scopes" will provide recorded views of the city.

The View from The Shard outdoes the 135-meter London Eye, and it's entrance fee reflects the difference.

Shard visitors can book tickets online at a discounted cost of £24.95 (US$40) or £30 (US$48.50) at the door, much higher than the London Eye’s cheapest online ticket of £17.28 (US$28).

Tickets for opening day sold out quickly after going on sale in December last year.

"This is the only place in London where you can get a 360-degree view of the city," said Andy Nyberg, chief executive of View from The Shard, defending the ticket price in a Guardian report.

shard shadowSome locals are concerned The Shard will overshadow London's other historic monuments. "All the other big buildings are private. Here, anyone can come and look down at the river winding along and the train tracks spreading out from the base of the building like a spider's web."

"The historical perspective is unmatched. In The Shard we have a 21st-century tower across the river from the 11th-century Tower of London," Nyberg added.

The Shard also promises to be queue and crowd free. Visitors are required to book specific dates and times for visits rather than queuing at the entrance.

The Shard, Joiner Street; open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (closed December 25),;£24.95 for adult (£29.95 purchase on the day); £18.95 for child between 4-15 (£23.95 purchase on the day), free for infants younger than 4; +44 (0) 0844 499 7111;