What was I thinking when I agreed to visit the Shard?
I know I am terrified of heights, and one of the reasons you visit the Shard is because it gives you a view of London from 306 metres in the sky. I thought it would be fine because the Shard is enclosed by glass. Not like the time I visited the Rockefeller Centre lookout in New York City, where it was an open-top deck. What was there to fear? I’d be fine, right?
I was so wrong.
What’s the Shard like when you’re afraid of heights?
As my friend Towner and I hopped into the elevator that took us halfway up the tower, I felt completely confident. I could do this! It will be amazing to see all of London at night. See all of the wonderful lights; be able to see the Ferris wheel, the River Thames and see all of the little people and cars below just living their lives. The lift only took us halfway to floor 33, so we all exited the lift and were guided by a nice Shard employee towards a lift that took us the remainder of the way.
It was at this point that I started to feel a little uneasy. I looked up at the tv screen in the lift as it showed us ascending toward each floor ‘50, 51, and 52’ at a rapid speed until it reached floor 68. The lift doors opened, and the panic really started to set in. We were almost there, but as another little test to my uneasy stomach, we had to go up a flight of stairs to reach the top.
All I could see was how high up we were.
I clutched onto the wall of the stairs and took a deep breath. It would be fine when we reached the floor and got to solid ground, I told myself. I won’t have to worry about falling back down the stairs. I kept picturing myself losing my balance and falling back into the crowd of visitors we shared the elevator journey with.
I stayed strong as I followed Towner to the top stairs. I looked forward and realized that the entire floor was covered in floor-to-ceiling windows.
I began to sweat profusely and realized I had made a mistake. I attached my body to the wall attempting to get as far away from the glass as possible. If I focused really hard, I could skew my vision enough to forget that I was surrounded by terrifying views.
I’ve never been so hot in my life.
Why did my hoodie feel like it was a furnace around my stress-filled body? Why was no one else overheating? It was heat from fear that no one else could feel.
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The view from the Shard in London
The panoramic view of London was stunning. Through my fear, I could see how gorgeous the view was. Towner and I found an empty table to sit at that was against the wall so I could feel a bit more stable. We sat there until I was calm, cooled down a bit and was ready to try to move forward.
Towner took my camera and snapped some lovely pictures as I couldn’t take my eyes off of the view or take my hands from the wall long enough to take any nice pictures myself! As I started to feel a little less frightened, I slowly made myself walk as close as I could to the window. I was feeling a bit more relaxed, luckily!
It took me a while of just sitting at the table, plastered against the wall, to feel comfortable enough to get up and slowly edge towards the windows. I must have looked hilarious to people around me as I did a sort of sideways dance with my arms extended for balance. Still far away enough from the window to feel safe, but getting closer with each breath!
The Shards 72nd-floor view has binoculars attached to the floor so you can focus on any one specific location you were looking for. Instead of using this for its intended use, I clutched onto it for moral and emotional support. As I got closer to the windows, Towner would point out famous London locations we could see. Off to the right was the easiest thing to spot – the London Eye. It was shining a bright red.
Scanning the skyline, we spot the infamous Gherkin, St. Pauls Cathedral, the Tower of London, London Bridge, and the boats moving along the Thames.
The Shard Viewing Tower
We decide to venture up further onto the 75th floor, where there is an open-air observation deck that is closed in enough so it keeps you feeling safe and secure inside the building.
As I confidently ventured upwards, I found some benches beneath the Shards glass spikes. I cooled my body from the sweat and anxiety I felt earlier. The air helped me breathe and made me feel better about being so high up. I think that if you are experiencing vertigo, you should grab a seat and hold on. Relax.
As Towner and I decided to head down the Shard back into the bustling world of London, I decided to take a quick trip to the bathroom. I open the door to the individual stall and am greeted by a terrifying sight.
The toilet is sat there next to a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking London. There really was no way to get away from the view. Not expecting this twist of events, my fear peaks again, and I cling to the wall as I make my way to the toilet.
Unlike most people, I choose to sit looking towards the door inside the building rather than letting my mind wander to the view below. If you were ever wondering what it was like to relieve yourself while all of London watches – and you watch them – the Shard is your place.
I am glad I visited the Shard, as it was both a terrifying and beautiful experience. I believe you can visit if you are afraid of heights, but I would recommend visiting in the evening as it is less busy than the day. It gives you more room to move around and grab onto places where you feel safe while still getting a view of stunning London.
Getting to the Shard:
The Shard is located at 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK
The nearest station is London Bridge (a two-minute walk away).
London Bridge Station is just a 5-minute walk from Blackfriars, a 15-minute walk across London Bridge from the City a pleasant 30-minute walk along with the South Bank of the Thames from Waterloo Station.