London has yet another viewing gallery... and it's the tallest in town.
The View From the Shard might be inside London's tallest building, but it's no longer the loftiest viewing platform. The newcomer to town is Horizon 22 which, at 254 metres above ground level trumps the Shard's offering by a good 10 metres*.
You'll find it on the 58th floor of 22 Bishopsgate, the Square Mile's tallest building. It is entirely free to visit. The Shard, by contrast, is £32 if you just turn up. So this newcomer is a winner for height, and it's the runaway winner for cost. But is it any good?
Well, of course it is. You could perch on the shitty bristles of a 254 metre toilet brush and still get a thrill from the height. But Horizon 22 offers something a little more classy.
The lift up to floor 58 takes seconds. You'll feel your ears pop. You emerge onto a common-or-garden lift lobby. But turn right, then left, and you encounter this:
It's one of those rare "Wow" moments that are genuine. It's not just the height, but the light. Two storeys of wraparound triple-glazed windows make this every bit as bright as the Shard's famous platform.
I hardly need describe the views. You can imagine. Croydon's easily visible to the south, with the Downs beyond. Wembley stands out to the west. Canary Wharf is shrouded in haze to the east. And, looking north, the chain of reservoirs alongside Walthamstow really pop out. The Thames is its usual magnificent self.
Down below, muscular buildings like the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange appear as trifles. Construction workers on top of the core of 1 Bishopsgate, a nearby development, also look tiny, despite being 33 floors up. We gaze down onto the Nat-West logo of Tower 42's roof. Hard to imagine this was Britain's tallest building only a few decades ago.
The one frustration with the experience is photography. The triple layers of glass reflect a fair amount of light, meaning it's not always easy to get a shot without glare. I guess it's an unavoidable consequence of a mostly south-facing platform, and one that will be less of an issue on cloudy days.
And don't expect to see "all of London". This isn't quite a 360 degree experience. Lift shafts, plant and back-of-house take up the north-east quarter. I'd guess about 300 degrees are open to gaze. We miss out on Spitalfields and large chunks of the East End.
Horizon 22 enters a crowded market. Its new neighbour 8 Bishopsgate also boasts a recently opened viewing gallery known as The Lookout (presumably in an effort to entice PAW Patrol fans). Throw in the Shard, Sky Garden, Garden at 120 and London's original viewing platform (the now-tiny Monument) and this end of town is becoming Observation Deck Central.
Horizon 22 has been a long time coming. Its parent building occupies land that's been a construction site since 2007. You may recall that a building known as The Pinnacle was originally touted for the plot. Indeed, they got as far as building the core up to the sixth floor. Then funding ran dry and "The Stump", as it was rechristened, sat around as London's shortest skyscraper for five years. Eventually, it was demolished and the blockier 22 Bishopsgate rose in its place. Even then, the viewing gallery took a long time to appear. The building was structurally complete a couple of years ago.
Still higher views are yet to emerge. A group of restaurants will open on the floors above the viewing gallery in due course, and will become the highest eateries in London. Unless the Shard does something with the tip of its spire, this will remain London's highest viewpoint for the foreseeable future. The Square Mile has a new A-list attraction.
Horizon 22 ticket booking opens 20 September 2023, with first ascents on 27 September 2023. Entrance is free but booking is advised (a small number of walk-ins will be available). It opens 7 days a week from 10am, closing at 6pm on weekdays, 5pm on Saturdays and 4pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
*Indeed, it reckons to be the tallest free viewing platform in Europe. Only the Eiffel Tower and the Ostankino Tower in Moscow are higher, both of which charge entry.
All images by Matt Brown, except for this one, which is of Matt Brown, and was taken by Ian Visits: