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Should You Visit Garden at 120 or Sky Garden – The Battle of Fenchurch Street

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The City of London is a mysterious world of commuters in fancy suits, wildly expensive restaurants and grab-and-go lunch places that are usually closed by 17:00. It isn’t often you get to experience a little slice of it, but there are hidden spots that you can enjoy. Why are they hidden? Because you can’t see them from the street…unless you look up. Enter the Garden at 120, overlooked by its closest neighbour and greatest competitor, the Sky Garden. So if you are visiting Fenchurch Street, and want to check out a free roof garden in London, should you visit Garden at 120 or Sky Garden? Let’s find out whether you are should visit London’s largest outdoor roof garden or its most famous one. Garden at 120 vs Sky Garden, let battle commence!


The Garden At 120 or Sky Garden – The Battle of Fenchurch Street

Round One – The Building

120 Fenchurch Street

120 Fenchurch Street is a shiny new building, chock full of office and retail space. To look at, it is nothing special; modern but dull.

120 Fenchurch Street
The Sky Garden

The Sky Garden sits on the top three floors of the 20 Fenchurch Street building. The slightly bulbous skyscraper has been nicknamed by Londoners “the walkie talkie”. Many people think it is pretty ugly but I like a building with a bit of visual intrigue so I don’t mind it. That’s why Sky Garden is the winner.

The Walkie Talkie

Round One: Garden at 120 0 – SkyGarden 1

Did You Know?

The square mile in the City of London has just under 9,500 residents. Every day this swells to over 300,000 with the volume of commuters that swarm into the offices and banks in the area.

Round Two – Ticketing

Garden at 120

There are no tickets needed for Garden at 120. Instead it is a case of first come, first served. That even includes the people who work in the building, they need to head downstairs and queue up for the lift just like everyone else. This lack of reservations is good for a touch of spontaneity but you could be stuck in a queue or not get up at all. Just make sure you don’t go during the city lunch hour and it should be a lot less busy.

The Sky Garden

To enter the Sky Garden, getting a ticket is highly advised. These are free and can be booked up to three weeks in advance on the website. At peak times (school holidays, weekends) you need to be pretty quick off the mark but if you like to plan things in advance then you should be fine. For those of us who like to think on our feet, or if you don’t get to hear of it until you are already in London, then you may miss out. Walk-ins are available Monday to Friday but only at certain times and subject to availability. It is for this reason, Garden at 120 gets the win for this round.

Round Two: Garden at 120 1 – SkyGarden 1

Forget the Shard, that will cost you at least £20

Round Three – Making an Entrance

Garden at 120

The first thing that greets you as you head towards the lobby is a screen on the ceiling with pictures moving across it. When we arrived it was showing rippling water, and then transitioned into a beautiful blossom tree. It was very well done and brought lots of lovely light into the area.

You pass through airport-style security and then take the lift up the fifteen floors. The lift is nothing special but then it doesn’t take that long to get up to the roof.

The Sky Garden

The lobby is bright and airy but there is not much to look at other than a semi-green wall. You will have your tickets checked, along with ID and then you are whisked into the lift. Again, a dull lift but it does have a counter that takes you up to floor 35. It shares little bits of information but unless you are right next to it, you may not be able to read it. To be honest, I don’t think we are very good at exciting lift rides here in the UK.

For its cool LED roof, Garden at 120 wins this round.

Round Three: Garden at 120 2 – SkyGarden 1

Did You Know

The Queen has to ask the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the City of London. If you see her at one of these roof gardens, he must have said yes.

Round Four – The Food and Beverage Situation

Garden at 120

On the 14th floor, a new restaurant is due to open in spring 2019. The eating spot, owned by D&D London, is going to have amazing views of the surrounding city, but we are sure the price will reflect this. If you want a better view, and for free, you will want to visit the floor above!

Here, there are no options to purchase anything so it is a picnic affair. Purchase something before you come if you want to eat and drink in the garden.

The Sky Garden

You can bring food and drink up to the Sky Garden but there are more options to purchase things at the top. None of these are going to be cheap but it can help to make the experience feel a little more special.

The Sky Pod and Fenchurch Terrace are the two bars and face in opposite directions. If you want the sun, opt for a cocktail in the Sky Pod.

Neither of the restaurants (the Darwin Brasserie and Fenchurch Restaurant) are by the window but you can still see some of the view. They are both pretty posh and so you need to dress up and make a reservation.

For its different options, Sky Garden takes this round

Round Four: Garden at 120 2 – SkyGarden 2

Round Five – The Space

Garden at 120

Garden at 120 is totally open to the elements which is wonderful when it is sunny but terrible when it rains. That is why it is good you don’t have to have tickets.

The garden has points a-plenty. There are striking pergolas full of triangles that cast angular shadows across the floor. The main exception is the pool. Although it is in an angular swathe across the front of the garden, the water’s movement creates softness. We sat by it to eat our picnic and enjoy the reflections of the sun.

The Sky Garden

Sky Garden is mostly enclosed so it is more of a year-round destination. It can get a little chilly in winter but it is warmer than if it was outside. It also means that if rain hits, you aren’t going to suffer. There is a balcony so you can get outside but it can get pretty windy. You can’t get a tan here or sit in the sun and it is closed in bad weather.

I am giving Sky Garden a win for this one but begrudgingly. If the sun is out, then Garden at 120 would win, but how often can you rely on that in the UK!?

Round Five: Garden at 120 2 – SkyGarden 3

Did You Know?

The entrances to the City of London are guarded by dragons…not real ones…I think.

Round Six – The Seating

Garden at 120

There are plenty of spots to take a seat. You can find sun or shade in which to lounge, and at different heights to make it accessible which is nice. We really enjoyed soaking up the sun for a while as we nibbled on our picnic lunch. I think that the level of seating is right.

The Sky Garden

At first glance, there seems to be plenty of seating but you very quickly realise that much of it is only for bar guests. Those with bar stools or plastic sofas nurse their drinks. I suppose it is fair enough as they are enjoying a rest for their feet.

Personally, I don’t believe there is enough seating for the number of visitors, and so coming here for a nice picnic isn’t a great option. Come for the view but if you want to relax, you need to spend some money.

The Garden at 120 is a clear winner for me here.

Round Six: Garden at 120 3 – SkyGarden 3

So it all comes down to the last category!

Round Seven – The View

Garden at 120

On the fifteenth floor, you will be above most of the normal buildings in the immediate area. This is a nice height where you can still see the details of the surrounding urban landscape. However, there are a few taller buildings which block out a substantial percentage of the view.

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The Sky Garden

Twenty floors higher, at number 35, you can see everything. Follow the Thames along its curves from Westminster to East London. If you make your way up the stairs and around the building, you will get the whole 350 degrees. You can even use free telescopes to check out things in the distance or the details of things that are closer.

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For the greater scope of the view, Sky Garden takes it!

Round Seven: Garden at 120 3 – SkyGarden 4

Winner!

We finally have a winner in the question of whether you should visit Garden at 120 or Sky Garden! Well done to Sky Garden!

As you can see from the close scores, both of these free London roof gardens are a great option. We have enjoyed visits at both and would bring guests to either. So forget choosing between Garden at 120 and Sky Garden. Why pick? VISIT BOTH!

Information – Fenchurch Street Location

If Fenchurch Street means nothing to you, let us help.

The easiest way to reach Fenchurch Street is to take London Underground to:

  • Aldgate – 5 minute walk
  • Tower Hill – 6 minute walk
  • Monument – 7 minute walk (Monument is also connected to Bank Station, but it takes a while to get between them).
  • London Bridge – 15 minute walk (also a National Rail Station)

Fenchurch Street Station is just a 2 minute walk away but only serves National Rail routes to South-East London and Essex.

While you are here, keep your eyes peeled for two special spots:

1.) Look for the old Lloyd’s of London building, topped with its golden ship (the city is full of these stop and stare moments),

2.) Visit nearby Leadenhall Market for yummy food, a gorgeous old arcade roof and the odd pub.

Useful Links

Here are some links that you might like if you are thinking of visiting:

Rosie xx


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