The fascinating and enduring history of London is as remarkable as the vibrant and sophisticated city you see today. From its roots as an ancient civilization dating back almost 2,000 years, the City of London grew into an emblem of modernity and is one of the world’s foremost financial and cultural capitals. A hub for tourism, London has long been a dream destination for travellers from around the globe.
Survival of the fittest, as the famous Londoner Charles Darwin coined, befits the city's evolution. Over the eons, London survived and thrived after Roman invasion, Norman conquests, ruthless Vikings, the bubonic plague, Jack the Ripper, two great fires, two World Wars, the Beatles break-up and the Spice Girls’ fashion choices. (Arguably, the well-known English wit and stiff upper lip, accompanied by a good cup of tea, helped.)
London bridges the gap between the old and new worlds. Vestiges of ancient history spanning two millennia, congruently set amid cutting-edge architecture, are nothing short of amazing. This dichotomy of old and new figures greatly into any London travel experience.
In the first of our Modern Europe Travel Guide Series, we introduce you to one of London’s most recognizable pieces of modern architecture, 30 St. Mary Axe. You may be better acquainted with its nickname, The Gherkin, after its distinctive, and much-discussed, shape. (And be sure to check out our Traditional Europe Travel Series for more architectural icons.)
30 St Mary Axe Architecture
The striking 41-storey, 180-metre tall building was completed in 2003, changing the London skyline forever. Developed by Swiss Re (also the building’s name until 2007) and designed by London’s Foster & Partners, The Gherkin’s innovative construction set a benchmark for the rest of Europe, transforming London, one of the world’s oldest financial centres, into an image of modernity and progress.
The glass and steel structure is in stark contrast to its surroundings--St Mary Axe was a medieval parish--thus symbolizing the city’s ancient past and its keen eye on the future.
Like Camilla Parker-Bowles or the atmospheric London fog, one might say 30 St. Mary Axe has a divide of fans and foes. Call it a gherkin, an elongated Faberge Egg, or worse, one thing is for certain, the eye-catching structure is now a London icon. Its fame extends to Hollywood, having played a role in such feature films as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Woody Allen’s Match Point, not to mention numerous film and television cameos.
30 St Mary Axe is a commercial skyscraper, home to many businesses, yet tourists and modern architecture enthusiasts alike make time for a visit during their London travels. The ground floor is open to the public, while all but the 39th and 40th floors are private.
The Bar at 30 St Mary Axe
And what’s on those open floors, you ask? If you’ve worked up an appetite or thirst during your London sightseeing, take the lift (what Brits call an elevator) to HELIX Restaurant on the 39th floor, elevated in both cuisine and height, and named after its home's helix-like design. Or head straight to the glass-domed IRIS Bar, inspired by the building’s iris-shaped peak. It is also your eye to the city (with a nod to the London Eye Ferris wheel), offering sweeping, bird's-eye panoramas of the city, Thames River and beyond from 40-storeys above. From here you can admire The Shard, built in 2009 and London’s tallest skyscraper at 95-stories.
How to Get to 30 St Mary Axe
Located in the City of London’s financial district, there are a number of convenient Underground stations within a less-than-ten-minute walk to 30 St Mary Axe:
Aldgate (walk 6 minutes)
Liverpool Street (walk 7 minutes)
Bank (walk 8 minutes)
Monument (walk 8 minutes)
Aldgate East (walk 9 minutes)
Tower Hill (walk 9 minutes)
If your exploring style is more free-form, when in the Docklands or financial district, to make it to 30 St Mary Axe, simply look to the sky! (And how do you make it to London’s Royal Albert Hall? Lots of music practice. Insert groan.)
Talk to an Expert Traveller
Ready to see Europe’s modern architecture for yourself? There is a Flight Centre travel agent ready to help you make a tailor-made Europe package. Contact us online, Live Chat, at 1 877 967 5302, or best of all, an Expert Traveller at a store near you.