Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard
31 St. Thomas St., London, shangri-la.com/london. 202 rooms from $827.
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, arrived on his bike to officiate at the May 6 opening of the Shangri-la at the Shard. Tellingly, his bike was washed and polished for his return trip by hotel staff. That's the level of care that comes with a well-run luxury hotel, even one occupying the 35th to the 52nd floor of the tallest building in Western Europe.
But nothing can outscore the view. It is simply breathtaking. When guests alight from the elevator at the hotel's Sky Lobby on the 34th floor, conversations usually cease.
The view of London, in any weather and at any time of day, overwhelms. From floor-to-ceiling windows in all the rooms, too, guests can see most of the major city landmarks – the Olympic Stadium, Tower Bridge, the Thames, the London Eye and St. Paul's.
The five-star Shangri-La at the Shard is located in South London, close to Canary Wharf and the restored Globe Theatre and right beside London Bridge Station, which connects to the airports and the Tube. Bermondsey Market, with its antiques and food stalls, is a short walk, as is Tower Bridge, the Thames and the HMS Belfast, now a Second World War museum.
During construction, one wise young fox figured out this was a perfect location for a sleepover. He was found on the 72nd floor of the Shard and lived on purloined sandwiches and scraps from the workers. He was captured and returned to the wilds of Bermondsey. The Shangri-la Hotel has immortalized him with a plush fox in each room (purchase price $18).
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
You would think that privacy was a given this high up, but some sightlines in the hotel allow guests in other rooms and on other floors a view into yours, especially at night. The hotel needs to post a warning that blinds should be lowered if privacy is needed.
The look is contemporary but opulent, with marble floors, floor-to-ceiling windows in every room and Asian and Western art pieces in good supply. Clean and spacious rooms (about 40 square feet on average) almost seem to float above London, especially at night when the city lights up below. Colours are muted greys, golds, creams and blues that create a sense of calm and order; it's elegance without ostentation. If there's a degree of discomfort that comes from sleeping high in the sky in a building shaped like a shard of glass, the Shangri-La has countered the sharpness with thick, richly patterned carpets and gold murals in the public rooms to add warmth and to soften the edges. Each room also has blackout blinds on every window if you want to block out the view. Otherwise, watch the sun rise over the Thames while sipping morning coffee in bed or soak in the tub while enjoying London's night lights.
Sightseeing made easy: Each room comes with binoculars and a viewing guide to ogle the cityscape. But in the Iconic View rooms, guests can hold the room's iPad up to the window to identify a building and learn about its history. A welcome pot of tea in your room after check-in is also a nice touch.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Definitely plan to eat in for at least one meal. TING on the 35th floor is a fine-dining restaurant that capitalizes on the great views. With fresh ingredients from nearby Borough Market, chef Emile Maneth has designed a contemporary menu that draws on the culinary classics – organic lamb, good British steaks and a foie gras starter with a tuille topper made from roasted Valrhona chocolate from Venezuela. It's pricey at $33 but heavenly.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
To take full advantage of this hotel's primary asset, book any of the rooms whose numbers end in 01 – those are the Iconic View rooms, which cost more but will provide you with a sunset and sunrise that is unforgettable. Set your alarm and don't close the blinds.