I have always said there is a hotel in London for absolutely everyone, and for every reason you love this city. You could stay in a different hotel every night of the year before you find your perfect match and even then I think you’d wonder if you’ve made the right decision. Coming to London for the first time, as a visiting tourist, must be mind boggling when it comes to figuring out “where to lay your head at night.” For many the search used to start on a massive site like Expedia. These days, I think consumers are paying much more attention to the experience taking place on social media. Everyone I know uses Instagram as a sort of “inspirational” travel outlet. Places they never even knew existed are discovered on Instagram first, before mass market websites, print magazines or daily newspapers. We are seduced by the dreamy breakfasts, the chic interiors and the prime locations in cities and the views, all of the beautiful views. In London, hotel views come in many different shapes and sizes. You can be overlooking Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Thames River, St. Paul’s or Canary Wharf. You get to pick and choose which view is for you. Or, you can stay in a hotel that has a view of it all. A hotel that sits so high in the sky that all of London looks like a model village laid out below, with the only movement being trains and cars that travel silently below. There is no other hotel view like this is in London, because it is in fact the highest hotel in the city. This is Shangri-La London, in the famous Shard building in London Bridge. It is the tallest building that stands in London today and the views are truly unrivalled.
We made our way to Shangri-La London for a staycation just two days after they reopened. We were curious to see how the tallest hotel in London was dealing with new rules and regulations to keep guests safe in this new world we are living in.
Of course the first question that popped into my head involved the elevators. When you arrive at the Shangri-La, you enter into a lift that takes you straight to the 32nd floor, where reception is located for check in. Stepping in, I found that there were four stickers on the floor, clearly marking where it was acceptable to stand to meet government guidelines for social distancing as you ride up. We stepped in with one other guest, and we all very quickly took to our corners, smiled at one another and flew swiftly and quietly up to reception.
When you walk out of the lift and into the lobby of the Shangri-La London, you realise you are dealing with a completely different experience here. Even at this height, the views are breathtaking. You are immediately looking over the Millennium Bridge, which carries your eyes over to St. Paul’s and beyond. It’s difficult, at this point, to concentrate on the required paperwork to check in. I think the receptionists are used to it. Distracted by beauty, I did wonder if the view ever just becomes normal for them.
We grab our keys, head up to the 48th floor to drop our bags off in our city view suite, and both plop straight onto the bed to imagine what waking up here will feel like tomorrow morning. We make a pact never to bring down the window shades. With a view like this, we don’t want to miss a minute. The room has floor to ceiling windows. There is nothing obstructing your view of London, beyond the structure of the building itself, which is minimal.
We explore a bit more and discover that the view from the bed is only the start. The bathroom is where this suite shines. A bathtub, situated at the corner of the room, has the most glorious 180 degree view of the city below. And the shower, standing next to it, is also a view that is rather unexpected. At this point I am hoping there is no way anyone has a super telescope capable of spying into the room, as I will most definitely be taking a shower and love that I can do so with a floor to ceiling window next to me. Off came the clothes and this was the first thing I did. I washed my hair, in the buff, as I watched boats go to and fro on the Thames below me. It was liberating! For the first time in my life, I felt like a bit of an exhibitionist. Trust me when I say this old school values southern girl never had that in mind when checking in.
After unpacking and relaxing in the room, Steve hit the gym. Running on a treadmill on the 52nd floor with a view was, as it turns out, quite the experience. For safety, they are limiting the number of people in the gym and have Perspex barriers erected between every machine to keep guests safe.
I set into taking pictures around the room and we finally came back together to put on our finest attire and head down to Ting for dinner. On the right side of the building, we sat in the restaurant just as the sun was setting, with a glorious view of Tower Bridge. When we first sat down, I couldn’t help but notice the ginormous shadow the Shard cast over the city. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, but it was beautiful and so mind blowing to think I was sitting atop that tall shadow caster, enjoying a perfectly spiced steak tartare and Pad Thai. Yes, Ting is a fusion restaurant, serving both English and Asian cuisine. We each decided to try one thing from both menus. I went English to start and Asian for main, and Steve did the reverse. We sat, cocktails or wine in hand, until the sun had faded away completely and the view was replaced with the twinkling city lights of London’s evening song. While the tables in the restaurant were placed so as to abide by social distancing rules, the atmosphere was no less spectacular. Both tourists and neighbourhood regulars all seemed grateful to be back and all too happy to laugh, converse, smile and relax in this setting.
It was late when we finally came back to the room. I was too tired to draw a bath so promised myself the privilege in the morning. We fell asleep with the city still churning below us and we were awoken by the rising sun the next morning, shining dully at first into our room. The London smog gave the sky a purply pink tint and I quietly slipped out of bed, into some slippers and my bathrobe and slinked into the bathroom to draw a bath at sunrise. I lay in bliss, catching up on emails from the night before and occasionally looking around me and pinching myself as the sun became brighter and brighter.
At around 5:45, I leapt from the bath, remembering that the pool was open at 6am. I wanted to be the first in to capture the beautiful view from the infinity pool on the 52nd floor. I wasn’t left disappointed. I was the first in, with Steve to follow, and I took my pictures, dismantled the tripod and just floated, overlooking my home city as it came alive again.
While Steve swam laps behind me, I started to cry, with my face turned outwards, towards the city. This had been my home for so long, I had grown up in this city. From this view I could see where I had my first kiss with a man I was sure I would marry, on the millennium bridge. I could also see the place where he broke my heart on the River Thames. My view stretched over to the green spaces, where I’ve lost track of the days spent either picnicking with friends or running off workplace frustrations. The South Bank, where many a Saturday was spent strolling during festivals or Christmas events, seemed more quiet than usual. Even the trains coming in and out of London seemed less frequent and there was less of an urgency to people out and about walking. This was still my city, but it was slightly bruised by recent events. It’s nothing it won’t come back from and it’s nothing that will keep me from coming back. But, seeing it all laid out before me, left me with big, chunky, wet tears streaming down my face.
Steve swam up behind me and I quickly brushed the tears away from my cheeks. “We’ll come back,” he said. I knew he was right. But for this moment, the Shangri-La view reminded me of just how much magic it is both in full view and hidden away in this illustrious city.
I suppose this is the longest run on sentence ever for simply saying, if you are looking for a room with a view in London, you will find nothing that matches the view presented here. Nothing. This is THE VIEW OF LONDON. Whether you are coming here to stay as a tourist, or coming in to fall back in love with the city you call home, this London perspective will leave you loved up to a degree you might have never expected.
Coming back down to the ground floor, and stepping out into the city again, I had a spring in my step. London, we’ve seen hard times. None of this has been easy. But, this city can survive everything, and that is 100% down to the people that live within these city walls. From 52 floors in the sky, you see the infrastructure, the skeleton of the city. But, on ground level, you see the heart again and it’s with the people. Don’t even forget that. And if you need perspective, grab a cocktail atop the Shangri-La London to remind you!
For more information on booking a room visit The Shangri-La London.
Note: FFG stayed as a guest of the Shangri-La London for one night.