In the heart of the British capital, Shangri-La The Shard in London offers a luxe retreat in an undeniably urban setting.
The hotel occupies floors 34 to 52 of the 95-storey Shard, a glass tower designed by world-famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Staying here is at once all about London, because the city can be seen from every room and space, and also pleasingly separate and serene, a floating haven above the busy city.
Nine years after it opened, The National checked into Western Europe's highest hotel to find out if it's still a special place to spend the night.
Shangri-La The Shard has the good fortune of being right above a major tube and train station – London Bridge – that connects easily to Canary Wharf, the City and all the major airports.
Because the streetscape around the Shard is a little chaotic and the skyscraper has other uses – including a viewing deck on floor 72 – the street-level experience can feel a little scattered.
The entrance for the Shangri-La is clearly marked but you will find only the concierge and security on the ground level – be prepared for your bag to be scanned when you enter. Reception is a short and thrilling ride in the country’s second fastest lift to floor 35, where attentive staff and jaw-dropping views from floor-to-ceiling windows more than make up for any initial bewilderment.
London Bridge is an exceptionally busy area of the capital just south of the river that’s emblematic of contemporary London. Old and new, glitzy and more down-at-heel rub shoulders. It’s not an area known for its high-end hotels, but is all the more interesting for it.
This is also one of London’s hottest dining districts, nestled as it is between Borough Market – London’s millennial and oldest food market stacked with fresh produce, street food, delis and indie restaurants – and Bermondsey Street to the east, home to several great restaurants. Maltby Street Market, a smaller but highly rewarding foodie destination, is also within walking distance.
Several landmarks are within a 10-minute walk including Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre and the Tower of London. Wherever you are in the city though, you will probably be able to spot the Shard, making it the ultimate orientation reference point.
There are 202 rooms and suites, all outward-facing with views across London. Because of the distinctive tapering shape and geometry of the building, no room is exactly alike and that’s a huge plus point.
We are in a Deluxe City View room with sweeping views of the Thames and Tower of London and a head-on view of the cluster of skyscrapers in the City of London. The bathtub has the same view and since only 63 of the hotel rooms have a bathtub with a view, ask ahead if that’s an extra you’re after.
The interiors are what you would expect from Shangri-La – marble, some silk and light woods, everything tasteful, easy to use and locate.
If you are after something a little more unique but don’t want to splash out on a suite, ask for an Iconic City view room, specifically one on the building’s corner. These are great for architecture aficionados because they overlook where the edges of the glass "shards" or facade meet, but never touch.
Staff are attentive, warm and personable. When we go for sushi to Gong on floor 52, our waiter is chatty and funny while being completely on the ball. At breakfast, staff are friendly and remember us when we turn up for afternoon tea a few hours later.
The Shangri-La attracts a diverse crowd. There are businesspeople here for meetings and work; couples and families who come for holidays and then the groups and couples here to celebrate a special occasion (some as day guests).
If it’s tranquillity and serenity you are after though, don’t let this put you off. The rooms are dreamy, as are the rooftop pool and sauna.
The hotel has a restaurant and two bars, plus a lounge area that doubles up as an events and conference socialising space. We have dinner and drinks in Gong, a dark and seductive bar designed by Hong Kong-based Andre Fu – where the chef’s choice sharing platter at £42 ($53) includes sushi, sashimi, maki rolls, tempura and some of the most exquisite gyoza I’ve yet tasted.
Breakfast and afternoon tea are served in the larger and airier Ting on floor 35, where there’s also a dinner menu with an impressive list of vegan offerings. The chocolate replica Shard at afternoon tea (£75 per person) with vapour clouds that are activated by water is perfect for Instagram, not to mention delicious.
Highs and lows
It may be repetitive, but the highs are undoubtedly the experience of lodging in the tallest building in western Europe. How many hotels have floor-to-ceiling views of the main landmarks of a major city from every single room? We also won’t forget our early morning swim in the highest hotel pool in western Europe in a hurry.
On a slightly less positive note, the food at Gong was excellent, but the portions were on the small side. The sharing platter felt insubstantial given the price. Afternoon tea was good, but very busy with tourists on our visit, so check with the concierge for best days and timings if you are after a more exclusive or intimate experience.
The insider tip
An under-the-radar but absolutely-worth-doing experience if you are an architecture aficionado, is the hotel’s ‘Beneath the Skyline’ stay. It’s not cheap at £1,100 but includes a night in a Superior Shard Room, afternoon tea for two at Ting, a two-and-half-hour London architecture circular audio walking tour narrated by a local architect and a map that takes in famous and less well-known landmarks of different styles and eras. It also comes with a year’s membership to the Tate and complementary tickets to London’s Garden Museum. The latter is a lesser-known London gem of a museum set in a deconsecrated church with a contemporary extension, quirky exhibits and an excellent restaurant surrounded by greenery.
Because of its awe-inspiring views, the Shangri-La is a magnet for tourists, celebrations, weddings and group afternoon teas. But it’s much more than that. It’s a heady, unique and sophisticated experience overseen by an assured and cosmopolitan crew.
The bottom line
Stays from £685, excluding taxes. Check-in is from 4pm and checkout is at 11am; www.shangri-la.com