On my occasional travel blog, I try to find an interesting hotel or hotels to offer my own review for our many readers who travel. It is of course subjective and the hotels can range from modestly priced lodging to more expensive options. On this stay, I opted for one of the more expensive hotels (due to a mix of business travel and discounts). I chose one of London’s newest and most discussed hotels: The Shangri-La at the Shard. The Shard is the towering hotel in the center of London (SE1). While I am very critical of much of the recent architecture in London which is truly hideous for the most part, the Shard is a beautiful building both inside and outside. (Photos published with permission of the Shangri-La).
In anticipation of my week long visit in London, I looked at a great variety of hotels in the city. This is a city with a great array of hotels in vastly different neighborhoods that range from the traditional lodging of the Ancien Régime to virtual room houses to AirBnbs. It is easy to get burned. Even 300 pounds or more a night can leave you with a ridiculously small room. One highly regarded hotel with four and a half stars that I looked at has a couple rooms that are literally a twin bed with a room that is only twice the size of the bed. These are often quaint but older hotels with a small room and extremely small bathrooms. The key to remember is that the Tube is one of the great draws of London. You are insane not to get an Oyster card and use it to get around. Traffic in London is horrendous and an expensive one-hour ride can take you literally ten minutes on the Tube. The Shard is located right next to the London Bridge Tube, which is unbelievably convenient. Moreover, given the height, you literally can get your bearings in London by locating your hotel at the Shard.
I elected to stay at a hotel that I had read a great deal about: the Shangri-La hotel in the iconic Shard. First and foremost, it should be noted that this is a pricey hotel and ranks among the most elite of the city. This is a hard stretch for most people and I have the benefit of traveling on business with a discounted rate. However, as will be made clear, if you can swing it, it is an extraordinary experience. It is hard to recount such accommodations without feeling a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow in being completely out of touch with the realities of most people. This is obviously a hotel that is beyond the range for many travelers, including this one absent a business trip. However, our hotel reviews have ranged in price and this is one of the more elite — though it is far from the most expensive in London which has very high prices on most things including hotels. As someone who writes in the area of architectural theory, it was an instant draw for me to stay at the Shard.
It is also one of the most modern hotels – billed as the first elevated luxury hotel in London. The Shard towers over London and the hotel has some of the top floors with breathtaking views of London, including from an awesome bar, restaurant, and an infinity pool that gives you the feeling that you are about to swim off the edge. (Attendants prepare sitting areas for you with drinks and towels as you swim. You can sit and have drinks by the pool overlooking London). The Shard, also referred to as the Shard of Glass, is 95-stories in Southwark, London and was completed in November 2012. It is the tallest building in the European Union and the second-tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom after the tower at the Emley Moor transmitting station. It is the work of Italian architect Renzo Piano and is jointly owned by Sellar Property and the State of Qatar.
From the minute you meet the three people at the door and fourth person at the elevator, you know that you are in for a special experience of an elite, five-star hotel. When you take the high-speed elevator to the 35th floor, you are met by someone waiting for you who greets you by name (as do everyone at the front desk as you walk up). There are Shangri-la hotels around the world and these employees are trained to meet the highest standard of hotel management from instant knowledge of Tube stations to restaurants to museums.
There is literally nothing that the staff does not work to perfect and no request that they will not try to meet. It is very hard to break into the top ranks of luxury hotels but Shangri-la in the Shard is well on its way. It was a bumpy start due to the “peeping tom” complaint. There were articles that reported that Piano’s design allowed people to see into adjoining rooms. The hotel quickly made changes to block such views with a tasteful addition to one of the side windows that prevent people from seeing in. Indeed, I regret that the change was so extensive in barring the corner view, though it really does not diminish the extraordinary views from the other windows. At least in my room on the 42nd floor, I could not see how anyone could see into my room from the corner perspective but the problem might have been more serious in other rooms.
My room overlooked the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the HMS Belfast and other classic sites from huge floor to ceiling windows. One window however was altered partially block one view from the edge of the room. It is the most spectacular view that I have ever had in a hotel room. It was also a room with every possible luxury from espresso machine to heated rakes – even a bathroom mirror that has a built in television that appears behind the mirror.
The Shangri-La is a thoroughly modern hotel that follows an all-too-rare tradition today of catering to guests and training staff for any eventuality and request. The hotel itself proved one of the most lasting memories of the trip. I found myself looking for mistakes like a Michelin reviewer. With the exception of a couple very minor missteps on housekeeping that would normally not even be noticed outside of a five star (like a used cup left by the crew), even a Michelin perfectionist would be hard pressed to find any flaw. It is without question one of the most highly trained and talented hotel staff that I have seen at any hotel in my life.
The attention to detail at the hotel is amazing. Indeed, at one point I was running out to a meeting and eager to get an address before running in a car. One woman at the counter quickly used a scrap piece of paper to help me in my hurry, but a supervisor was horrified and ran up to transfer the address to a proper paper pad because that “would not do” at the Shangri-la. A more important example occurred when I lost a credit card on the Tube. As soon as I reported it to the concierge, he sprang into action. (Pickpocketing is one of the oldest traditions in London and still can be a problem). The hotel filed a police report, transmitted it to my room, and took steps to help find a replacement – in all of about 30 minutes. The thumping heart of the hotel is the concierge staff who following a classic English tradition is trained to meet every and any challenge. When we could not get into a popular Indian restaurant, the concierge got us in and the next day pursued other restaurants on our list – texting us on the progress and choices. When we set out in the morning to sight see, the concierge was ready with street and Tube directions as well as suggestions for lunch. The head concierge, Eiji Tanaka, is one of the best I have ever seen in action. Incredibly calm and friendly, he solves any problem and makes the guest feel like he appreciates the chance to help. He and his staff clearly relish any challenge to show what they are capable of doing in a city famous for top flight concierge service.
Obviously, this is a rave review. In the past, I have had to give some negative reviews of hotels that seem to drift on their reputation or maintain their profits due to scarcity of rooms in a given area or market. The London Shangri-La is the opposite: a young hungry hotel that wants to prove itself against some of the best established elite hotels in the world. I hope some of our visitors (particularly those on business accounts) will give the hotel a try. It is well worth the money.