The Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, which opened in May, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, the city's highest cocktail bar and infinity pool, and unrivalled views of the London skyline from 1,016 feet above the South Bank of the Thames. Occupying floors 34 to 52 of the Renzo Piano-designed skyscraper, the Shangri-La is London's first high-rise hotel, and the tallest in Western Europe. Its location, just behind City Hall, puts it within walking distance of Borough Market, Shakespeare's Globe, Southbank Centre, and the Tower of London.
Visitors enter the hotel through a ground-floor lobby on St. Thomas Street, adjacent to the London Bridge tube station, where they're welcomed by a small seating area and, off to the left, a self-dubbed “artisan deli” called LÁNG. Modelesque women draped in Asian silks check you in, hand you a cold towel, and introduce you to a porter who'll whisk you and your luggage to your room by way of one of two express elevators that exit on the 35th floor. Here, you'll change to a key-card-only access elevator up to the guestrooms, where your porter will acquaint you with your room, including automated climate control and blinds, a plush kimono, and a pair of binoculars for enjoying the view.
Rates: Guestrooms and suites (180 rooms are currently open, with another 22 opening by 2015) are priced by view. Of the guestrooms, the least expensive, at $799 during high season (Superior Shard Room), affords south-facing views; the most expensive, $1,050 (Iconic City View Room), gives you access to triple-aspect, 180-degree views of London's key landmarks. Suites start at $2,690.
Rooms: All of the hotel's guestrooms have custom beds adorned with Frette linens, free WiFi, flat-screen TVss, a Nespresso machine, and a complimentary pot of Chinese welcome tea. The marble bathrooms, replete with Acqua Di Parma toiletries, have heated floors, a TV in the mirror, and Toto Washlet toilets. With neutral-colored furniture, unremarkable wall art, and space-age swirly carpets, the décor is typical for the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La group; understated, almost bland. However, it only takes a single, outward glance to understand why: Every guestroom in the hotel has jaw-dropping views of London and beyond.
In an Iconic City View Room—definitely the one to book—this humbling panorama stretches from Buckingham Palace in the west to Greenwich's Royal Observatory in the east, and everything in between, including the full trace of the Thames, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, and bridges too numerous to count. To stay in a room with a view like this is a one-of-a-kind experience in London. (The Shard's viewing deck doesn't even come close.)
Drinks & Dining: LÁNG, on the ground floor, serves pastries, salads, and sandwiches, while TĪNG on the 35th floor offers a Modern British-meets-Asian menu featuring seasonal ingredients from nearby Borough Market. TĪNG's lounge serves London's highest afternoon tea; choose between classic English or Asian-inspired preparations. The 52nd-floor Champagne and cocktail bar, GŎNG, is the perfect spot for sundowners or late-night drinks from the creative craft cocktail list.
Health & Fitness: There is a 24-hour fitness center on level 52 as well as an infinity swimming pool with special children's swimming hours. Spa treatments can be arranged in your room or in one of the spa residences.
Pros: Matchless views; superb service; exceptional restaurants and cocktail bar; nifty, high-tech bells and whistles in guestrooms.
Cons: A “currently being worked on” design flaw caused by glass wings that protrude from the corners of the building allows guests, with a turn of the head, to see into their neighbor's room at night; décor may feel cold to some; restaurant, cocktail bar (and therefore elevators) often swell with hotel guests and non-hotel guests alike due to the popularity of the view.
Kristan Schiller is a travel editor for Fodor's, specializing in cities and cultural destinations. Follow her on Twitter @KristanSchiller.