Brilliant, but not quite perfect. It’s just at the end of the striking modern footbridge that connects Trafalgar Square and the magnificent National Gallery to the busy and creative Southbank Centre and the London Eye, fronting on to one of the pretty little, tree-stuffed parks strung along the Embankment. Why not a top score for location, then? Because the entrance is tucked round the back off the corner of Whitehall Place and Whitehall Court. The hotel’s name is justified, though: you’re less than five minutes’ walk from the parade ground where the Royal Horseguards change the guard in their shiny breastplates and scarlet jackets every morning (11am Mon-Fri; 10am Sun).
Rooms are well kitted out: Elemis smellies, bathrobes and slippers for the bathrooms; tea- and coffee-making facilities; iPod dock and flatscreen TVs that can be connected to your laptop, plus Wi-Fi (for which there’s a charge). I was rather taken with illuminated ‘Make up room’/‘Do not disturb’ signs on each room number. Of nearly 300 rooms, 78 (across all prices) have river views, as do the top-of-the-range Apartment and two of the King Suites. In spring and summer, the view might be blocked by trees - try to stay on floor 6 or above. If you’re splashing out, the Tower Suite is a lovely curiosity - it is in its own tower, with sweeping views along the Thames.
The century-old building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the equally magnificent Natural History Museum, and Guoman are making the most of the architectural splendour in the public parts of the hotel. Chandeliers at the reception give a sense of occasion, but it's the marble facings and stained glass in the stairwells and an amazing lop-sided spiral staircase in the adjoining National Liberal Club (now mostly conference rooms and facilities) that really sparks my enthusiasm. There's plenty of comfy sitting areas to read the paper or take tea too. Guests in the suites or Apartment get free newspapers, internet and snacks in the Guoman Club Lounge.
Eating and drinking
The prize area for snacks or afternoon tea is the outdoor Terrace (10am to 11pm daily), which overlooks pretty Whitehall Gardens and the Thames - it is sometimes closed for private events. Otherwise, the restaurant One Twenty One Two (once the phone number of the Metropolitan police, who were neighbours) serves slightly formal, gentlemen’s club-style food (there's a carvery trolley for dinner) while the Lounge covers snacks, hot drinks and High Tea. For drinks, Churchill’s Bar is in the National Liberal Club (there’s a portrait of the great man at the bottom of the stairs).
The small eighth-floor ‘Fitness Room’ has free weights and cardiovascular machines; a personal trainer can be booked.
Ask the bowler-hatted doorman to hail you a taxi and he’ll dash out into the street blowing his whistle in the old-fashioned style. Inside, the service is smart and helpful, if a little impersonal.
Who stays there
A popular choice for business travellers and civil servants, but also with good leisure custom - mostly, but not exclusively, at the older end of the market.
But you should be able to get better rates for a double with a view by booking in advance, at weekends or sometimes last minute out-of-season.
- Fitness Centre
- High-Speed Internet
- Room Service
- Business travellers
- Culture vultures
- Mature travellers
- Great views / scenery
Pros & Cons
- Riverside location
- Grand, historic building
- Slightly impersonal feel