The Savoy hotel review: Expect to be treated like royalty at London’s iconic Grande Dame (for a price)

The Savoy was London’s first luxury hotel (Damien Hewetson)
The Savoy was London’s first luxury hotel (Damien Hewetson)

In a nutshell: The grande dame of luxury London hotels, with a remarkable history and stellar service. Expect to be treated like royalty – for a price.

The neighbourhood

Only the heart of central London, my dear. Opened in 1889, London’s first luxury hotel is located on a bend of the River Thames on the Strand. Reached via Savoy Court – the only road in the UK where cars must drive on the right to enable guests to board and exit from the driver’s side of a car – this Grade II listed building benefits from being both perfectly situated for some of the city’s superlative attractions, while also transporting you to an altogether more magical place. It enjoys enviable access to some of London’s most popular cultural institutions, including the Royal Opera House, Somerset House, the National Gallery, the Courtauld Institute of Art and the National Portrait Gallery; and with a plum position in Theatreland, the Lyceum, Vaudeville, Adelphi, Duchess, Novello and Aldwych theatres are all just minutes away, in addition to the Savoy’s own namesake playhouse. The Victoria Embankment Gardens and Cleopatra’s Needle are situated at the rear of the hotel, while the South Bank and its attractions – including the Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Hayward Gallery and London Eye – are across the water.

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The vibe

Even the lobby drips with opulence (Damien Hewetson)
Even the lobby drips with opulence (Damien Hewetson)

Opulent, old-school glamour without the stuffiness. Guests pass through the famous Art Deco front entrance before being ushered into the mahogany-panelled arrival hall, complete with marble columns, a black-and-white checkerboard marble floor, and plentiful vases of freshly cut floral displays. Luxury practically oozes from the walls, as does history; the roll-call of previous guests includes literary figures (Oscar Wilde, F Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain), former prime ministers (Winston Churchill), royalty (Queen Elizabeth II) and stars of stage and screen (Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Charlie Chaplin, Rihanna and Taylor Swift). The aesthetic is largely split between Art Deco and Edwardian, whether you’re sipping afternoon tea in the grand, light-filled Thames Foyer, complete with glass-domed atrium and winter garden gazebo, or quaffing fizz and celeb-spotting in the American Bar, London’s longest-surviving cocktail bar.

Bed and bath

Unbeatable views from the Savoy Suite (The Savoy)
Unbeatable views from the Savoy Suite (The Savoy)

The Savoy is home to 267 luxury guest rooms and suites decorated in a classic Edwardian or Art Deco style, ranging from Superior Queen Rooms, replete with marble bathrooms and bespoke Penhaligon’s toiletries, to the landmark Royal Suite (from £15,875 per night) designed by Gucci, whose founder worked at The Savoy as a luggage porter and lift boy as a young man. Many of the rooms feature outstanding panoramic views across the River Thames and South Bank that take in some of London’s most famous landmarks, including Big Ben, the London Eye and Oxo Tower. Suites include complimentary minibars, free-standing bathtubs and rainwater showers, Murano glass chandeliers, his and hers washbasins, chauffeur and butler services – and Boodles catalogues, in the event you fancy dropping six figures on some ice.

Food and drink

The American Bar is one of London’s oldest cocktail bars (The Savoy)
The American Bar is one of London’s oldest cocktail bars (The Savoy)

The American Bar is possibly one of the most famous hotel bars in the world, making a visit an essential element of any trip to London. Opened in 1893, its influence is global when it comes to the art of  mixology, with celebrated bartenders creating the Hanky Panky, the White Lady, Prairie Oyster (as devoured by Sally Bowles in Cabaret) and the Moon Walk, Neil Armstrong’s bespoke concoction and first drink after his legendary trip to space. Famous patrons include Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill (a regular who kept his own bottle of whisky here), and F Scott Fitzgerald, while photographs of other acclaimed visitors can be found on the walls. Service is exquisite and discreet while the vibe is chic, with a pianist tickling the ivories.

The newer Beaufort Bar, open Thursday to Saturday for champagne and cocktails, is the epitome of cocktail glamour, with black velvet furnishings, dim lighting and thousands of pounds worth of gold leaf on the walls. Dress up for this date night destination, which is also home to the original stage where George Gershwin performed the British premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue”.

Competing with London’s culinary offerings is no mean feat, but the Savoy’s three restaurants – all of which are franchised to multi-Michelin-star awarded celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay – are more than fit for purpose. Specialising in shellfish and seafood, the River Restaurant is an absolute treat for pescatarians. The beef wellington – a house special – is also worth splashing out on, with juicy, tender meat encased in crisp and flaky pastry. Book a seat by the window and indulge in a seafood platter for the ultimate decadent dining experience.

Described by Ramsay as the definition of “gourmet glamour”, the famous Savoy Grill’s sumptuous interiors – mirrored walls and plush velvets – have recently undergone a makeover to evoke the razzle-dazzle of the 1920s. Former regulars include the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Taylor, Noel Coward and Alfred Hitchcock; it’s also the place where Hollywood royalty, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, first set eyes on each other, with Leigh declaring then and there that she would marry Olivier. Hero dishes include lobster thermidor, Louet-Feisser oysters and duck a l’orange.

Elsewhere, the more intimate Restaurant 1890 has just 26 covers and offers a modern French tasting menu that takes inspiration from influential former Savoy chef and culinary pioneer, Georges Auguste Escoffier. Located above the hotel entrance, try and bag a window seat for the ultimate people watching spot.

Public areas

The hotel’s 10-metre fitness pool (The Savoy)
The hotel’s 10-metre fitness pool (The Savoy)

Even the hotel’s lobby offers a sumptuous place to take the weight off your feet and soak up the atmosphere. Guests preferring to indulge further can head to the beauty and fitness centre. In addition to a range of treatments, such as massages and facials, resident and non-resident guests and members can take a dip in the 10m pool, equipped with a jet stream to swim against the current. The men’s and women’s changing areas also include a cosy sauna and steam room. A gym with weights and cardiovascular equipment is adjacent.

Nuts and bolts

Room count: 237

Freebies: Standard rooms provide complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks and two beers, while suites extend this to include welcome drinks and butler service (one item of clothing for pressing per guest).

Wifi: Free.

Extra charges: None. Early check-in and late check-out are subject to availability, with charges determined on a case-by-case basis.

Disability access: There are three accessible Deluxe King rooms, which feature wheel-in-shower and accessible-friendly amenities. All dining and bar venues are accessible; staff are available to assist guests with step-free routes.

Pet policy: Well behaved pets up to 20lbs are welcome within the Savoy’s suites and rooms for a daily charge of £25. They are also welcome at the River Restaurant by Gordon Ramsay.

Bottom line

Best thing: The service is exceptional. That, and the sheer, unadulterated glamour, darling.

Worst thing: The spa is on the petite side.

Perfect for: A special occasion. Treat yourself – or someone else. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Not right for: Large, noisy groups. Have some decorum!

Instagram from: The dramatic red lift. London’s first electric lift was dubbed “an ascending room” by founder Richard D’Oyly Carte, with nervous passengers handed a glass of brandy to calm their nerves before entering. Its historic status, plus gold doors, red lacquer interior and leather bench for two make it an ideal place for posing.

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