When César Ritz first opened the hotel on 24 May, 1906, it was with the intention of making it the most luxurious of all hotels. The Ritz London was the talk of the town, if not the world.
As a child I heard my grandparents talk lovingly about it – telling stories from their time at The Ritz during the Second World War, to later in their lives when they visited London from America.
One of its most prestigious early visitors was the then Prince of Wales (latterly King Edward VII), and it has long held a favoured position within the royal family, gaining a royal warrant in 2002. Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina, danced at The Ritz in 1912, and movie stars such as Chaplin considered it a home from home. It was also the backdrop to some of the most secret talks of the Second World War, held between the three Allied leaders, Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle. Famously, it was the first hotel to welcome unmarried, unchaperoned women.
It conjures up images of the quintessential English experience – afternoon tea, dark-blue Rolls-Royce Phantoms, butlers and white gloves. No wonder it features in so many ‘typically English’ films and TV series such as Notting Hill and, more recently, Downton Abbey.
I had expected The Ritz London to be a rather crusty and old-fashioned experience. How wrong. From the moment I arrived through to my departure, I was cocooned and cosseted. It felt familiar, although I’d never stayed before. I was spoiled and pampered without any of the pretentiousness I had anticipated.
You need look no further for an ‘experience’. I, for one, cannot think of a better place to stay than The Ritz London.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Continental breakfast, served in the restaurant
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability and a maximum upgrade level of accommodation applies
- One-way airport transfer
- Arrival or on departure to or from Heathrow, Gatwick or City airports
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
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A very handsomely dressed doorman, in the full Ritz regalia of military-style overcoat and top hat, welcomed me, tipping his hat. He asked my name, then, quite loudly, spoke into a walkie-talkie to announce my arrival to the front desk. At the same time a gold-liveried bellman arrived out of nowhere and ushered me via the revolving door into the hotel. The exceptionally smart front-desk assistants were waiting to check me in – it really was quite the production, but in a good way. It was timed down to the nano-second and was what you would expect from a hotel that has been running for 112 years.
Check-in was quick – did I want a complimentary newspaper in the morning, a wake-up call? They also reconfirmed my reservations for afternoon tea and dinner in the restaurant.
I was taken through the opulent lobby space featuring the famous round staircases that climb up to the third floor, past the famous Ritz concierges with their white gloves tucked into their epaulettes, a pair of bellhops standing ready to open the doors to The Long Gallery and discreet lobby security by the waiting lifts.
Room and suites
My Junior Suite, on the second floor, was much bigger than I thought it would be for a city hotel – even one such as The Ritz. It featured a huge bed, with full seating area complete with sofa, chairs and coffee table, plus a writing desk and some additional chairs and occasional table near the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Piccadilly. The decor was in keeping with the rest of the hotel – floral bedspreads, huge floor rugs in both oriental and floral designs, with velour-upholstered ottomans, silk-covered Louis XVI-style chairs, a dressing table and chair and writing desk. Rooms and suites are in the Ritz colours of blue, peach, pink and yellow, and 24-carat gold leaf is used throughout the rooms to highlight original features, enhancing the sumptuous atmosphere. Completing the look was an original, residential-style fireplace – a lovely, homely feature in every room.
During my stay I saw the smallest room category – the Superior – which wasn’t a bad size and also had the statement fireplace but, for space, I would definitely plump for a bigger room. Some Executive Suites have been given slightly more modern decor (not floral), which they use for solo male guests. The Deluxe Suites are stunning – they overlook Green Park or Piccadilly and connect to further accommodation to give you up to five bedrooms for larger family requirements. Personal taste aside, the spaciousness and facilities of the rooms are excellent and make for a very comfortable stay.
Should you wish to be completely pampered, opt for one of the Signature Suites, which come with your own butler service and discreet private entrance. But if your wallet doesn’t stretch to this, don’t despair as you can still have the service, although you will need to pay for it at a set daily rate.
The Wi-Fi was fast and lights were operated by good, old-fashioned switches. The large TV offered a full satellite service with movies and sports. There was use of a complimentary phone with free UK/international calls and unlimited mobile internet for guests’ use. Frustratingly, there were no USB sockets and no accessible plug sockets by the bed – so my phone ended up on the floor, along with my Mac, on the other side of the room.
My bathroom, fully marbled from top to bottom in two distinct styles, was just as ornate as the rest of the suite, from the walk-in shower with power head to the fitted bathtub, and there were piles of fluffy white towels everywhere. The lavatory and bidet were on one side opposite a single-sink vanity unit, providing ample space for my toiletries. The lighting was excellent, with full-size mirror and illuminated make-up/shaving mirror alongside. There was a very good hairdryer in my room, but in other rooms I saw, bizarrely, there were only wall-attached ones – neither use nor ornament.
Heated floors, plush towelling robes and toiletries from Asprey’s Purple Water range completed the experience, along with the signature, single-stem white Ritz rose, specifically grown for the hotel in the Netherlands and brought in every week.
One of the best things about a stay here is dining in The Ritz Restaurant – often described as the most beautiful dining room in the world. The surroundings are sheer spectacle, with chandeliers, marble colonnades and huge windows down one side of the room, leading out onto the outdoor dining terrace overlooking Green Park.
The Michelin-starred restaurant is the only one in the hotel and is judged on every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner – created by Executive Chef John Williams. The menu is inspired by the best of British seasonal ingredients such as organic beef from the Cornish moors and lobsters from Scotland. It is then served with outstanding efficiency, creativity and flair by the frock-coated waiting staff. My truffle agnolotti, followed by the whole Dover sole (deboned for me by my waiter) was cooked to perfection, and then we were presented with crêpes Suzette, flambéed at the table as it has been done for the past 112 years.
If you have three hours and a healthy appetite, pick the Menu Surprise featuring six courses, which can be accompanied with either a classic or a fine-wine selection chosen by the excellent sommelier.
On Fridays and Saturdays there is dinner and dancing with Live at the Ritz. There are swing favourites from the Rat Pack to Cole Porter, live dancers performing the tango, rumba and salsa and a four-course dinner.
Do note, however, that The Ritz London has a dress code, so you need to make sure that you dress the part. For The Ritz Restaurant, gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket and tie (no jeans) for lunch and dinner, and this also applies for afternoon tea in The Palm Court. During breakfast service at The Ritz Restaurant smart casual attire is the order of the day, as it is for The Rivoli Bar, The Long Gallery and The Ritz Club. And, it’s worth noting that sportswear and trainers aren’t permitted in any of the hotel’s or Club’s restaurants and bars. There are few places where you really can ‘put on the Ritz’, as the 1920s song goes, so go all out and dress to impress.
Other restaurant options
One of the finest British traditions must surely be to take afternoon tea at The Ritz. Served in the Palm Court, the whole experience was just as I imagined – white-gloved staff, floral arrangements and potted palms, crisp white tablecloths, walls of mirrors and shimmering chandeliers. It is hugely popular, and it is a fabulous and indulgent experience with teas (18 different loose-leaf varieties) or champagne accompanied by delicately cut sandwiches, pastries and freshly baked scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. Be prepared for the numerous day trippers who seem to be taking photos at every turn, but this still didn’t detract from this truly exceptional experience.
The Rivoli Bar was like being immersed in a scene from Murder on the Orient Express. The Lalique panels were exclusively moulded from the art deco originals used on the classic Orient Express train. Specialising in vintage cocktails, the bar also has a menu with options ranging from club sandwiches to caviar.
One of the excellent perks of staying at The Ritz is having access to The Ritz Club, known as London’s most exclusive members-only gaming club. Between the world wars there were a few salubrious clubs which, after midnight, enticed revellers to dine, dance and gamble. Known as the Pink Sink, the bar and ballroom beneath The Ritz was the haunt of aristocrats and the well heeled from the highest echelons of society. Now open 24/7 all year round, the club’s decor is stunning, with chandeliers, gilded mirrors, Aubusson carpets and Louis XVI-style boiserie trumeau mirrors. Arriving at the club via a private lift, behind a secret door in the hotel above, you can imagine a long-lost time when American roulette, blackjack and three-card poker was the only late-night entertainment in London. The club comprises a small intimate bar, a restaurant serving world cuisine day and night, a main gaming salon and private rooms for the high-rollers.
Spa and wellness
The small spa salon at The Ritz is on the seventh, top floor of the hotel, which can only be accessed by one of the hotel lifts and would probably have once housed the servants’ floor given the low, sloping roof. As well as some guest bedrooms and suites on this floor, there is also a small fitness centre, so the salon is not completely private.
I chose the Elemis Pro-Collagen Age-Defy facial, and it was 60 minutes of sheer bliss. Facial-cleansing, masks and hot towels, mixed with shoulder and head massage and eye treatments, it left my skin feeling amazing, rehydrated and plumped. My therapist was excellent, and the hour passed sleepily on the cosy, heated treatment bed.
Early in the treatment there was quite a bit of noise coming from outside. It spoiled the experience briefly but this quickly ended and then I enjoyed my experience immensely.
The choice of therapies and treatments includes facials and relaxing body massages such as two exclusive signature treatments, plus the Ritz Manicure and Pedicure, and even a Princess Manicure for that special little one. A hair and beauty salon offering make-up, cutting and colouring, styling and straightening, plus male hairstyling, manicures and pedicures completes the package.
Pool and beach
There is no pool at The Ritz London.
The Ritz is probably not the hotel you would normally associate with being family-orientated but I was very surprised, and pleased, to learn that it actually is. It actively welcomes families, has more than half of its rooms and suites interconnected, and staff will actually confirm connecting rooms at the time of booking, unlike many other hotels in the world (it’s one of the biggest challenges for parents travelling with young children). One child up to 15 years can also stay free with their parents in a Junior Suite or above, and cots are complimentary for babies.
The kidz@theritz package is for children up to 15 and, depending on their age, the hotel will supply games consoles for older ones and age-appropriate books and DVDs for younger children, along with a gorgeous Ritz teddy bear for cuddles at bedtime. Bathroom amenities, bathrobes and slippers and special treats at evening turndown mean that your little ones will feel spoilt too. There is also complimentary ice cream in the Palm Court and The Ritz Restaurant to keep them coming back for more.
Staff and service
One of the undeniable highlights of staying at The Ritz is the service. It is simply exceptional. There was never a moment when I thought it was second-rate; it was always excellent. This probably has something to do with the longevity of service of many of the staff – the concierges have about 300 years’ experience between them. The head concierge has a lifetime achievement award for his 45 years there.
If I had to make any criticism, it is a slight thing – and was that staff, on a couple of occasions, did speak exceptionally loudly, once following a late night in The Ritz Club. A tad too early for some guests.
If I had to sum up in one word, it would be ‘global’.
All different nationalities were in residence, from English to American, Asian, Middle Eastern and European. There were older clients, but also the young and cooler set – plus families with young babies and teens – all of whom seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I didn’t once get the feeling of there being too many children.
As on arrival, everything happened in super-quick time. My bill was correct, I was asked how I had enjoyed my stay and they expressed the hope that I would return again soon.
I then went through the revolving doors, the doorman took my bag, assisted me down the couple of stairs and whistled for a cab. Faultless.
How to get there
1 hour by road transfer from London Heathrow Airport
134 rooms and suites