My new favourite London hotel: A review of the Kimpton Fitzroy
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There is an art to picking the right hotel. Location, price and loyalty programs all matter — but so does its personality.
If I am picking a hotel at an airport, I just want something safe, clean and close to the terminal. But when I am staying in a city — especially one of this planet’s great cities — I want something special.
Unfortunately, too many of the world’s grand hotels are stuffy and dated. I want not only history and unique design elements but also a cosy room with contemporary amenities.
Enter the Kimpton Fitzroy, which just might be my new favourite hotel in London.
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Kimpton Fitzroy history
The property originally opened in 1900 as the Hotel Russell and has all the architectural details one would expect from a grand establishment of the time.
The building is said to be based on the 16th-century Château de Madrid near Paris. For those who adore design details, I’m told the dun-coloured terracotta tiles on the exterior are Royal Doulton’s the-au-lait (tea with milk), and they give the facade a dignified, neo-Gothic look.
Put in simpler terms: It’s a stunning building.
Guests are greeted outside by statues of four queens – Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne and Victoria – and, once inside, will find multi-hued marble everywhere, including a spectacular main staircase.
The hotel, which sits on Russell Square in London’s Bloomsbury neighbourhood, has enjoyed lots of notable moments over its long history. But my favourite is a mention in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, “Cats,” in a song about ascending to the feline version of the afterlife:
Up, up, up past the Russell Hotel
Up, up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer
Today, the hotel honours its past but has modernised to keep up with the glass towers cropping up around London. After a major renovation, the building reopened in April 2018; soon after, it joined InterContinental Hotels Group as a Kimpton.
IHG is not my favourite chain and I’ve found Kimpton hotels to be hit or miss. But I was simply blown away by the 334-key Kimpton Fitzroy.
I had initially booked a standard room with a double bed for £260 ($349) directly through IHG. Then Kimpton held one of its frequent sales – this one was called the “Not so secret sale.”
Suddenly a junior suite with a king bed was “just” £359 ($482) per night, down from being well over £500 ($660) a night.
The rate earned me 9,699 base points with IHG Rewards Club, plus an extra 4,848 points for being a Platinum Elite member, thanks to my IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. I also earned double base points since it was my second IHG stay during a promotional period. That added another 9,699 points to my account. I chose a £15 ($20) property credit as my welcome amenity.
As you might expect from those prices, this is one of the more expensive Kimpton properties in the world, both in terms of paid and points pricing. Expect award nights to cost anywhere from 70,000-100,000 points apiece over the next several months.
As an American, there are several options than in the U.K. for cards I could have paid with, but I went with the IHG card, which earns me10 points per dollar (£0.75p) for spending at the chain’s hotels. More importantly, I was close to hitting top-tier Spire Elite status and card spend counts toward status with IHG. I’ve never aspired to have top-tier status with IHG, but figured I would test it out in 2022, along with my top-level status with Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.
It honestly takes a lot to impress me these days. But this suite did.
The bright, red, rotary-style phone first caught my eye and reminded me of London’s iconic, red, double-decker buses and once-prevalent red phone booths. I wanted to pick it and ring up a friend just so I could say, “London calling” (I didn’t, since I had my smartphone with me).
Then I saw the beautiful coffee table books focusing on “Unseen London” and the city’s theatres. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen books graced the fireplace mantel.
It felt like a well-stocked private study in the heart of London. All I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a book and call down for tea service (unfortunately for me, this was a work trip with a tight schedule — but a guy can dream).
Canopy beds normally give me the creeps. To me, they just feel old and stale, like they’ve been sitting empty since the last Duke of So-and-So lay there on his deathbed. But this king canopy bed somehow felt right. Maybe it was the playful throw pillows or the fisheye mirror above the headboard that gave it a fresher look.
The enormous bathroom had high-end touches such as gleaming marble tiling and spacious vanity with dual basins, but the real highlight was the walk-in shower, with an oversized bench and one of the best rainfall showerheads I’ve had in ages. No saving water here, the pressure was amazing. It felt like standing under a warm, well-regulated waterfall. I had never heard of the hotel’s Master Vetivert bath products but was pleasantly surprised – they were thankfully a far cry from the bath products at IHG’s Holiday Inn Express hotels.
Pair the rest of the bath experience with plush towels, a great robe and slippers and I was beyond comfortable.
As I mentioned, I was in town for work, so I was glad to find plenty of outlets, strong Wi-Fi and a sizable desk for me to work at. Two flat-screen TVs that I never turned on and a fridge stocked with chilled water, plus a Nespresso machine on top of the bar — accompanied by real coffee cups and saucers — completed the in-room amenities.
Amenities and public spaces
This was really where the Kimpton Fitzroy really shone.
Walking into this hotel felt like a trip back in time. Everywhere I turned, there was some new architectural gem catching my eye.
The original architect was Charles Fitzroy Doll, who later built upon his designs here for another one of his projects, the dining room on board the RMS Titanic.
Though you won’t find a young Leonardo DiCaprio strolling down it, the hotel’s grand marble staircase off the main entrance is, on higher floors, bordered by ornately carved balustrades and richly coloured stained-glass windows. The Palm Court, located off the main entrance hall, felt like the perfect place for an indoor garden party or a spot of tea in the afternoon. The decor of the lobby-level bar, meanwhile, rivalled any of the other grand hotel bars of London, of which there are many.
My only complaint would be about the bulky, IHG-branded hand sanitiser stations located throughout the public areas. I’m all for standards and safety and was glad that the hotel took this hygiene measure. But in cases of hotels like this, they distract from, if not ruin, the vibe. There could have been a classier way to offer sanitiser.
Like many Kimptons, this hotel offered bikes that guests could borrow for a ride around the city.
I did not take advantage of them on my trip — but I just loved knowing that I could have used them if I had had time.
Like most urban hotels in historic buildings, the gym was in the basement. There were a few windows letting in some natural light but there was no way to hide that it was a basement gym.
It had all the right TechnoGym equipment and plenty of space to work out. There’s not much more I ask for from a hotel gym.
Food and drink
You don’t come to London to eat meals at your hotel — apart from breakfast and maybe a cocktail.
I had breakfast one morning at the casual Burr & Co. near the check-in desk. The menu was limited but had well-prepared dishes, good service and was served in a relaxed environment. I had the sausage, bacon, egg and cheese muffin for £11($14.50) on my first morning. It was far from the healthiest item but sure got my day off to a good start.
For breakfast the next day, I went to the fancier Galvin Bar & Grill located on the other side of the ground floor from Burr & Co. and was disappointed. My eggs Benedict were underwhelming and my breakfast companion’s pancakes were downright depressing. She had asked for the berry compote to be on the side. Instead, it never showed up. My eggs were overcooked and the hollandaise sauce was overpowering.
The setting was a historic, beautiful room with high ceilings that made you feel grand before the first jolt of caffeine. But the prices were steep — £14 ($18.50) for the eggs and £12 ($16) for the pancakes — especially for what we got.
Out and about
Bloomsbury isn’t the ideal pick for a first-time tourist, but it’s a good base for somebody who knows their way around London.
The British Museum is a short walk away. So are the train stations of King’s Cross and St. Pancras. The Eurostar train from Brussels and Paris comes into St. Pancras International Railway Station. King’s Cross has many regional trains but is probably best known by Harry Potter fans as the home to the magical Platform 9 3/4.
The hotel is also close enough that you can walk to the theatres of the West End — if you are inspired by the coffee table book in your room, that is.
The Russell Square tube station, part of the Underground’s Piccadilly Line, is adjacent to the hotel. It was a long, but simple, ride there for me from Heathrow Airport.
The Kimpton Fitzroy was that magical Goldilocks hotel for me — luxurious but not fusty. It was historic, yet contemporary enough to please this demanding traveller.
It was in a good location that is central but quiet enough that I didn’t feel like a tourist.
There was so much for me to love about this property that it will be high on my list for future London stays, especially if I am there for a more leisurely visit when I can sit in the bar, watch people pass by and imagine that I’m back in another era.
Featured photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.
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