Sea Containers hotel review — fun, buzzy and the best location in town

(Sea Containers)

With London’s cultural offerings finally turned back up to 11 and going out-out season upon us, it’s the ideal moment to revisit Sea Containers London.

It’s glam, vibrant and perfectly placed, slap-bang in the middle of South Bank’s action. A dead cert for a buzzy winter weekend minibreak.

Where is it?

Between Blackfriars bridge and the Oxo Tower – you can’t miss the huge brutalist building with ‘Sea Containers’ emblazoned in lights across the top. The Tate Modern (turn right out of the hotel, straight onto the Thames Path) and the National Theatre (turn left) are both within a few minutes’ stroll along the waterfront.

Style

The hotel opened as the Mondrian in 2014 before being sold and rebranded as Sea Containers London in 2019 but Tom Dixon’s original interiors remain largely the same. Most famously there’s the showstopping ship’s hull, resplendent in copper and towering over the lobby; a nod to the building’s history as a shipping company HQ. The designer’s brief sounds like a head-scratcher: ‘70s concrete on the outside, 1920s transatlantic cruise liner on the inside, but it works.

It’s not subtle – gilt portholes in the toilets, a giant blue sculpture inspired by a sailor’s knot plonked in the lobby, the staff decked out in striped tops – but it is lots of fun. And as you’d expect from Dixon, aka the king of lamps, the lighting is a highlight – or literally a lowlight in the case of the line of moody floor spotlights that guide you around the curve of the hull. Not that you need the lights to guide you anywhere as those stripe-wearing staff couldn’t be more helpful and friendly – it’s -star service all the way. I had my two children in tow and despite the sleek, grown-up atmosphere, they were welcomed with open arms, paid far too much attention and were thrilled to find brownies and board games waiting for them in our room.

(Sea Containers)

Food & drink

We wolfed down Champagne, ceviche tacos, and macaroni cheese in the ground-floor restaurant, which was heaving on a Saturday evening, with domestic tourists on Christmas jollies and a peppering of Londoners propping up the bar. Next door is Lyaness cocktail bar, the brainchild of awards-magnet mega mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana and formerly called Dandelyan), with its sexy ocean blue Art Deco seating and even sexier drinks list. The views across the river are pretty impressive from ground level, with St Paul’s bald head gleaming under the moonlight, but for the full London skyline experience, whizz up to the rooftop bar 12th Knot.

We were back in the restaurant a few hours later for a buffet breakfast, which was fine although a few more cooked options would’ve been welcome – given the slick, American feel of the place, a pancake or two wouldn’t go amiss. We perhaps should’ve waited a few hours instead for the bottomless brunch.

(Sea Containers)

Extracurricular

With Somerset House just across Waterloo Bridge, the hotel’s Get Your Skates On package (from £285) is a good bet and runs until 16 January – it include B&B, skating tickets (they’ll book it for you) and cosy socks to line your boots. After flailing around on the ice for an hour being sniggered at by patrons of the champagne bar overlooking the rink, we headed to the Beano exhibition, also at Somerset House. It’s a riotous joy, exploring the theme of rule-breaking and including work from artists who were inspired by their childhood comic. You definitely don’t have to be an adult to enjoy this one.

Back at the hotel, there’s a secret-ish Curzon cinema in the basement, accessed through the lobby and which shows films at weekends. We found a vintage video game machine down there and introduced the kids to the joys of Pac Man and Space Invaders: ‘It’s like the Fortnite of the olden days.’

There’s also a spa, sorry ‘spa playground’, which is maintains the glamorous, indulgent vibe. There’s champagne on the treatment menu and you might spot Olly Alexander – he’s a fan of the ‘napping room’, apparently.

(Sea Containers)

Which room?

You’ve got 359 to choose from, ranging from a standard (from £229) to a balcony suite (from £479). We had a double, double deluxe; a family room with two double beds. I think it’s fair to say that most of the energy, budget and effort at Sea Containers has gone into the communal areas rather than the rooms. They’re perfectly serviceable – immaculate marble bathrooms, Malin + Goetz beauty products and, again, superlative lighting (a decent make-up light in the bathroom, chic lamps for mood lighting elsewhere) – but the bedrooms are definitely lower key and less 5 starry than the rest of the hotel.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the grey colour palette with pops of magenta. But I wonder if this really matters – the point here is location, location, location. If you’re camping out in your room when there’s so many cocktails to be sipped and so much culture to be soaked up with a 30 second radius of the hotel, you need to have a word with yourself. One important thing to note though: you absolutely must ask for a river view. About one third of the rooms have them.

(Sea Containers)

Best for…

Couples or groups of friends looking to get stuck into the cocktails. Families who want to do the proper London touristy thing. Anyone who wants to spend a weekend immersed in art and culture.

How to get there

There’s a car park under the hotel (although no EV charging points); alternatively Blackfriars station and Southwark station are both an 8 minute walk.

Details

Standard double rooms from £229, seacontainerslondon.com

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