I don’t know about you, but my weekends are often very unexciting. Pushing the vacuum round with one hand, cleaning the toilet with the other. All the while getting more and more frustrated at how much pet hair Boo and Maddie deposit around the house. Imagine being able to escape, just for 24 hours. Leave mundane behind and experience something altogether more decadent.
Thanks to ibis, that’s exactly what I did. Invited to stay at the ibis London Blackfriars for a night, it was the perfect opportunity to leave the chores behind and soak up some festive atmosphere in my favourite city. Part of the Accor group, ibis are known for being a budget-friendly brand who don’t penalise guests for the amazing locations like some hotels do.
Practically on top of Southwark Underground station (which is also Waterloo East mainline station), ibis London Blackfriars is sandwiched between three of London’s main stations – Waterloo, London Bridge and Blackfriars. Public transport connections are excellent, making it a great base to explore what London has to offer just a short walk away.
But before I share what I got up to, let’s talk a little about the hotel itself. I’d only stayed in an ibis once before, on a visit to Brighton in the summer. No matter where you stay in one in the world, the rooms themselves are all of fairly standard nature – comfy large double-bed; tea and coffee making facilities; flat-screen TV; hairdryer (my room also had an iron and ironing board but I don’t think this is standard) and the pod en-suites with toiletries.
Popular with professionals and budget-travelling couples, ibis serve their purpose perfectly – somewhere clean and comfy to lay your head but not to facilitate spending much time in your room which is exactly what you want when you’re sightseeing. Although I did get a little obsessed with the view from my 12th floor room, especially as it got darker and the London skyline lit up.
What I do really love about ibis is the individual nature and decor of their reception and bar areas. The informal check in is welcoming and swift as staff approach clients to ask if they need assistance and use a smartphone to do the necessary admin. There are plenty of comfy, casual chairs in case you need to wait for a meeting or taxi, plus little touches like citrus-infused water and apples complimentary to guests.
The interiors are bright, modern and stylish and Foggs restaurant doubles up as the lunch/dinner venue, plus open-plan bar and buffet-style breakfast. Knowing that we were heading out for the evening on Saturday, I opted for a mushroom soup for lunch from their dedicated gluten-free menu which arrived with gluten-free toast and cost less than £4. Breakfast was OH-MY-GOODNESS. I wished I’d taken pictures but to be honest, I was simply too focused on food. Whilst the cost was included as a guest of ibis, if you booked room only and then wanted buffet breakfast, it costs £10.45. Well worth it for the huge array of choice, everything from cereals to cooked breakfast, ample fruit and continental foods such as pastries and cheeses. Certainly anyone who is vegetarian or vegan would not be stuck for choice, I opted for baked beans and hash browns (with HP sauce of course), apple juice and a delicious black rice and coconut porridge. So good I went back for another one.
Obviously I know London very well and had an idea about what to do with my free time. But for tourists and business guests alike, the ibis London Blackfriars have what is known as a ‘moncierge’. Since they’re budget and informal, they don’t have a dedicated member of staff in the traditional concierge role. Instead, think of a giant tablet on the wall and hey presto, moncierge tells you everything you need to know. From tips about what to do in the local area and restaurant recommendations, to the weather forecast and latest flight updates, it’s programmed to give guests everything they made need. You can even use it to print your boarding passes, ingenious!
Using a couple of free hours in the afternoon, I set off from the hotel in the direction of the river. London’s South Bank is just a 10-15 minute stroll and I headed west, through Gabriel’s Wharf, past the National Theatre and ambled around the Southbank Centre, taking in the Wintertime Festival. Running until January 4th, you can find everything from the chalet-style winter markets to a Finnish sauna on the roof of the building itself. There is mulled wine aplenty and even a cider lodge. It’s not a part of town I would typically head to on a weekend afternoon simply because it gets so busy but it was fun soak up the festive atmosphere and watch the world go by.
Back at the hotel, I made a quick change for our night out and popped to the hotel bar for a “surprise me” cocktail. I asked for something fruity and was presented with ‘Purple Rain’, a super combination of tasty and inventive. It was a mere shadow of what lay ahead on our evening out however!
Taxis took us a short journey to Nicky’s Imaginarium, a pop-up creative space for Christmas which has taken over the stunning Victorian warehouse space of Hunter Penrose near London Bridge. Stepping inside means that your inhibitions and life as you knew it have to be left at the door. Embark on Christmess. The evening is essentially an adult take on immersive dining. Think live jazz, cabaret, a theatrical entourage who take you on an anarchic version of Christmas. St Nicky and his elves are out to cause chaos and you have no choice but to go along for the ride.
I can honestly say I’ve never experience anything like Christmess before. Seated at long trestle tables and getting very cosy with strangers, both the food and entertainment is literally a feast for the senses. It was evident that lots of guests were regulars and got involved with the fun straight away. In the end though, you can’t avoid it and before we knew what was happening we too were up on the tables, dancing with the absinthe fairy and gyrating with half-dressed elves.
I’m incredibly glad one of my friends came with me because it’s almost impossible to explain unless you’ve witnessed the mayhem for yourself. Safe to say, no Christmas party I ever go to will come as close in terms of style and imagination. It was so fun to let go, become completely immersed in something and forget that anything else existed.
After all the singing, dancing on tables, drinking and eating it was time for a blissful night’s sleep back at the ibis London Blackfriars. And what a treat to wake up to snow, too! Breakfast at the weekend runs from 6.30am to midday so there’s no need to rush out of bed but once I’d stocked up on enough baked beans to feed a small army, it was time to hop on the train and head back to south London.
I’m working with ibis hotels on their influencer team and received my hotel overnight stay plus evening entertainment free of charge. All words, opinions and images are my own unless otherwise stated.