by Christine Koubek
Rubens at the Palace is a stately 161-room, 4-star luxury hotel with the elegance of a bygone age, but with most of the modern perks you’d expect in a hotel today. The hotel is located just down the street from Buckingham Palace and across from the Royal Mews, home of the Queen’s horses and carriages. You can see the horses most mornings, around 9 a.m., when they leave the grounds for their walk about. (Confirm the time with a Rubens’ staff member).
Rubens at the Palace, originally called the Hotel Rubens, was founded in 1912 and immediately became popular with the socialite set as a place to stay when attending Buckingham Palace functions. That is, until General Sikorski’s Free State Polish Army commandered the hotel during the Second World War and used it as his headquarters, as well as a place to host General Charles De Gaulle, exiled leader of the Free French army.
From 1953 forward, the property was run as a hotel again by three different owners. Red Carnation Hotels purchased The Rubens in 1997 and substantially renovated it, elevating the hotel from a three-star property to a four-star luxury hotel. More recent renovations included a 2010 fourth-floor rooms refurbishment. Rooms on the other floors were renovated between 2006 and 2009. In addition, the public areas — Old Masters Restaurant, Bar & Lounge, and Leopard Bar — have all been refurbished over the past few years.
Our Editor Loves
- Close proximity to attractions and transportation
- Advice from Director of Fun and Adventure
- Beautifully decorated rooms with comfortable amenities
- Connecting Rooms
- Free Wi-Fi
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
There are 143 deluxe guestrooms, eight royal rooms and 10 suites, all beautifully decorated in rich colors and fabrics, and quite different from one another in decor. Best part: the beds and pillows are super comfortable, especially after a long day of touring.
Each room comes with complimentary bottled mineral waters (request sparkling or still), evening turndown service, plush bathrobes and slippers, a safe, tea and coffee maker, a good hair dryer, free Wi-Fi access, and a high-tech entertainment system with an interactive TV that offers a huge selection of on-demand movies and music. A DVD player and Wii with games can be placed in your room (complimentary).
Fitting a family in one room is trickier in London than in many U.S. hotels though, where average room sizes are often larger. Consequently, families with two or more children, or older children, will need interconnecting or adjoining rooms. Thankfully, Rubens can often confirm these in advance. Categories available for connecting rooms include: Superior King rooms that average 188 square feet, Superior Twin rooms that average 129 square feet and Classic Double rooms, which have queen beds and are 129 square feet on average.
Families of five, or those wanting slightly more space, can book an Executive King Room (194 square feet), which has a sofabed, and a Superior King or Twin Room (mentioned above). Be sure to always ask if the rooms adjoin or connect. During our stay, we had two rooms at the end of a hall that had a third exterior door that could be locked, allowing us to keep the interior doors open.
There is one Master Suite called The King's Suite. This luxury suite has a four-poster bed, a separate lounge with a dining table, an animal-print sofa and a Jacuzzi in one of the two bathrooms. The Master Suite portion is about 560 square feet. Maximum occupancy is four people (possibly five if traveling with a baby). In addition, there is an Executive King room that interconnects with the Master Suite's sitting room, so it is ideal for families travelling with grandparents. An extra bed can also be added to the connecting room.
The Family Suites features a king bed and a spacious sitting area with a day bed that can easily be used as a children's bed. There is also a sleeper sofa in the sitting area that another child could utilize.
Fold down cribs for babies are complimentary. If children are 12 years or older, there is an extra charge per day, which includes a rollaway if needed and full breakfast. A few mini-fridges are available by request. In-room microwaves are not available.
My daughter and I just returned from a five night stay at the Rubens. I can’t pay this hotel staff enough compliments - I don’t think I was told “no” even once the entire week; everything I ever requested was done, nothing was a problem. I was traveling alone with my 11 year old, and I’m not familiar with the city - yet I never felt safer or more looked after or taken care of than at the Rubens. The hotel is very quaint in size but has a luxe feel to it in its decor and service. The elevator is tiny but reliable. The room we stayed in (215, the “blue” room) was small - and could use some refurbishment (which I believe they are in the midst of completing throughout the hotel) but it was all we needed. We had a Mews facing room, so it was fun to catch a glimpse of the horses every so often. The bed was super comfortable. Our room had a bathtub which was nice, a TV with a huge selection of channels, and a desk. For my daughters 11th birthday, there were balloons and cake in the room - which made the trip even more special! We had the Afternoon Tea in the Palace Lounge which was such a great experience. The food was delicious and my daughter enjoyed a “flowering” tea in a glass teapot. We were again treated to birthday cake and a complimentary mocktail.
On the topic of food: we ate every breakfast and dinner at the hotel. It was convenient and family-friendly, and the food was delicious and fairly priced. The drinks in the New York Bar are absolutely amazing and gorgeous. Order the Queens Swan! It’s served in a glass swan with a glass straw and a shot of champagne on the side. The drinks also came with little snacks such as nuts and green olives. And there are plenty of beautiful mocktails for the kids.
We had dinner in the New York Bar most nights, and we ate at the bbar once. At the bbar, I had the half order of fish and chips which was so light and crispy! We also had polenta fries which were so amazing, that we asked for them again the next night at the New York Bar! The waitstaff went out of the way to bring something from the bbar next-door to the New York Bar, even though the two restaurants do not share a kitchen. Again, just excellent customer service.
We did not have one bad thing to eat there the entire time. The breakfast buffet in the English Grill was amazing - perfectly segmented grapefruits and oranges, green and berry smoothies, meats and cheeses, yogurts, cereals, breads, and pastries. You could also order something hot as well - a large selection. We had eggs, Muesli, oatmeal and pancakes. You could also order a latte, cappuccino or macchiato - or Americano or tea. My daughter had tea everyday - she enjoyed the ceremony of it and the beautiful tea cups and tea pots, etc. The staff in the English Grill can’t do enough for you - they were so pleasant and so helpful every day.
I also received much assistance from the concierge who helped us get to where we were going every day with ease. I don’t think I opened the door once for myself the whole week and there was never any problem getting a cab or handling luggage, etc. My daughter was ill one night while we were there. The Guest Services representative helped me figure out all options for medical care, and helped me cancel a tour that we were scheduled to go on. Again, they were there to help immediately.
I would easily recommend this hotel to anyone, especially to a family. I would definitely go back and if I could give 6 stars for customer service, I would.
We love the Reuben!! This is our 2nd time staying there. The accommodations are lovely, the staff is beyond friendly! Although we found the one maitre de or hostess in the English Grill very abrupt and not warm! The food is fantastic and we would definitely go back. Feel right at home and centrally located!
Director of Fun
While there is no onsite children's program, the whole of London is chock full of family-friendly places, and the fantastic team of concierges -- including John Goncalves, the hotel's Director of Fun and Adventure -- will help you plan and book tickets before you arrive. John has been with the Rubens for more than 34 years and knows his city. Check out his "top must-sees for kiddies in London" list and his Concierge Calling newsletter for tips. The concierge team also offers great advice on which theatre shows are best for which ages, and can help you secure good seats for many shows.
The personalized (and complimentary) "Master Chef in the Art of Pastry" experience is a treat -- literally -- for kids. Children are fitted with kid-sized chef's whites and hats, and then begin a tour of the main kitchen before heading to the pastry kitchen to help make their own creations. The kids get to squeeze cheesecake frosting on a red velvet cupcakes, "draw" with chocolate that hardened, and decorate with little candy ducks and yellow birds. The kids then returned with a masterpiece, that they can also eat. Kids can opt to have their treats delivered to their rooms with hot cocoa, or enjoy them during afternoon tea.
There are no leisure facilities or pool at the hotel, but Rubens' guests age 16-years and older can use the LA Fitness leisure club, located behind the hotel, for free. The Queen Mother Leisure Centre, a short walk away, has a kid-friendly pool. One and five-day passes are available.
The English Grill
The English Grill is the Rubens' main restaurant. Decorated in blond woods and soft blues, the restaurant is the place for breakfast each morning (included in some rates), and British and International fare for lunch and dinner. Continental Breakfast includes a limited selection of cereals, fruits, yogurts, croissants, breads and a platter of meats and cheeses. The "Healthy Corner" includes pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Muesli and high fiber fruit compote. The English Breakfast adds hot choices to the mix, from poached, fried or scrambled eggs, to sausages, bacon, baked beans and hash browns.
The Cavalry Bar offers all-day dining, overlooking the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace. You can have a coffee and read the paper in the early morning (and watch for the horses), order something from the light menu, or have a single malt from one of the largest whisky selections in the area. Favorites include Rubens' Pastrami on Rye and the Rubens' Club, with grilled free-range chicken and bacon (vegetarian club available, too).
Bbar and restaurant
This South African-themed, casual restaurant, which is run by, but located adjacent to, Rubens, and is decorated with vintage photographs of big game, faux giraffe skin fabrics and leopard spotted lampshades. The eclectic menu features tiger prawn and chili linguine, chicken curry, classic fish and chips (complete with the mushy green peas that seem to be a staple of English fish and chip entrees), and a grilled fish of the day. What we loved best were their burgers and hot dogs, which were fit for royalty -- hand made 8 oz. patties served on a toasted brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, mayo and bbar relish. And the Palace Hot Dog came with crispy parsnip and onion, bacon, lettuce and cheese sauce.
After a long day of sightseeing, you can also watch an in-room movies and order treats from the Movie Snack menu: spicy nachos, mushroom fritters, garlic bread, Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, M&M's and Maltesers.
The Library restaurant makes for a good in-hotel date night. This intimate, award-winning restaurant serves fine wines and international fare in a beautiful room full of elegant bookshelves. Dover sole is a restaurant favorite, or you can also choose oysters, Balmoral venison loin, ham hock and Scottish salmon.
Traditional Afternoon Tea is offered Monday through Friday afternoons from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., in the Palace Lounge. Tea also includes a Princes' and Princesses' menu for children under 12; it features raisin scones, English strawberry cheesecake and mini sandwiches.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Complimentary kid-sized slippers, night light, high chairs or a potty, coloring books and baby packs with sponges, nappies (diapers) and baby care products are typically placed in rooms upon arrival if the hotel knows you're traveling with a baby and/or small children, (if not, ask for them from Housekeeping).
Outside nanny service provides sitters who have been background checked, interviewed, police checked and insured. They take calls around the clock, so late bookings are often a possibility. Minimum 4-hour booking required. Quotes given upon request.
Pets are welcome to stay here.
The Art of Smart Timing
January through March and August are generally the best months to find the hotel's least expensive rates.
Heathrow Airport is 20 miles from Central London, and Gatwick Airport is 28 miles. There are three things to consider when figuring out how to get to the hotel: price, your children's abilities and your comfort level navigating trains with luggage and kids. Here are the taxi and train options:
Many can be found in the taxi queues at London's airports. Be sure to use a black cab or reputable mini-cab. From Heathrow, a metered trip with a black cab to/from Central London takes 30 minutes to an hour.
The Heathrow Express is the fastest way to travel to Central London. Travel time is roughly 15 minutes from Heathrow Center (Terminals 1 and 3) and London's Paddington Station. Terminal 5 takes an extra four minutes. A single ticket is cheapest when purchased online, slightly more when purchased at the ticket machine at Heathrow Aiport, and slightly more than that when purchased onboard the train. From Paddington, you can take a cab or the Tube. You can also travel strictly by Tube for much less, however, it takes just under an hour and is less comfortable.
Gatwick by train is simpler and more direct. The Gatwick Express trains depart every 15 minutes between Gatwick Airport's South Terminal and London Victoria Station, daily. The trip takes about 30 minutes, non-stop, to Victoria Station, which is only a short walk to Rubens at the Palace.
Rubens' Web site provides an excellent options overview, with associated costs, travel time, and connection details.
Centrally located families can walk, take the Tube or take a taxi when staying here.
For Mom and Dad
See one of London's many award-winning theatre shows, or order up a picnic dinner from The Rubens and have a date, sipping wine and strolling the 50-plus acre St. James's Park, across from Buckingham Palace. Picnic meals include sandwiches, fresh strawberries and cream, vanilla creme brie or a selection of cold and cured meats and cheeses, chocolate brownies and a travel-sized Pimm's for each of you, plus a bottle of wine or champagne.