Home Hotel reviewsHotels in London A night on the water at the Sunborn Yacht hotel in London

A night on the water at the Sunborn Yacht hotel in London

London's floating hotel in Royal Victoria Dock is a unique place to stay

by Sarah Bridge
Sunborn Yacht hotel London

A stay at the Sunborn Yacht – London’s boat hotel

Spending a night at the Sunborn Yacht hotel in London was a rather pleasant if surreal experience, not least because I saw the hotel first from high up in the sky – not a usual occurrence! This floating hotel is located at Royal Victoria Dock in East London which is just a short walk from the cable car which crosses the Thames from North Greenwich. This means you can easily see the gleaming white yacht which is the Sunborn hotel from 90 metres up in the air, along with the sparkling water and the nearby London City Airport.

Sunborn Yacht hotel London cable car

Our first glimpse of the Sunborn Yacht hotel London was from the cable car across the Thames

Getting to the Sunborn

We had decided to arrive like tourists, so rather than getting the DLR or Elizabeth Line to Customs House station, which is just a few minutes walk from the Sunborn, we instead caught the river bus with Uber Boat by Thames Clippers from the Embankment to North Greenwich.

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The hour-long cruise sailed past iconic London sights such as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and HMS Belfast while we enjoyed a civilised drink along with the views, chatting to friendly travellers on the boat, far more pleasant than a tube journey underground.

The Sunborn is located in Royal Victoria Dock in East London

The Sunborn is located in Royal Victoria Dock in East London

View of the O2 music venue at Greenwich, formerly known as the Millennium Dome

From North Greenwich, home to the O2, we took the cable car – officially called the IFS Cloud Cable Car – over the Thames to Royal Victoria Dock, where the Sunborn Yacht hotel is located. Both journeys were unexpectedly delightful and total novelties to me, a long-time London resident; why should tourists get to do all the fun things?

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Arriving at Sunborn London

From the cable car stop it was just a short walk along the riverside to the Sunborn, which we had already spotted from our lofty vantage point, and it certainly looks impressive from any angle. Rather than being converted from a previous life sailing the Mediterranean, as I had imagined, the Sunborn London was constructed specially for its London mooring, and is the closest hotel to ExCeL, the vast conference centre and exhibition hall which is just a few metres away.

ExCeL conference and exhibition centre

The ExCeL conference and exhibition centre is just a few steps – literally – from the entrance to the Sunborn Yacht hotel London

Sunborn Yacht hotel London

The entrance to the Sunborn Yacht hotel London

Talking of metres – the Sunborn London has around 10,000m2 of floorspace, which means it feels pretty roomy inside, with 138 bedrooms and suites over five floors, plus a bar, restaurant, conference facilities and several terraces for those sunny days and warm evenings.

Book Sunborn Yacht hotel London on Booking.com

Visit Sunborn Yacht hotel London on TripAdvisor

There is a sister hotel, the five-star Sunborn Gibraltar, which seems to be rather more luxurious, with a swimming pool and casino onboard, but I am told there are plans for the Sunborn London to find another spot in London and for a larger Sunborn to moor up here instead.

reception lobby at Sunborn Yacht hotel London

The impressive reception lobby at Sunborn Yacht hotel London

That is all some way in the future, though, with plans yet to be finalised, and for now the Sunborn London remains London’s only yacht hotel, and it certainly offers a unique place to spend the night. The entrance is certainly a good first impression, with a lift from the quayside opening out onto an impressive double spiral staircase, all gleaming glass and gold. Check in was quick and efficient, and before too long we were walking up the staircase to the 4th floor where our Yacht Executive Room with River View was located.

Bedrooms at Sunborn Yacht hotel

The 138 bedrooms at Sunborn London start at Yacht Classic, then go up in size and facilities to Yacht Executive and then to the Suites. Our Yacht Executive, was fairly smart, with a large double bed, sofa, TV (which wasn’t very easy to watch from the bed), coffee table, writing desk and lots of mirrors, lights and plug points.

bedroom at Sunborn Yacht hotel London

Our Yacht Executive room at Sunborn London was spacious and well-designed, with a large bed, sofa, desk, bathroom with shower and private balcony

The carpet was a little tired but the small ferry-style bathroom with shower was bright and clean and best of all, we had a small balcony with a view up and down the dock.

Sunborn Yacht hotel London

The bed was comfy and there were enough lights and powerpoints for all

For sitting outside and soaking up the views though, the best option is the terrace on the third floor at the back of the ship which gives great views down to the cable cab and beyond it, the O2 arena at Greenwich. Staff were efficient and helpful, serving us a beer and Bloody Mary cocktail, but be warned, the prices on the Sunborn are pretty steep – a glass of Prosecco will set you back £9 while a pint of lager is £7.50, cocktails are around £18 and a G&T will cost you £20.

terrace at Sunborn Yacht hotel London

Soaking up the sunshine with a cocktail on the terrace of the Sunborn London

A more sensible option is to check out some of the nearby bars and restaurants on dry land, such as The Fox – popular during ExCeL events – or even get a cheap bottle of fizz from the nearby Tesco and enjoy on your balcony, as paying £50 for two rounds of drinks seems a little excessive, even for central London prices, and we certainly weren’t in central London. There’s also a selection of bar snacks, such as whitebait, £9.50, or larger plates like fish and chips at £22, but we had reserved a table at the Sunborn’s Land’s End restaurant and decided to wait.

Dinner at Sunborn Yacht

Dinner on the Sunborn is served on the fourth floor, in the open-plan Land’s End restaurant, and guests are advised to book as it can get busy. Staff kindly let us switch from our initial table under some over-enthusiastic air-conditioning to a warmer one and it was nice to dine while seeing the views of the water outside.

Sadly, the food didn’t match the venue or its prices, which was a shame considering the unique location. The Sunborn itself doesn’t shy away from making extravagant claims about its restaurant, as its website proclaims: ‘In our beautiful and elegant restaurant, you’ll find an array of striking and memorable flavours, an inspiring range of local and seasonal ingredients, and menus and wine lists specifically curated to take you to new heights of sensory pleasure…To dine on board Sunborn’s luxury superyacht is to go on a voyage into a realm of flavour, aroma, and texture, and to treat yourself to something truly out of the ordinary.’

The Pressed Rabbit and Parma Ham Terrine to start

Sweetcorn chowder

We hadn’t read this blurb before dining but even so, the prices and venue meant that we had been really looking forward to something special. The starters were perfectly adequate, with Pressed Rabbit and Parma Ham Terrine (£15) and my large, warming bowl of Sweetcorn Chowder (£9.50) but the mains weren’t up to expectations; my seared Tuna Steak Nicoise (£34) was very odd, with the tuna having been seemingly brined or treated in some way that it tasted more like gammon, with oddly sliced eggs and an over-powering balsamic dressing, while my partner’s vast Lobster Tagliatelle (£32) was slightly better, but needed more flavour and more lobster. We decided to take one dessert to our room (Vanilla Creme Brûlée, £12) and were surprised to find it was really rather tiny.

My seared Tuna Steak Nicoise

Lobster Tagliatelle

It was a shame as dining on a boat certainly felt very special and the prices certainly hinted that the food would be a cut above the usual fare, but reluctantly I have to say I didn’t feel it matched the venue or the cost. ‘There’s something for everyone in the UK’s most exclusive and one of a kind venue’ says the website, so it does seem like a severe case of over-writing and under-delivering, at least on the evening we were there. The glass of red wine we had with our meal was very nice though and the Pina colada-style cocktail which came in a giant glass pineapple glass was fun and showed a bit of imagination and verve.

Cocktails at dinner were fun, especially the one served in a massive pineapple

Breakfast at Sunborn

Judging by the reviews on Tripadvisor breakfast at Sunborn yacht hotel, the breakfast is a hugely popular part of guests’ stay, but I think they were having an off-day when I visited (or maybe my expectations were too high?). Breakfast is buffet-only, so you help yourself from a variety of cooked options on hot plates, which range from sausages to bacon, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, baked beans and hash browns as well as a selection of cold meats, yoghurt, smoked fish, cereals and bread.

The yogurt was fine but the scrambled eggs were cold (even from the tray freshly brought from the kitchen), the sausages not very tasty and the bacon very patchily cooked, so for a hotel which claims to offer a ‘five-star, luxury experience’ I found it rather lacking – plus the coffee available was only filter coffee and staff were not very pleased with my request for a proper espresso – although they did oblige in the end. It is always tricky for a hotel to manage expectations but as breakfast is a highlight of most hotel stays, it surely isn’t too hard to make sure that food is well cooked and piping hot when served.

The lounge at the Sunborn Yacht hotel London

The lounge at the Sunborn Yacht hotel London

That said, staying at the Sunborn yacht hotel was certainly a unique London hotel experience and if you’re visiting ExCeL then it is the ideal place for location and convenience, plus sitting on the terrace in the sunshine next to the sparkling water of Royal Victoria Dock was a lovely way to spend the afternoon – I look forward to the arrival of Sunborn’s more luxurious replacement which will no doubt be a great addition to the area, whether you choose to travel by land, sea or air.

Sunborn Yacht hotel London at night

Sunborn Yacht hotel London at night

Hotel information and to book Sunborn Yacht hotel London

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