19 March 2015

The Ultimate Guide: Where to Stay in London ● by Jess

So many people have asked me where to stay in London lately and, until now, I haven't had a good answer for them. I decided it was high time I figure it out. Behold! The thrillingly exhaustive guide to where to stay on your trip to in London.

Let me just start off by saying there is no best area. It completely depends on what kind of London experience you are hoping for. My recommendation would depend on:
  • Your budget 
  • The number of visitors you have coming 
  • Which airport you are flying into (there are 5 major commercial airports + 3 cruise/ferry ports) 
  • What attractions you want to see 
  • Your age/stage in life (Seeking a fun night life? Or a safe family friendly experience?) 
  • When are you coming? Weekday, Weekend? Holiday? 

Map of London Hotels

Above, we have a very generalised map of the various parts of central London. I'm sure there will be some disputes on borders, but its purpose is just to give a rough idea of how the city is laid out.

Before we delve too deeply into that, we need to first have a chat about the transport system. Here are a few things you should know:
  • Hotel cars/shuttles from airports are rare + taxis from the airport are insanely expensive
  • London has an excellent public transport system and you can literally get anywhere on it 
  • The tube is utterly impractical if you have a stroller (almost no elevators and a whole lotta stairs/escalators) … you may have to deal with this on your initial ride into the city from the airport. But on subsequent trips you can use the bus (which is my preference and I don't even have a stroller!). 
  • Everything in London is spread out. No matter where you stay, you will need to get a transport pass of some kind in order to see the sights. 
  • You have to buy an oyster card (a refillable transport card) in order to use the buses now. You can buy these for £5 in multiple locations, but the easiest place is the closest tube station.
So now, without further ado, let's get a rundown of the main hotel districts of London. Rankings are 1-5, with 1 being the best, 5 being the worst

The West End
West End

Where: More or less the center of everything important; from Marble Arch + Mayfair in the west to Holborn in the east
Budget: 5 - High Prices, Lots of 4-5 Star Hotels
Airport: 4/5 – Can be a bit irritating to get here directly from any of the major airports
Attractions Nearby:
  • Covent Garden/Soho – Where all the nightlife is happening 
  • Theatre District – Doesn't include ALL of west end theaters, but most (Buy tickets here and here
  • Mayfair & Piccadilly Circus – Most exclusive hotels 
  • Oxford Street Shopping (includes Selfridges) – nearly all the shopping you could want 
Family Friendly: 4 – If you can afford it, then the closeness of everything may make this rank higher
Nightlife: 1
Best for: Deep pockets that want a thrilling London experience
Worst for: Families on budgets
Notes: Though you may be initially put off by this area if you look at safety statistics, be rest assured that basically ALL areas in central London are completely safe. The reason the stats are so high is because pickpocketing is rampant as this includes one of the most famous shopping districts in the world. So guard your wallets and you won't have any problems.

Bloomsbury




Bloomsbury

Where: Pretty Central, you can walk to the West End (but slightly cheaper), between Euston Road and Holborn
Budget: 4 – Still high prices, but more affordable than the West End
Airport: 4 – Only direct airport link within district is the Underground to Heathrow
Attractions Nearby:
  • 15 minutes walk to Covent Garden 
  • Lots of bookshops and a fun place to just explore 
  • British Museum (this is truly an amazing place) 
Family Friendly: 3/4 – Depends on the price of hotel, plenty to explore
Nightlife: 2/3 – Based on proximity to West End
Best for: The curious traveller that loves to explore the quirkier bits of London
Worst for: Traveller wanting an ultra modern aesthetic
Notes: Kings Cross/St. Pancras is just a mile north and it quite a bit cheaper.

Big Ben | Waterloo

Big Ben/Waterloo

Where: Both sides of the Thames around Parliament, inclusive of Trafalgar Square eastward toward Elephant & Castle

Budget: 3/4 – Mostly luxury hotels, with some exceptions, cheaper on weekends & holidays
Airport: 4 - You can get the underground from Heathrow & London City, but it isn't direct (you'll have to change trains); fastest route from all other airports would be via bus

Attractions Nearby:

Family Friendly: 2/3
Nightlife: 4
Best for: Sightseeing oriented visitor
Worst for: Nightlife-loving shoppers who need the proximity of high street stores
Notes: This area is mostly used for being on government business, which is why the prices are often cheaper on the weekends. Because the hotels here are so good, it might be worth having a look-see if you are traveling on holidays or weekends.

Victoria


Victoria

Where: Pretty central, lots of different kinds of accommodations (highs and lows), on the fringe of the West End (has two major west end Theaters); from Knightsbridge east to the Thames

Budget: 3 –  Wide range of what is available, usually cheaper during weekdays, during peak travel times everything can be sold out
Airport: 1 - For those flying into Gatwick (straight shot from airport to Victoria Station)
Attractions Nearby:
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Victoria Station
  • Westminster Cathedral (not the same as the abbey)
Family Friendly: 3
Nightlife: 3
Best for: Anglophiles who want to see the Queen's pad and be within walking distance of Big Ben
Worst for: Last minute booker

The City of London

City of London/Tower Bridge/London Bridge

Where: The area of the original City of London (now referred to as “the City”), mostly business district... from Blackfriars in the West, Shoreditch in the North, Tower Bridge in the East, and Southwark in the South

Budget: 3 – mostly for the corporate elite, but when the go home on the weekends prices go down
Airport: 2 – Direct Trains to Gatwick, Stanstead, and Luten Airports from London Bridge and Liverpool Street tube stations. Also the only transport link for cruises coming into Harwich is Liverpool Street Station. Dover Cruise port is services from London bridge. (Not good for those flying into Heathrow-- which is almost everyone from the States).
Attractions Nearby:
Family Friendly: 3 – Safe but I'd probably recommend a more western location
Nightlife: 2 – Area has been rejuvenated recently, so old warehouses have been turned into restaurants and chic bars long the river; Shoreditch (the North part of this area) is also a very lively hipster-esque scene with a great night life.
Best for: Business people + Travellers interested in religious iconography of major London churches
Worst for: Families and weekday travellers on a budget
Notes: Best way to see this part of London is to start at St. Paul's, cross the Thames on the Millennium foot bridge, then walk along the Thames (passing the Globe Theatre, Borough Market, and more), finally crossing Tower bridge back across the river and ending at Tower of London.

The Ultimate Guide on Where to Stay in London

Kensington

Where: Area south of Hyde Park
Budget: 2 – Value for money generally speaking, cheaper on the western side (closer to Earl's court), the east side has some of the most exclusive, high budget hotels in London
Airport: 1 – for Heathrow... 5 for Stanstead.
Attractions Nearby:
Family Friendly: 1
Nightlife: 4
Best for: Tourists coming in from Heathrow that are budget conscious and love Museums, I'd also probably recommend this area for more elderly tourists as everything is quite accessible here
Worst for: Hipsters that love urban grit
Notes: Basically all the important museums in London are free. FREE. It is amazing.

St. Pancras

Kings Cross/St. Pancras

Where: Great place for home base; Area around St. Pancras Station
Budget: 1 – Where you'll likely get the most bang for your buck
Airport: 1 – Direct train links to Heathrow, Gatwick, and Luton airports as well as Dover cruise port. Stanstead is moderately easy to get to as well.
Attractions Nearby:
Family Friendly: 1 (Some great Bed & Breakfasts, though some may not be suitable for families with small children, see below)
Nightlife: 5 – Not much actually happening in this area.
Best for: On a budget, don't mind taking a short bus/tube ride to see the sights, especially young travellers (students and families)
Worst for: Tourists that must be in the throng of London, but bear in mind St. Pancras is still very much in the middle of London, it just would take you a bit to walk to see stuff.
Notes: Kings Cross is where the 2 hour train ride to Paris departs from... something to think about...
Also, there are some really cool hostels in this area. Check out Clink 78, a megacool 200 year old courthouse turned into a hostel (prices start at just £13/night).

Paddington


Paddington/Marylebone

Where: Northeast half of area above Hyde Park to Regent Street going all the way to Tottenham Court Road in the east, North to West Way

Budget: 1 – Another value for money district, but can be a mixed bag (some expensive)
Airport: 1 - Heathrow, not as accessibly by other airports
Attractions Nearby:
  • Hyde Park
  • Little Venice (canal boats + floating book stores)
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum
  • Regent's Park (which has the zoo at the north side - buy tickets here)
Family Friendly: 2 – pretty family friendly, big grocery stores on Edgware Road
Nightlife: 4 – Not really much happening in this area
Best for: Value seekers, looking for a little quiet
Worst for: Party Animals
Notes: You can get from Heathrow to Paddington in just 15 minutes with the express ticket (but they can be a bit pricey... somewhere in the family of £20 each) or a connect ticket (which is cheaper, but a bit slower-- this is what I usually use). Paddington Station is also a major train terminus as well.

Bayswater


Bayswater/Notting Hill

Where: Western half of area above Hyde Park, up to Ladbroke Grove Station

Budget: 1/2 – weekday rates better than weekend rates, some gross/cheap hotels-- be wary-- but generally a really lovely (pretty) place to stay
Airport: 1 - Heathrow
Attractions Nearby:
  • Hyde Park
  • Kensington Palace
  • Portabello Road
  • Notting Hill
Family Friendly: 2
Nightlife: 4
Best for: Tourists that enjoy a quieter London experience
Worst for: Tourists that hate public transport
Notes: Unless you are a serious antique shopper, I recommend Camden Markets instead-- It's much more of a Bedknobs-and-Broomsticks-meets-Diagon-Alley)

A Note on Budget Accommodation

Please be wary of excessively cheap hotels. Make sure you've seen photos and, for the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, MAKE SURE YOUR ROOM HAS A BATHROOM (look for rooms labeled “en suite”), otherwise you'll be sharing it with strangers down the hall.

Consider that you may want a kitchette of some kind as well if you are staying more than just a day or so. It's nice to have a place to store munchy food.

For the budget conscious, you should consider two options: bed and breakfast hotels and Airbnb.

Bed and Breakfast Hotels are usually 4-6 story Victorian terraced houses that have been converted into hotels. They usually do not have lifts (elevators), but are a good option if you just need a place to store your luggage and sleep. Perhaps not the best option for someone with young children.

Airbnb is a website where you can pay to stay at some's flat/home. Usually this is extra space dedicated to the purpose of renting, but sometimes it can be space that is free because someone is out of town. I was VERY wary of this the first time I tried it, but I am now a firm believer, as are many of my expat friends with children that travel around Europe. It is a great way to get a more authentic cultural experience, while getting value for money.

Make sure you understand the living situation on this. Is the owner nearby? If you have a problem, who do you contact? I've found Airbnb hosts to be incredible-- usually providing breakfast (often giving you the ingredients to do it yourself, but occasionally preparing it themselves) and lots of helpful advice.

As a bonus, if you click though this link you should be able to get a £30 credit toward your first stay. Let us know if it works for you... if not, contact us and we'll try to get you sorted.

Budget and Mid Market

If you don't need the pool, gym and room service, but you still feel more comfortable in a hotel, the following chains are well regarded budget options here in London:
Hostels

Hostels are such a fun experience, particularly if you are young and traveling with friends. Because I know very little about the options for these in London, I'm just going to refer you to two well-written articles on the subject by The Guardian and Budget Traveler.

Hotel Stars

In the UK, hotel stars are awarded based on how many services the hotel offers, not on cleanliness or how good the services are. Be forewarned and do your research.

* Also please note, I have not discussed any of the locations in East London, which would be the primary area for those coming in at the City Airport *

Be sure to check out our giveaway! It finishes 31 March 2015, so be sure to enter before you miss it!

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