Reserve your accommodations as far in advance as possible, even in the so-called slow months from November to April. Travel to London peaks from May to October, and during that period, it's hard to come by a moderate or inexpensive hotel room. Sometimes you can get better rates by calling the hotel directly. Ask for the type of room you want. If you're sensitive to noise, for example, request a room that's quieter, perhaps in the rear so you won't hear traffic noise out front. Remember that in the older hotels and inns, guest rooms tend to be small and each room is different, often with different plumbing. If you need a bathtub, ask for one or else you might end up with a small shower cubicle.
Unlike some countries, England has no rigid hotel classification system. The tourist board grades hotels by stars. Hotels are judged on standards, quality, and hospitality, and are rated "approved," "commended," "highly commended," and "deluxe." Five stars (deluxe) is the highest rating. A classification of "listed" refers to accommodations that are, for the most part, very modest.
All establishments from two stars upward are required to have 100% en suite (private bathroom) facilities. In a one-star hotel, buildings are required to have hot and cold running water in all rooms, but in "listed" hotels, hot and cold running water in rooms is not mandatory. Star ratings are posted outside the buildings. However, the system is voluntary, and many hotels do not participate.
Many hotels, especially older ones, still lack private bathrooms for all rooms. However, most have hot and cold running water, and many have modern wings with all the amenities (and older sections that are less up-to-date). When making reservations, always ask what section of the hotel you'll be staying in.
All hotels once included in the room price a full English breakfast of bacon and eggs, but today that is true of only some hotels. A continental breakfast is commonly included, usually just tea or coffee and toast.
Bed & Breakfast
In towns, cities, and villages throughout Britain, homeowners take in paying guests. Watch for the familiar bed-and-breakfast (B&B) signs. Generally, these are modest family homes, but sometimes they may be built like small hotels, with as many as 15 rooms. If they're that big, they are more properly classified as guesthouses. B&Bs are the cheapest places you can stay in England and still be comfortable.
Reservations for bed-and-breakfast accommodations in London can also be made by writing (not calling) the British Visitor Centre, 1 Regent St., London W1. Once in London, you can also visit their office (Tube: Piccadilly Circus).
In addition, Susan Opperman and Rosemary Lumb run Bed and Breakfast Nationwide, P.O. Box 2100, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex CO16 9BW, an agency specializing in privately owned bed-and-breakfasts all over Great Britain. Host homes range from small cottages to large manor houses, as well as working farms, and the prices vary accordingly. One thing you can be sure of is that owners have been specially selected for their wish to entertain visitors from overseas. Remember that these are private homes, so hotel-type services are not available. You will, however, be assured of a warm welcome, a comfortable bed, a hearty breakfast, and a glimpse of British life. Write for a free brochure. For bookings in accommodations outside London, call tel. 01255/831235 or fax 01255/831437 daily between 9am and 6pm. Or check out their website at www.bedandbreakfastnationwide.com.
In many parts of the country, farmhouses have one, two, even four rooms set aside for paying guests, who usually arrive in the summer months. Farmhouses don't have the facilities of most guesthouses, but they have a rustic appeal and charm, especially for motorists, as they tend to lie off the beaten path. Prices are generally lower than those at bed-and-breakfasts or guesthouses, and sometimes you're offered some good country home cooking (at an extra charge) if you make arrangements in advance.
Farm Stay UK (tel. 024/7669-6909; www.farmstayuk.co.uk) publishes an annual directory in early December that includes 1,000 farms and bed-and-breakfasts throughout the United Kingdom. The listings include quality ratings, the number of bedrooms, nearby attractions and activities, prices, and line drawings of each property. Also listed are any special details, such as rooms with four-poster beds or activities on the grounds (fishing, for example). Many farms are geared toward children, who can participate in light chores -- gathering eggs or just tagging along -- for an authentic farm experience. The approximate prices range from £30 to £60 a night and include an English breakfast and usually private facilities. (The higher prices are for stays at mansions and manor houses.)
Another option is self-catering accommodations, which are usually cottages or converted barns that cost from £200 per week and include dishwashers and central heating. Each property is inspected annually not only by the Farm Holiday Bureau, but also by the English Tourist Board. The majority of the properties, with the exception of those located in the mountains, are open year-round.
For a copy of the directory called Farm Stay UK, contact Farm Stay UK, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2LG (tel. 024/7669-6909; www.farmstayuk.co.uk). It costs £4.50 for postage and may be purchased by credit card.
For apartment, farmhouse, or cottage stays of 2 weeks or more, Untours (tel. 888/868-6871; www.untours.com) provides exceptional lodgings for reasonable prices, which includes air/ground transportation, cooking facilities, and on-call support from a local resident. Best of all, Untours donates most profits to provide low-interest loans to underprivileged entrepreneurs around the world.
National Trust Properties
The National Trust Holiday Cottages, Holiday Booking Office, P.O. Box 536, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 8SX (tel. 0844/800-2070; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk), is Britain's leading conservation organization. In addition to the many castles, forests, and gardens it maintains, the National Trust owns almost 350 houses and cottages in some of the most beautiful parts of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Some of these properties are in remote and rural locations, some have incomparable views of the coastline, and others stand in the hearts of villages and ancient cities. Most of these comfortable self-catering holiday accommodations are available for rental throughout the year. Many can be booked for midweek or weekend breaks on short notice, particularly in autumn and winter. National Trust properties can sleep from 2 to 12 guests.
Though anyone can book rentals in National Trust properties, it's worth mentioning the trust's U.S. affiliate, the Royal Oak Foundation, 26 Broadway, Ste. 950, New York, NY 10004 (tel. 800/913-6565 or 212/480-2889; www.royal-oak.org), which publishes a full-color 400-page booklet that describes all National Trust holiday rental properties, their facilities, and prices. Copies cost $12 for nonmembers. Individual annual memberships are $55, and family memberships are $90. Benefits include free admission to all National Trust sites and properties open to the public, plus discounts on reservations at cottages and houses owned by them, and discounted air and train travel.
Holiday Cottages & Villages
Throughout Britain, fully furnished studios, houses, cottages, "flats" (apartments), and even trailers suitable for families or groups can be rented by the month. From October to March, rents are sometimes reduced by 50%.
The British Tourist Authority and most tourist offices have lists available. The BTA's free Apartments in London and Holiday Homes lists rental agencies such as At Home Abroad, Inc., 163 Third Ave., Box 319, New York, NY 10003 (tel. 212/421-9165; fax 212/228-4860; www.athomeabroadinc.com). Interested parties should write or fax a description of their needs; At Home Abroad will send listings at no charge.
Cottages 4 You (tel. 0870/078-2100; www.cottages4you.co.uk) represents about 9,000 rental properties in the United Kingdom. They have everything from thatch-roofed cottages to castles.
Barclay International Group (BIG), 6800 Jericho Turnpike 212W, Syosset, NY 11791 (tel. 800/845-6636 or 516/364-0064; www.barclayweb.com), specializes in short-term apartment (flat) rentals in London and cottages in the English countryside. These rentals can be appropriate for families, groups of friends, or businesspeople traveling together and are sometimes less expensive than equivalent stays in hotels. Apartments, available for stays as short as 1 night (though the company prefers that guests stay a minimum of 3 nights and charges a premium if your stay is shorter), are usually more luxurious than you'd imagine. Furnished with kitchens, they offer a low-cost alternative to restaurant meals. For extended stays in the English countryside, BIG has country cottages in such areas as the Cotswolds, the Lake District, and Oxford, as well as farther afield in Scotland and Wales. The company can also arrange tickets for sightseeing attractions, BritRail passes, and various other "extras."
At the cheaper end of the spectrum, there's Hoseasons Holidays, Lowestoft, NR32 2LW (tel. 01502/502588; www.hoseasons.co.uk), a reservations agent based in Suffolk (East Anglia). They arrange stopovers in at least 400 vacation villages throughout Britain. Though many are isolated in bucolic regions far from any of the sites covered within this guide, others lie within an hour's drive of Stratford-upon-Avon. Don't expect luxury or convenience: Vacation villages in England usually consist of a motley assortment of trailers, noninsulated bungalows, and/or mobile homes perched on cement blocks. They're intended as frugal escapes for claustrophobic urbanites with children. Such a place may not meet your expectations for a vacation in the English countryside (and a minimum stay of 3 nights is usually required), but it's hard to beat the rate.
Many American chains, such as Best Western, Hilton, Sheraton, and Travelodge are found throughout Britain. In addition, Britain has a number of leading chains with which North American travelers are generally not familiar. Thistle Hotels (tel. 020/7138-0000; www.thistle.com) is a well-regarded chain of upscale to moderate full-service hotels that caters to business and leisure travelers alike. An exclusive chain of government-rated three-crown hotels is called Malmaison (tel. 0845/365-4247; www.malmaison.com). There's not a bad hotel in their post. Premier Travel Inn (tel. 0870/242-8000; www.premiertravelinn.com) is a chain of modern, moderately priced accommodations across the U.K., each one featuring a licensed restaurant.
The market leader in home exchanges is HomeLink International, 2937 NW9 Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311 (tel. 800/638-3841 or 954/566-2687; www.homelink.org), which costs $110 to join. This is the oldest, largest, and best home-exchange holiday organization in the world.
A competitor is Intervac U.S. & International, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920 (tel. 800/756-HOME; www.intervacus.com). To hook up with this outfitter, you pay $65 annually. Intervac is adept at securing a list of home exchanges throughout Great Britain.
Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) operates a network of 230 youth hostels in major cities, in the countryside, and along the coast. You can contact them at Customer Services Department, YHA, Trevelyan House, Dimple Road, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3YH (tel. 01629/592-600; www.yha.org.uk), for a free map with locations of each youth hostel and full details, including prices.
Britain Bans Public Smoking -- Some 4 centuries ago King James I denounced tobacco, calling it "loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs."
Britain has now heard his words, banning smoking in most public places, including hotels, restaurants, and pubs that serve food. Anti-smoking activists welcomed the proposal but criticized the government for letting smokers continue lighting up in some pubs and bars. Still, it's a big step for a country that has long had a love-hate affair with tobacco. Britain's smoky pubs are at the heart of the nation's social life. Since the law was enacted, many hotels have opted to become 100% nonsmoking, even in the bedrooms, while others -- at their discretion -- have opted to set aside a few of their rooms for smokers. Always ask before booking if you want a room in which you can smoke.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.