London is a boomtown for accommodation.
At the cheapest and most expensive ends of the spectrum, the city's offering is hard to beat. The grand hotels of Mayfair still offer the kind of gracious service and country-house ambience that are copied around the world, and the more recent rise of the no-frills crashpad has been a welcome development in a city where rooms remain among the most expensive on the planet.
Price Categories -- The prices quoted here are for hotels' rack rate, the maximum that it charges; it is, however, unlikely that you'll end up paying that rate. You can typically find discounts of up to 25% for rooms when booking through websites such as Hotels.com or Expedia.com or through the agencies listed. During slow times, it's not impossible to obtain a room at an expensive property for the same rate as a more moderate one. For example, at press time the Draycott Hotel's cheapest room was listed at £312, but at least two of the big booking websites offered last-minute rooms for £250.
Very Expensive £250 and up
Inexpensive Under £120
The Big Picture
There's no getting around it: London is a huge, sprawling city, and so decide what you want to see and do before choosing a hotel. Sightseers and theatre-goers find that either the West End or the South Bank brings everything within walking distance; lovers of wide open spaces and the landmark museums opt for West London; and hipper, younger travelers finally have a range of options on the fringes of the City and in trendy East London.
There are surprises in store for anyone not used to London's idiosyncratic ways, however: for example, air-conditioning is far from standard. A common complaint from overseas visitors is that London hotel rooms are, "Too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer." The city's resistance to air-conditioning and modern hotels' non-opening windows only add to the problem. Call ahead to check whether your room is climate controlled and to ask for a quiet room where the windows can be opened; in the winter, bring a sweater.
The venerable age of many of London's best hotels means that rooms are smaller, and more variable, than in most modern cities; and hidden charges -- especially for international phone calls and Wi-Fi access -- are regrettably still common.
A recent boom in London hotel building, combined with the demands of an international clientele, means that the standard of rooms across the city is better than it has ever been. Unfortunately, it hasn't made prices any easier to swallow. An ever-increasing number of travelers coming to the city each year have left some hoteliers unembarrassed about over-charging and poor service.
London boasts some of the most famous hotels in the world -- temples of luxury such as Claridge's and the Savoy have been joined by high-end chains like Four Seasons. But there's a still a dearth of the kind of mid-range, family-run hotels that make staying in Paris or Rome such a pleasure. Even at the luxury level, you may be surprised at what you don't get. Many of the grand gems are so steeped in tradition that they lack modern conveniences standard in luxury hotels worldwide. The best have modernized with a vengeance, but others retain distinctly Edwardian amenities. Although London has an increasing number of sleek, high-tech palaces -- complete with high-end sound systems and gadget-filled marble bathrooms -- these hotels frequently lack the personal service and spaciousness that characterize the grand old favorites.
The biggest change to the London hotel landscape this century has been the rise of the boutique hotel. The best of them offer the charm of a B&B with the facilities of much larger hotels, but sufficient numbers of very ordinary small hotels have rebranded themselves "boutique" as to make travelers wary. We've sorted the wheat from the chaff, concentrating on reasonably priced choices with the best that each category has to offer.
Getting the Best Deal
If you're on a tight budget, there are options other than hotels. London has a tradition of families turning their homes into B&Bs, and the best of them offer a much more friendly welcome than you'll find at a budget hotel. Just don't expect all of the hotelier's bells and whistles. If this appeals to you, your first stop should be the London Bed and Breakfast Agency (tel. 020/7586-2768; www.londonbb.com), a long-running agency for inexpensive accommodations in private homes for around £30 to £100 per person per night, based on double occupancy (although some rooms will cost a lot more). London B&B (tel. 800/872-2632 in the U.S. and Canada; www.londonbandb.com) offers B&B accommodations in private family residences or unhosted apartments. Homes are inspected for quality and comfort, amenities, and convenience. Instead of B&Bs, some savvy visitors prefer long-term options, including self-catering accommodation or apartment rental.
Online travel booking sites such as Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire sometimes have excellent deals, or you can book hotels through Hotels.com, Quikbook (www.quikbook.com), LateRooms.com, and Travelaxe (www.travelaxe.com). Go to TripAdvisor.com or HotelShark.com for independent consumer reviews of hotels. It's always a good idea to get a confirmation number and make a printout of any online booking transaction.
If you're willing to pay the price there will always be a room free somewhere in London, but during certain peak periods, including the high season (approximately April through October), school holidays, sporting events, and royal occasions, rooms in all kinds of hotels are snapped up early. Book ahead.
If you're staying for more than a couple of weeks, consider self-catering accommodation or apartment rental. One reputable agency is Coach House London Rentals, 2 Tunly Rd., London SW17 7QJ (tel. 020/8133-8332; www.rentals.chslondon.com). The marvelous agency represents more than 75 properties, ranging from modest studio flats for friendly couples to spacious homes that can sleep up to 12. The minimum length of a stay is 5 nights, and a car can be sent to the airport to pick you up.
Plenty of travelers have found apartments and rooms to rent through Craigslist.org over the last years, but an increasing numbers of scam artists have made it impossible to recommend. A much better bet is Airbnb.com, where owners rent out everything from single rooms to whole houses, but with a user-rating and verification system that discourages scammers. Crashpadder.com is more focused on the single-room booking, but has some real bargains.
Low-cost airlines and higher standards in London hostels have led to the rise of "flashpacking:" ultra-cheap, no-luggage short breaks in hostels and the cheapest of hotels. Hostelbookers.com is consistently good for finding these bargain accommodations, but be ready to share facilities.
House-swapping is becoming a more popular and viable means of travel; you stay in their place, they stay in yours, and you both get an authentic and personal view of the area, the opposite of the escapist retreat that many hotels offer. Try HomeLink International Home Exchange (www.homelink.org), the largest and oldest home-swapping organization, founded in 1952, with over 11,000 listings worldwide ($119/£115 for annual membership). It has a number of properties available for exchange in London.
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.