March, 2004 -- Spend the night in a cupboard. Wash in a cup, then dry yourself with a handkerchief. Practice climbing and build your endurance on the Stairmaster. Whatever it is, do something to prepare yourself for the budget accommodations you'll find in London. It's unlikely that you'll be staying in a new hotel with an elevator (called a "lift" in England) and spacious rooms with marble bathrooms. Instead you'll more likely be in an historic building, either Georgian or Victorian, with a certain amount of charm (hopefully) but few luxuries. Authorities are strict about what can and cannot be altered in historic buildings, both inside and out. Bedrooms are small and private bathrooms (called "en suite facilities") are mainly an afterthought and as tiny as the toilet in an airplane. And there's rarely an elevator to bypass the precipitous stairs in these old buildings. Even if the stairs don't take your breath away, the room rates might. We don't mean to paint too bleak a picture because there are plenty of good, small, even charming B&Bs where you'll be perfectly comfortable. We just want you to be prepared.
Truth to tell, every London hotel we visited in 2003 was begging for business and rates have never been lower. Hotels need to fill their beds, so prices drop when tourism dips. Every hotel with a website told us that readers should check the hotel's website for special offers. Using the Web, you might find a lower rate than the non-discounted rack rates we list below. You should be able to nab some good rates throughout 2004. So in terms of hotel prices alone, there's never been a better time to visit London.
We have limited our splurge choices mainly to budget neighborhoods where you get more for spending more but you still don't have to break the bank. Otherwise, you'd do better to try out the hot tips below and score a properly posh room at a discount, either through Web surfing or going with an airline/hotel package.
Best Hotel Bets on a Budget
Best Overall Value: Arran House Hotel, 77 Gower St., WC1 (tel. 020/7636-2186), isn't a ritzy place at all. The rooms are simple and some are quite small. But look at what it offers at extremely competitive rates: roses rambling across a beautiful private garden; double-glazing masking traffic noise; a truly enormous full English breakfast (two types of bacon, sausages, fried bread, French toast, scrambled eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, grapefruit, toast and jam, orange juice, tea, and coffee); use of the kitchen to make supper; self-service laundry facilities; and a very friendly welcome.
Best for Families: The British Airways London Eye is right next door. The Houses of Parliament are on the opposite bank of the river. The London Aquarium is in the basement. And there's a restaurant with robotic waiters. Do not pass go. Head straight for Travel Inn Capital, County Hall, Belvedere Rd., SE1 (tel. 0870/242-8000; www.travelinn.co.uk).
Best for Travelers with Disabilities: Sadly, there aren't a lot of rivals for this recommendation. Regent Palace Hotel, Piccadilly Circus, W1 (tel. 020/7734-0716) has 32 units, and it is right in the thick of things. The Citadines Trafalgar Square, 18-21 Northumberland Ave., WC2 (tel. 0800/376-3898; www.citadines.com), is a splurge, but good for people on longer visits who prefer the flexibility of self-catering. It has 16 adapted studios and a 1-bedroom apartment.
Best for Nonsmokers: The filthy weed is banned outright at Jenkins Hotel, 45 Cartwright Gardens, WC1 (tel. 020/7387-2067; www.jenkinshotel.demon.co.uk), where the strokeable Labradors are a good substitute if you're missing your four-legged friend.
Best for Gay Travelers: The Philbeach Hotel, 30-31 Philbeach Gardens, SW5 (tel. 020/7373-1244; www.philbeachhotel.freeserve.co.uk" target), is a home away from home, only louder, with its famed club nights.
Best for Romantics: You may have to forge a marriage certificate but it's worth it because honeymooners can sometimes jump the queue for a four-poster bed at Wigmore Court Hotel, 23 Gloucester Place, W1 (tel. 020/7935-0928; www.wigmore-hotel.co.uk).
Best Jumbo Breakfast: The Davies family cooks a huge fat-boy breakfast, and gives guests free run at a buffet of fruit, yogurt, croissants, and cereals, at Harlingford Hotel, 61-63 Cartwright Gardens, WC1 (tel. 020/7387-1551; www.harlingfordhotel.com). For a local treat, check into Vicarage Private Hotel, 10 Vicarage Gate, W8 (tel. 020/7229-4030; www.londonvicaragehotel.com). It's the only budget guesthouse I've seen with kippers (smoked herring) and porridge on the menu. As befits a Frommer's top tip, Arran House also sets out a bumper feast.
Best for Serious Shoppers: Put a padlock on your wallet if you're staying at either of these. The Willett Hotel (tel. 800/270-9206; www.eeh.co.uk) is just round the corner from Peter Jones in Sloane Square and a 5-minute walk to Chelsea's King's Road. The Ivanhoe Suite Hotel, 1 St. Christopher's Place, W1 (tel. 020/7935-1047), is in a little pedestrian enclave off Oxford Street, crammed with boutiques.
Best for Theater Buffs: The Fielding Hotel, 4 Broad Court, WC2 (tel. 020/7836-8305; www.the-fielding-hotel.co.uk), is right by the Royal Opera House, in the heart of theatrical Covent Garden, which is why so many of its guests are performers and their groupies.
Best for Interior Design Tips: The Rushmore Hotel, 11 Trebovir Rd., SW5 (tel. 020/7370-3839; www.rushmore-hotel.co.uk), is an extravaganza of muraled ceilings and stage-set bedrooms. It is only rivaled for va-va-voom by a less refined, even more over-the-top splurge, The Pavilion, 34-36 Sussex Gardens, W2 (tel. 020/7262-0905; www.msi.com.mt/pavilion/).
Best for Party-Animals on a Shoestring: For as little as £15 ($24) a night, St. Christopher's Village, 165 Borough High St., SE1 (tel. 020/7407-1856; www.st-christophers.co.uk), offers you a sauna and hot-tub on the roof, a basement nightclub, and subsidized grub.
Best for Net Addicts: Guests get free, unlimited Web access at InterneSt@Portobello Gold, 97 Portobello Rd., W11 (tel. 020/7460-4910; www.portobellogold.com). The cyber bar at this old converted pub is right in the middle of the antiques stalls during the Saturday market.