Secret Hotels of London

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20 places to lay your head while saving a few quid.

When it comes to budget lodging, London frankly disgraces itself next to other European cities like Paris and Rome. Recently, the mayor, Ken Livingstone, hit at London's "shabby" value-for-money hotels and pledged to give the industry an injection of cash. For Americans used to great amenities and a wide range of budget accommodation, digs on the Thames can induce sticker shock. But there are some little gems, tucked away, not advertising, and surviving on a loyal clientele who knows it has discovered a bloody good thing. We've ferreted out 15 examples of them, where for about [British Pound]60 ($86) or less you can obtain a double room with the sort of warmth of service and comfort more usually found for [British Pound]100 or more. And then we've added five "big splurge" suggestions where [British Pound]70 ($100) per double room does the trick. In every price category, remember that we're quoting published (rack) rates, so negotiate, negotiate, negotiate; London hoteliers are often happy to cut prices when business is slow. In the article that follows, hotels are listed in roughly ascending order of cost; the first 15 budget selections are followed by five "big splurge" choices. A phone tip: When dialing from the U.S., preface all of the following numbers with 011-44-20.

New Dawn Hotel 95 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater, tel. 7229-9156, fax 7221-3130, s-h-systems.co.uk/hotels/newdawn.html. Tube: Bayswater. 28 rooms; double with bath £40 ($57). Continental breakfast included. Under refurbishment at press time, the convenient, cheap, and quirky New Dawn, once done up, promises to be a find. The rooms are small and functional, the bathrooms tiny but clean. The common areas are a vibrant and eccentric shade of yellow. There is a warmth here in a way that few budget hotels in the area can match. Mrs. Layla Melegy, the Egyptian owner, is an ebullient presence. She has hung paintings and embroidery by her friends on the walls--no Van Goghs, but an endearing touch--along with lots of vine-like plants. It's popular with younger people (though not backpackers), and the hi-fi in the breakfast room encourages the occasional get-together. Spot the New Dawn by its quirky little garden outside, its fountains and exotic plants holding out alongside a fairly busy road.

Enrico Hotel 77-79 Warwick Way, Victoria, tel. 7834-9538, fax 7233-9995. Tube: Pimlico or Victoria. 26 rooms; double with bath £55 ($78), double with sink £40 ($57). English breakfast included. This bright little button of a hotel is great for folks who want to be in the thick of things, touristically speaking, located as it is within five minutes of Victoria Station and close to Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Its Israeli owners offer all sorts of services that go above and beyond what is expected of a budget hotel. Every room is impeccably clean, with direct-dial phones and lots of helpful information (from emergency doctors' numbers to theater booking services) printed on a card on the wall. Rooms are light with big mirrors and pretty bedspreads, and original '50s Formica fittings that actually look pretty funky in 2002. There is 24-hour room service offering soft drinks, snacks, and pizza. Downsides: The only TV is in a somewhat dark lounge, and bathrooms are a bit of a schlep down the stairs and are shared by up to ten people.

Chelsea Lodge Hotel 268 Fulham Road, Chelsea, tel. 7823-3494, fax 7351-2467, londonlodgehotels.com. Tube: Earl's Court or Fulham Broadway. 14 rooms; double with bath £55-£65 ($78-$93). Continental breakfast included. A budget hotel on the Fulham Road--wow! This is the street where Prince William and various spoiled aristocrats like to cavort, and not the sort of place where budget hotels thrive. It's a five-minute walk to Hyde Park, ten minutes to Oxford Street, and there are good and fast bus connections to all the tourist sights. If shopping is your thing, then the fashionable King's Road and Knightsbridge for Harrods and the museums are a short walk away, as is the River Thames. There are kitschy '80s-style pictures on the walls featuring red-lipped women in sexy black clothes (which clash badly with the striped Regency wallpaper), so don't expect King's Road style. The bedrooms are great though--big, light, and modern with airy bathrooms to match, all decked out in white and blue. The hotel has recently been taken over by the popular Fulham Tup pub below, where you eat breakfast, and meals are available until 10 p.m. The staff is young, slightly chaotic, but lively and friendly. Though Earl's Court is just down the road, this is well off the beaten tourist track. A stay here would be a fun insight into real London life.

Stanley House Hotel 19-23 Belgrave Road, Victoria, tel. 7834-5042, fax 7834-8439, londonbudgethotels.co.uk. Tube: Victoria. 45 rooms; double with bath £55 ($78), basic double with sink £45 ($64). Full English breakfast included. This old-fashioned budget hotel serves a fantastic breakfast, made to order. Brits will be reminded of cheap family holidays at the English seaside: clean and tidy, comfy beds, sensible but unexceptional decor and fittings, and ubiquitous pink candlewick bedspreads. Word of mouth says it does its job well. A rolling program of maintenance and refurbishment means it never gets tatty. Rooms vary in size from long and narrow to fairly spacious, and proprietors will negotiate at the time of booking, netting you a real bargain. The travel hub of Victoria Station is nearby, with its links to Gatwick, as well as a large tourist information center.

Beverly House Hotel 142 Sussex Gardens, Sussex Gardens, tel. 7723-3380, fax 7262-0324. Tube: Lancaster Gate or Paddington. 23 rooms; double with bath £46-£58 ($66-$83). English breakfast included. There's something classy about this tall thin hotel with a slick little foyer, smart marble porch, and dashing suited receptionist waiting inside. In the bedrooms (up a winding steep staircase) are real oil paintings, etchings of London parks, and interesting old prints on the walls. All are tastefully done up in white and blue with new furniture. The owners believe in giving as much as possible for your money, staff are knowledgeable, professional, and helpful beyond the budget hotel norm. Trips, theater tickets, and transport can all be arranged by the hotel. Located ten minutes from Oxford Street and a pleasant stroll across Hyde Park, Sussex Gardens is convenient for shopping and sightseeing.

London Visitors Hotel 42-44 Holland Road, Holland Park, tel. 7602-1282, fax 7602-0736. Tube: Olympia. 30 rooms; basic double with sink £45 ($64), double with bath £75 ($107). Continental breakfast included, full English is £5 ($7.15) extra. The communal bathrooms are clean, but have seen better days. Other than that, this hotel is an excellent value. In a spiffy residential area near upscale Kensington, the Visitors welcomes a largely European clientele. The rooms are well equipped, with hair-dryers, ironing boards, and trouser presses. They range from big to decent-sized. The decor can be wild - the lounge is in dramatic silver and blue - and there's usually a working open fire. The lovely breakfast room has William Morris wallpaper and fabric on the comfortable chairs. Outside in a little courtyard are primulas and palm trees. Holland Road is busy, but the surrounding neighborhood is beautiful; Holland Park is near, as are Kensington High Street, Notting Hill, and the museums of South Kensington.

Rasool Court Hotel 19-21 Penywern Road, Earl's Court, tel. 7373-8900, fax 7244-6835, rasoolcourthotel.co.uk. Tube: Earl's Court. 58 rooms; double with private bath £55 ($78), basic double with sink £48 ($68). Continental breakfast included. Located in bustling Earl's Court, with South Kensington museums a 15-minute walk away, the Rasool's a cut above others in its price bracket, though it bills itself as a simple, family-run place with an aim to keep things "swift, efficient, and as convenient as possible" for guests. If modernism is your thing, though, perhaps the Rasool is not for you; a former Victorian family home, it is awash in the dense red velvet swagging and upholstery of its origins - and guests (largely Spanish and Italian) love it. We like having coffee in the bright, agreeable, breakfast room.

Merlyn Court Hotel  2 Barkston Gardens, Earl's Court, tel. 7370-1640, fax 7370-4986, smoothhound.co.uk/hotels/merlyn.html. Tube: Earl's Court. 20 rooms; basic double with sink £50-£55 ($72-$78), double with bath £65-£70 ($93-$100). Continental breakfast included. The Merlyn sits among smart Edwardian mansion blocks opposite a grand garden square. Its Italian owner, Lucy, is relishing redecorating her new hotel, and the design is superlative: simple, fresh, and different in every room. Rooms do not have televisions because, as Lucy says, "I want to keep the hotel quiet and peaceful. Comfortable but not expensive." In the basement there is a library and communal TV room with some pretty armchairs and sofas. The bathrooms are spruce and sparkling white, the rooms are neat and nice enough to spend an afternoon relaxing in. Fresh flowers throughout are a final finishing touch. It's a small hotel, and they do not advertise, because the large number of returns ensure a word-of-mouth following that will certainly increase. Warm, unique, and highly recommended.

Buckland Hotel 6 Buckland Crescent, Swiss Cottage, tel. 7722-5574, fax 7722-5594. Tube: Swiss Cottage. 16 rooms; double with bathroom or shower from £50 to £75 ($71-$107). Continental breakfast included. Located near the tony Hampstead district, 15 minutes on the Tube from the West End and 15 minutes' stroll to Regent's Park. Bedrooms at the Buckland are inviting and decorated simply, with white cotton bedspreads and gentle-on-the-eye, mossy green carpeting (almost a home away from home). The Victorian building is in a very upmarket residential street not far from Swiss Cottage and Hampstead. All the rooms are named after historical Hampstead characters like Freud, Coleridge, and D.H. Lawrence. It's slightly off the tourist trail, but worth going that extra mile. Three of London's most wonderful parks - Regent's Park, Primrose Hill, and Hampstead Heath - are within walking distance, and just up the road is Belsize Village, a pretty little street with some of London's finest patisseries. There are great bus and Tube connections five minutes' walk away on Finchley Road. If peace and quiet are important, this is a good spot. There's a farmer's market at nearby Swiss Cottage on Saturday mornings, which is very popular with locals and a great place to buy organic fruit from gardeners who come to town to sell their produce.

Ruddimans Hotel  160-162 Sussex Gardens, Sussex Gardens, tel. 7723-1026, fax 7262-2983, ruddimanshotel.co.uk. Tube: Lancaster Gate or Paddington. 40 rooms; double with shower and toilet £62 ($88), double with shared bath £52 ($74). English breakfast included. Paul Charalambous has recently taken control of this friendly hotel - just five minutes' walk from Hyde Park and ten from Oxford Street--from his dad. He says he'd been itching to do it up for years, and now that he has, it looks fantastic. In a street of dull hotels, this is a dynamic twenty-first-century space. The rooms have giant, soft, padded headboards, the bedside tables are made of frosted glass and brushed steel and they light up. The stylish floor-to-ceiling radiators belong in a design museum. Paul has spent $13,000 on each room, over $700,000 in all, and it really shows. The only negative is the latest in pod bathrooms, which are as small as those you find on trains. There's digital television in the dining room, and free fresh coffee in reception; many rooms have modem ports. I take my hat off to Paul. This is a budget hotel making a proud bid at being boutique. And what a brilliant Web site!

Oxford Hotel  24 Pennywern Road, tel. 7370-1161, fax 7373-8256, the-oxford-hotel.com. Tube: Earl's Court. 60 rooms; double with shared bath £55 ($78), double with private bath £65 ($93). Continental breakfast included. There are old show posters in the small, warm, and modern rooms painted in tasteful umber. The bathrooms are tiny but sparkling clean. The breakfast room is large and sunny, with Arne Jacobsen "ant" chairs and a high ceiling, more akin to a museum cafe than your average pokey budget-hotel dining room. Seen through the French windows is a sunny terrace overlooking a shabby but nonetheless welcoming garden. The entire hotel is decorated to a high standard. The staff is friendly and incredibly helpful; suggestions for good day trips and West End shows go up daily on a board in reception. The Oxford has the feeling of a big hotel but with small hotel prices. Earl's Court is a budget tourist haven, convenient for the South Kensington museums and access to the city. It matches its neighboring hotels for price while outshining them all on standards.

Caring Hotel  24 Craven Hill Gardens, Bayswater, tel. 7262-8708, fax 7262-8590, caringhotel.co.uk. Tube: Queensway or Lancaster Gate. 25 rooms; double with bath £72 ($103), double with shower but shared toilet £56 ($80), basic double with sink only [British Pound]50 ($71). No elevator. English breakfast included. Just a few minutes' walk from Kensington Palace and Hyde Park and with great transport links, including the efficient and cheap A2 Heathrow bus, this property pops up time and again in travel guides and also has a strong following. It lives up to its name: There's a woman's touch to the pretty candy-stripe wallpaper and poinsettias in the hall. The owners, the Kalcov family, are hands-on and keep prices consistently low, even while offering great service and immaculately clean, spacious rooms. The Kalcovs' philosophy is pragmatic: "We are not about luxury, but we are clean, tidy, and an oasis in a quiet street." A few doors down is the Hempel, one of London's smartest minimalist hotels. It is quite likely you'll bump into a celebrity or a posh nob who is paying ten times as much for his or her simple room!

Gower Hotel  129 Sussex Gardens, Sussex Gardens, tel. 7262-2262, fax 7262-2006, stavrouhotels.co.uk. Tube: Paddington. 21 rooms; double with bath £55 ($78). English breakfast included. This is basic accommodation, yet without being in any way austere or spartan. The bedrooms are more spacious than the price would suggest, and the sunny madras bedspreads are pretty enough to want to steal. Sussex Gardens is a budget hotel mecca, with its central location (five minutes' walk from Hyde Park) and ease of access to Heathrow airport via the high-speed Paddington rail link; it seems a sensible place to rest. But choosing the right hotel here is like negotiating a minefield. Yet again, it is the family-owned budget hotels that manage to provide affordability, comfort, and a smile. The Stavrou family, owners of the Gower, makes no claims to flashiness or to being a fancy hotel, but the high number of repeat visitors speaks for itself.

New England Hotel  20 St. George's Drive, Victoria, tel. 7834-1595, fax 7834-9000, newenglandhotel.com. Tube: Victoria or Pimlico. 25 rooms; double with bath from £60 ($86). English breakfast included. A smart neoclassical hotel, it's nicely decorated in bright colors, autumnal shades in the bedrooms, and a blue marine theme with dolphin tiles in the bathrooms. All the rooms have big, double-glazed windows; the property has been impeccably maintained, and an elevator was recently added. Victoria is a popular tourist area, and many of the cheaper hotels here are small and perhaps a little too personal. The Patel family offers great service but you do not feel you are living in someone's home. Since last September 11, London's hoteliers are desperate to see Americans again, and although the New England actually falls outside our budget price criteria, owner Jay Patel has said anyone mentioning this article will be guaranteed a double room for £60 a night for a minimum stay of two nights.

Garden Court  Hotel 30-31 Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, tel. 7229-2553, fax 7727-2749, gardencourthotel.co.uk. Tube: Bayswater. 32 rooms; double with shared bath £58 ($83), double with bath £88 ($125). Large continental breakfast included. This place is a find. A beautifully decorated and spacious lobby suggests a £150 price tag, so the Garden Court's knock-down prices are a real surprise. The lobby boasts leather '50s-style armchairs and a quirky life-size wooden Beefeater, the fireplace twinkles with fairy lights, and there is expensive-looking wooden parquet flooring. Huge fresh-flower arrangements are delightful. All the bedrooms are different, and while some are a little dark, the fashionably distressed furniture looks nice and is obviously carefully chosen. Throughout are some unique pieces of furniture, mirrors, and pictures, and in a pretty and sunny dayroom there's a writing desk, books, the daily papers, and unlimited tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Lively Portobello Road, with its fabulous antiques and clothes market, is just a ten-minute stroll away, and Westbourne Grove offers some cheap, spirited, ethnic eateries.

The Big Splurge (under £70 for a double room)

Niki Hotel  16 London Street, Paddington, tel. 7724-4466, fax 7723-7191, nikihotel.co.uk. Tube: Paddington. 72 rooms; double with shower or bath £60-£88 ($86-$125). English breakfast included. With excellent connections to downtown London and beyond via the mainline and Tube stations just two minutes' walk away, and Hyde Park a ten-minute walk away, this hotel feels much different from the many Paddington tourist hotels. It's a real family affair, owned by Greek Cypriot Pantelis Demosthenous and adorned with a cute picture of his village-dwelling parents in the lobby, along with architectural drawings of historic Greek buildings and Greek Orthodox icons. The light is warm and relaxing, and service is the same. Next door is a Greek taverna where you can get discounts on your meals. Rooms are small, neat, and comfortable.

Prince William Hotel  42-44 Gloucester Terrace, Paddington, tel. 7724-7414, fax 7706-2411, princewilliamhotel.co.uk. Tube: Paddington or Lancaster Gate. 47 rooms; double with bath £65-£75 ($93-$107). Continental breakfast included. Ten minutes' walk from Hyde Park, the Prince William is housed in a 200-year-old National Trust building retaining many of its original features, such as an ornate tiled fireplace and wrought iron balconies on the second floor. In a recent refurbishment, parquet flooring was laid down in all the rooms, and there is new beech furniture throughout. The hotel is decorated in a fresh and simple Scandinavian style; the only splash of color is in the bedspreads, curtains, and the fresh flowers in every room; other than that, the hotel is white and bright. Customers are largely European and the hotel advertises as being gay-friendly.

An-Nur Hotel  74 Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater, tel. 7243-9600, fax 7243 9601, an-nurhotel.com. Tube: Queensway or Bayswater. 60 rooms, double with bath £60-£70 ($86-$100). Included: continental breakfast in summer, hot breakfast buffet in winter. On a quiet street, near Queensway and a two-minute stroll to Hyde Park, this recently refurbished hotel normally falls outside the budget price bracket, but management assures us it's keeping prices well below the usual rack rate of £105 ($150), even for late bookings. Owned by Prince Jeffri of Brunei, it's popular with all nationalities, and the staff speaks a dazzling array of languages. Service is impeccable; the extremely professional employees clearly enjoy their work. Breakfast is taken in an attractive conservatory by the lobby, and hot beverages and cookies are available in the dining room throughout the day at no charge. Rooms are pleasant, their small bathrooms mosaic-tiled in primary colors. It's a good sign that the An-nur has many returning business travelers.

Regent Palace Hotel  Piccadilly Circus, West End, tel. 7734-0716, fax 7734-6435, regentpalacehotel.co.uk. Tube: Piccadilly Circus. 920 rooms; basic double with sink £69-£89 ($99-$128), double with bath £119-£129 ($171-$185). Breakfast £4.95 ($7) for continental or £8.50 ($12) for English. Bang in the heart of London's lively West End, steps away from swinging Soho and overlooking the flashing ads of Piccadilly Circus, is probably the only affordable lodging in the area (or at least of those that you don't have to share with ladies of the night). It's a slightly aging, functional, but well-maintained property which, because of its popular location, manages to avoid the miseries of cheap-hotel syndrome. In the basement, you'll find one of London's best known bar/restaurants, The Atlantic Bar & Grill. Probably the best deals are available through Web agents who have been known to sell rooms here for as low as £39 ($56) a night (try the budget hotels section of hotel-london.co.uk).

Rhodes Hotel 195 Sussex Gardens, Sussex Gardens, tel. 7724-7392, fax 7723-4054, rhodeshotel.com. Tube: Paddington or Lancaster Gate. 18 rooms; double with bath or shower £65-£80 ($93-$114). Continental breakfast included, English breakfast £3 ($4.25) extra. This small hotel is beautifully decorated with murals by a local artist famous for his copies of original artworks in the British Museum. Chris Crias has owned the Rhodes for 24 years and still proudly mans the reception desk in the cozy red lobby, where guests often settle down with a bottle of wine bought from a local shop and relax for the evening. There are tasteful old photographs and botanical prints on the walls; one ceiling even mimics the Sistine Chapel's. In the Greek-themed breakfast room, classical music plays and the radiators are hidden behind elegant wooden screens, and the food is superb (even "continental" breakfasts include ham, cheese, and veggies). Rooms are pretty and comfortable enough to while away an afternoon in. The fact that the Rhodes has air-conditioning (rare in the U.K.) makes it popular with Americans. You're a five-minute walk to Hyde Park, ten minutes to Oxford Street, and the museums of South Kensington are a pleasant stroll across the park.

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