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Best London Hotels, Pound for Pound

Among this costly city's small lodgings (under 100 rooms), our top choices for value and style.

September 15, 1996|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

LONDON — Looking for a really good price on a hotel room? Try Arizona in August, Alaska in February, New York in about 1962. But if it's London you want to see, brace yourself.

The city, humming these days with post-recession liveliness, is a wonder. But in the way of New York, Paris, Rome and other world capitals in 1996, its hotel rooms are costly. Last month I spent a solid week inspecting smallish (fewer than 100 rooms) London hotels between $80 and $250 a night.

Fifty hotels later, I have come up with 20 of the best for value and style, along with a few broad conclusions.

One: Even London tourism officials admit they have a shortage of mid-range hotels. But if a traveler is determined and willing to lay out $150 to $250 per night, he or she can find comfort and all sorts of stylish touches.

Two: Those who pay less than $100 nightly have many hotels to choose from, but just about all of those hotels have small, frumpy rooms. These rooms often lie within converted row houses from centuries past, frequently four-story buildings with narrow stairwells and no elevators (when booking rooms, remember that in England, a first-floor room is one story up). In these budget hotels, most of which are grouped around the city's main rail stations, there's a good chance that your bathroom is a shared facility down the hall.

Three: Even if you're spending $100 to $150 and have a private bathroom, it is likely to be tiny, cheaply made and outfitted with a shower but no tub. (That odd contraption on the wall in just about every room, the trousers press, may not be much comfort.) If you want even a little style, you're almost certain to spend $150 nightly or more.

For those ideologically opposed to spending $150 for a place to sleep, a small, frumpy hotel room is not the end of the world. And for the American who hasn't traveled much in England, there may be unexpected comforts. For instance, many small hotels offer free continental, buffet or even full English breakfast for free, which amounts to a value of $10 to $20 per day.

Among the 20 hotels that follow (listed alphabetically), I chose 10 for value--those that charge under $150 a night for at least some of their double rooms--and 10 for style--those that charge between $150 and $250 per double.

Rates quoted here are for a room for two with private toilet and shower or bath. (Prices were computed at $1.55 per British pound.) Unless otherwise noted, room rates include the VAT. Most hotels offer single rooms (which can be astonishingly tiny) for about 20% less than double rooms. All rates are subject to change. To reach London from the U.S., the phone and fax numbers below must be preceded by the digits 011-44-171.

Top 10 for Value

Arran House Hotel, 77-79 Gower St., WC1; telephone 636-2186; fax 436-5328. Tube stop: Goodge St. 28 rooms (16 of them with shared bathrooms). Stands in a converted 200-year-old Georgian home on a hotel-lined street in Bloomsbury near the British Museum. Four stories, no elevator. Garden-facing rooms in back are quieter. Rooms utterly glamourless, but clean. About $95 nightly; MasterCard and Visa accepted, but not American Express. Full English breakfast included.

Bryanston Court Hotel, 58 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch, W1; tel. 262-3141, fax 262-7248. Tube stop: Marble Arch. 55 rooms. Smallish rooms, not much character and lackluster location--but it's got elevators and a handsome lobby and public rooms, which are rare at this price. Back rooms quieter. About $140 nightly; major credit cards accepted. Continental breakfast included.

Delmere Hotel, 130 Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, W2; tel. 706-3344, fax 262-1863. Tube stop: Paddington. 39 rooms. Among perhaps three-dozen budget-oriented hotels on Sussex Gardens, two blocks from Paddington station, this is the standout. It gets lots of business travelers (hence weekend discounts aimed at filling rooms on weekends). Compact lobby, but bright, clean, professional. An elevator serves its five stories. About $145 nightly, reduced to $125 on weekends; major credit cards accepted. Continental breakfast included.

Fielding Hotel, 4 Broad Court, Bow St., W2; tel. 836-8305, fax 497-0064. Tube stop: Covent Garden. 24 rooms. For the unfussy theater hound. You're steps from the Covent Garden opera house and blocks from the theater district. Four stories, no elevators, with budget furnishings. Night life nearby. About $125; major credit cards accepted. Breakfast excluded.

Gresham Hotel, 116 Sussex Gardens, W2; tel. 402-2920, fax 402-3137. Tube stop: Paddington. 38 rooms. Five floors, served by elevator. Compact, tidy, with many rooms done up in bold colors. The second-place finisher in my Sussex Garden sweepstakes. About $120; major credit cards accepted. Continental breakfast included.

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