Confident, dynamic, ethnically and linguistically diverse, architecturally stunning, ever-changing... London is a city every designer should visit at least once in their lives. So what's the best London hotel?
Whether you're in the big smoke for business or pleasure, wander its streets and you'll be inspired by its history, enthused by its buzzing energy, enthralled by its constant contradictions.
The 24-hour buses and Tube will take you wherever you need to go, and whatever you're passionate about seeing, whether that be experimental theatre, classical art or the latest rock bands, you'll find a dizzying abundance of choice. And that applies equally to hotels that come in all shapes, sizes and price brackets (see our designer's guide to London for more).
Unfortunately, given the huge turnover, thin margins and intense competition in London's hotel industry, bad hotels are easier to find than good. So in this guide, we've brought together 10 top-class hotels that consistently deliver, particularly in regards to cleanliness and customer service, at all price points. If you're planning a trip, make sure you also have the best travel accessories for designers.
How to choose a London hotel
Depending on the length of your stay, there are a number of key considerations to bear in mind. Most important is location: London is not only a huge city, but hotels that describe themselves as 'in London' are actually in surrounding counties such as Kent and Essex, and so getting to the centre of town can mean multiple bus and train journeys.
So before you book, make sure you put the hotel's address into Google Maps or look at app Citymapper and calculate the amount of travel you'll need to get where you want to be. It's a bit of a hassle, but the results may surprise you greatly. As a general rule of thumb, though, if your location is within zones 1-4 on the Tube map you should find it pretty easy to get around the main areas and attractions of the capital.
Price is also an obvious factor. And here there's good news; with such a huge range of hotels and hostels, you'll certainly be able to find somewhere that fits your budget. And given the fierce competition, and with hotels keen to fill all their rooms, you can often find bargains even in the pricier establishments if you shop around enough.
One another thing that's probably going to be important to you is Wi-Fi. We'd see this as must-have in this day and age, but unfortunately it's not something that's always guaranteed in the average London hotel. So do check first; happily, all the hotels featured on this list provide free, reliable Wi-Fi.
Perched on the Thames, next to Blackfriars Bridge, Mondrian London at Sea Containers is in comfortable walking distance from some of London’s biggest cultural highlights: including the Tate Modern, the Globe, the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre, as well as Borough Market and the London Eye. Blackfriars Station, a minute’s walk away, has direct trains to Gatwick Airport and the Tube connecting you to all of London.
The riverside entrance makes you feel like you’re living the high life, and if you can stretch to a balcony suite you really will be: these huge spaces offer an incredible luxury experience. But even if you’re staying in one of the more affordable standard rooms, you’re in for a pretty special time.
Tastefully converted from the original shipping offices, the hotel is designed on a nautical Atlantic theme. It’s a concept that in the wrong hands could have been cheesy, but award-winning British designer Tom Dixon has pulled it all off beautifully, from the bronze cladded walls of the foyer, echoing the design of a ship’s hull, to the giant blue anchor sculptures and ship models dotted throughout, all enhanced by subtle and sultry lighting. Even the quirky elevators are a fun and entrancing treat for the eyes. In short, it’s more like wandering around a gallery or art museum than your average hotel.
The rooms themselves are beautifully designed too, with bespoke furniture, a drip wall painting by Dixon, and a wonderfully quirky colour palette. But great design isn’t just about form, it’s about function too; and what we love most is that the light switches next to the bed are purposely big and easy to use; the sort of small detail that even the most expensive hotels often fall down on.
Even if you can’t stretch to a room with a river view, wander up to the rooftop bar, take in the city skyline, from the Shard to St Pauls, and you’ll feel like a million dollars. The bathhouse and spa, British/American restaurant and award-winning cocktail bar also come highly recommended. To top it all, there’s even a 56-seat Curzon cinema.
If you want to be in the centre of London’s beating heart, you won’t find a better location than Hazlitt’s.
It’s situated in Frith Street, just off Soho Square in the West End, within easy walking distance of London’s biggest theatres, tourist centres such as Oxford Street, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, and the creative agency hubs of Soho. Plus you’re just 300m from Tottenham Court Road tube station, for easy access to the whole of greater London and its airports.
You may not want to stray all that far, though, because this period hotel, dating back to 1718, is stunningly beautiful.
The history of the building has been thoughtfully and elegantly incorporated into its contemporary design, combining the best of the Georgian era (antique furniture, silk curtains, wood pannelling, original painting) with modern conveniences like flat-screen TVs (subtly hidden behind cupboard doors), work desk, freestanding bathtubs and rainfall showerheads.
There’s also an honesty bar and a library, both adding to the old-world charm of this delightfully elegant home-from-home. Please note, though, that as a converted period home, this hotel is not disabled friendly.
Most of the time, you’ll struggle to find a hotel room in Britain’s capital for less than £100 a night, and if you do, it will probably be pretty awful. But here’s a notable exception.
Qbic Hotel is located in Whitechapel, a short walk from the creative, hipster areas of Shoreditch and Hoxton, and within five minutes’ of both Aldgate East and Aldgate Tube stations, which will get you anywhere else you want to go.
For a cheap hotel, the quality of accommodation is very comfortable, with all rooms including a large hand-made hypoallergenic NaturalMat mattress, flat-screen TV, UK/ EU and USB sockets, rainshower bathroom, steam-free mirror and complimentary organic toiletries.
Free water, tea and coffee is offered in the hallways, and the arty, quirky interior design and lively, youthful atmosphere all add up to a laid-back and enjoyable hotel experience.
You can also feel good about yourself, as you’ll be staying in what’s billed as London’s greenest budget hotel.
For example, they generate part of their own electricity via solar panels, use water-saving technology in the bathrooms, clean with products that are 100% chemical free and make their mattresses using only organic, natural materials.
There’s an electric vehicle charging station and they’ll even loan you bikes for exploring the area, for free.
If money is no object, there are an array of high-end luxury hotels in London vying for your business. But none of them can offer views quite like Shangri-La at The Shard, occupying floors 34-52 of the vertiginous London landmark. And with huge floor-to-ceiling windows in every room, offering spectacular views of the city below, you’ll feel like you’re in one of those movies about rich and successful people.
The climate-controlled suites themselves are stunning too, with elegant understated Asian decor, a specially designed ‘body-contouring’ bed, and en suite, marble-clad bathrooms that all come with underfloor heating and mirrors with integrated TV screens. Plus there are lots of luxurious little touches such as pillow menu, cotton kimonos, Nespresso machines, Acqua di Parma toiletries and binoculars to enjoy those fabulous vistas all the more.
The hotel also features an artisan deli and café, a high-end restaurant, and London's highest champagne and cocktail bar, on the 52nd floor (these fill up quickly and pre-booking is highly recommended). But perhaps the jewel in the crown is Western Europe’s highest infinity pool, also on the 52nd floor, offering unparalleled views of the River Thames.
Youth hostelling in central London can be a rough and ready experience, both in the quality and hygiene of the accomodation and the class of clientele; don’t be surprised to be woken in the early hours by large groups of drunken revellers. Venture a bit further out, though, and it’s a differerent story, particularly at our favourite London youth hostel.
Green Rooms is in Haringey; not a particularly exciting part of north London apart from the iconic Alexandra Palace, which is nearby. But there is a Tube station right across the street, so it’s easy to get anywhere you need to.
There are two basic dormitories, with 12 and 14 bunk beds respectively, as well as very basic standard rooms. It’s housed in an art-deco former showroom that’s been thoughtfully converted by the architectural design practice SODA in a coolly minimalist style.
This is a youth hostel, and so both the design and the facilities are pretty basic, as you’d expect. But what really sets this hostel apart is the philosophy and atmosphere surrounding it.
Run by a not-for-profit organisation, Green Rooms specifically aims to attract artists and people working in the creative industries. In fact, it’s even putting its money where it’s mouth is, offering preferential rates to these groups (you need to give some info about yourself, plus relevant URLs, when you apply for a discount on the website).
There are also rooms and studio apartments in the building that are recommended for longer-term artist residencies, plus regular events such as gigs, art exhibitions and comedy nights. And even if you’re not a creative yourself, this means (depending on the will of the Gods) you’ll find usually find a nicer, gentler vibe at the Green Rooms than the average hostel.
If you want to treat your better half to a romantic stay in London, you can’t go far wrong with Blakes. A London institution, often frequented by celebrities and society figures, rooms in this boutique hotel have been designed to get you in the mood by actress-turned-designed and society figure Anouska Hempel, and she’s done an impressive job.
Each room is decorated in a different style, with influences from Italy, India, Turkey and China, and many feature four-poster beds and original beds. Throughout the hotel, the overall vibe hits the sweet spot between bohemian chic and olde world charm, with sweeping drapes, quirky antiques, elegantly carved beds, rich fabrics and exotic scents coming together to evoke a quite uniquely English atmosphere. It also features an Asian-style restaurant and a cocktail bar.
Located in the affluent West London district of South Kensington, with its high class bars and restaurants, Blakes is 10 minutes' walk from both the museum district and South Kensington and Gloucester Road London Tube Station.
Please note, though, that as a conversion of a period building, this hotel is not disabled friendly.
If you’re taking your kids on your trip the capital, then Park Plaza is our best recommendation for a family-friendly hotel.
That’s partly down to its central location. Situated on the South Bank, opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the hotel is a few minutes walk from many of the city’s child-friendly attractions, including the London Eye, The Sea Life Aquarium, Shrek’s Adventure and the National Theatre. And if you want to head further afield, Westminster and Waterloo Tube stations are just a five-minute walk away.
Another consideration is space. With the best will in the world, cramped rooms made for tension and frustration, especially when everyone’s spent all day walking around London. So Park Plaza’s generously-sized guest rooms are designed with families in mind, including pull-out sofa beds, and additional TV in the living area and kitchenettes to give everyone a little breathing space.
Plus more broadly, the whole ethos of the hotel is geared towards making life easier for families and putting children front and centre. So kids get a special goody bag on check in, including an activity book, fun quizzes, pencils, a yo-yo and more, as well a wristband with the name and telephone number of the hotel to give parents peace of mind.
The kids can also enjoy the hotel swimming pool, and there are even events for them held in the hotel itself, such as weekly movie nights, to give parents a bit of time off.
If aesthetic appeal is at the top of your list when it comes to booking a hotel, then we’d like to point you towards Artist Residence.
Part of a chain that originated in Brighton, this charming art hotel set in a lovingly converted Victorian townhouse is full of ecletic decor, quirky artwork, exposed brick and lovely retro touches.
Each room showcases work by a local artist, vintage furniture mingles with cool contemporary creations, and basically, everywhere you wander in this bijou building screams effortless style.
But this 10-room hotel is not just about good looks. Located in quiet Pimlico, Buckingham Palace, Tate Britain and Victoria Tube, railway and coach station are all in walking distance. Its downstairs restaurant, the Cambridge Cafe, is an attraction in its own right, and there’s also a ping pong room and a buzzing cellar bar.
Staff are informal and friendly, and the diverse crowd this boutique hotel attracts makes for a truly unique experience. Rooms start at £135.
Shoreditch is one of the trendiest, most creative parts of London, and is packed with cutting-edge design agencies, award-winning bars and restaurants, quirky pop-up stores and elaborately moustachioed hipsters. Our favourite place to stay here has to be the Boundary Project on Redchurch Street, which is nothing less a monument to design.
A conversion of a former Victorian printworks by Terence Conran, each of the rooms and suites is inspired by a legendary designer or design movement, from the Bauhaus to Young British designers; Heath Robinson to André Putman.
Over 50 artists and designers contributed bespoke commissions for the interior, with everything overseen by Sir Terence Conran. With huge windows and incredible attention to detail throughout, the overall effect is quite stunning and unlike anything you’ll see in any other hotel.
Guests can also beat the lines to the hugely popular bar and grill, set in a rooftop orangery with panoramic views of the city, plus there’s a bar, coffee house and even a bakery.
A river view is one thing, but actually staying on the river is another. That’s what’s on offer from this not-for-profit floating hotel, which offers a unique experience at very affordable rates.
It’s located in Newham in East London, which is not a particularly interesting area, although it is walking distance from both the ExCeL Convention Centre and the Emirates Air Line cable-car ride. Plus the Royal Victoria railway station is just five minutes’ walk away, and you’re a 15 minute walk to Canning Town tube station on the Jubilee line.
The interior of this Dutch-designed hotel blends minimalism with industrial in a stylish manner that’s punctuated with quirky, humorous elements. As you’d expect, there are spectacular views of the River Thames from every room, while watching dock workers by day and the O2 arena across the river lit up at night add extra interest.
Best of all, the Good Hotel reinvests its profits to support its charity partners, providing education for some of the world’s poorest communities to break the cycle of unemployment, and provides new opportunities for locals in need.