For some reason, it seems one of my favorite cities in the world — London — has been on everyone’s lips the past couple of weeks.
So it’s the Olympics, you say? Well, it’s a foregone conclusion that tourist visits to the English capital are going to go sky high(er) once the 2012 Games wrap up on Sunday. London is friendly, easy-to-navigate, vast and chock full of history… and I can vouch for its magnificence personally having been there at least half a dozen times over the past 18 months.
Obviously on a first visit you’ll want to check off all the highlights – Big Ben & Parliament, Kensington Palace, the London Eye, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and maybe an Olympic venue or two if you want to relive some shining gold moments. But how do you find the best place to stay in city of more than 100,000 hotel rooms?
You ask me, of course!
Having spent heaps of time in London, I’m becoming a bit of an accommodation expert. There are some phenomenal hotels that just ooze aristocratic elegance and a few budget options, too. So let’s get started, shall we?
At more than 300 years old, you might expect the swanky, sophisticated Cannizaro House in Wimbledon to be on the stuffy side, but following a recent refurbishment, it’s more modern and welcoming than you can imagine. Serving as a cornerstone of ever-so-adorable Wimbledon Village, the Cannizaro House has 46 individually designed rooms but more than that, it has a fun, elegant, sexy persona all its own.
The Cannizaro House overlooks more than 30 acres of Cannizaro Park and 1,100+ acres of Wimbledon Common, so there are plenty of walking trails through surprisingly open countryside considering its central and urban location. I don’t know how he does it, but manager Jeff Ward has fostered a place that’s all at once fancy and comfortable.
It really feels like being welcomed into your wealthiest and most generous friend’s home in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in London. My room was simply decorated, the bed was one of the best I’ve slept in and the late afternoon light streaming in from the corner windows was just picture perfect. It felt like a place I’d want to live, not just a transient place to rest my head for a night or two.
The Cannizaro House has seen quite a bit of activity this year prior to the Olympics, serving as one of the premiere hotels near the All England Lawn Tennis Club. If a visit to Wimbledon to see “The Tennis,” as the Brits put it, is on your bucket list, there’s really no better choice for accommodations than Cannizaro House.
If you’re feeling particularly fabulous, you can even rent out the entire house… maybe for the perfect wedding or birthday party? And hey, even if you don’t stay at the Cannizaro House, you still should pop by for dinner and a famous mojito if you’re visiting the village. The staff will blow you away with their attentive service and there’s some fabulous people watching – athletes, celebrities and the who’s who of UK society are known to pop by, not that I would recognize any English celebs!
WiFi is free in every room, as it always should be in my humble opinion, and there are always treats – homemade shortbread, a nightcap – brandy or sloe gin, etc., depending on the season. I only stayed two nights here but easily could’ve moved in for a week. It was comfortable, quiet and it just feels like London should feel. Definitely a gold medal worthy hotel if you ask me!
In the heart of London, just a few minutes from Kensington Palace, you’ll find the Italian-owned 5-star Baglioni Hotel – a decadent boutique if I’ve ever seen one. I must’ve been greeted by five employees in varying stages upon arrival and was made to feel very, very important and very, very special.
Chandeliers dripping with crystals and curvaceous furnishings added to the Olympic-sized welcome… and then I was lead to my room upstairs where my butler awaited, ready to unpack. (I declined – two nights did not warrant taking my carefully packed bag apart!)
In a word, it was HUGE. A long entry way and walk-in closet opened out to a living area – desk, minibar, couches, loveseat, flat screen, welcome fruit basket and Champagne. The open floor plan lead to a four poster bed – one of the biggest and best I’ve ever languished in. The decor was black and purple, like a sleek and rich and sumptuous bruise. Odd since I was solo, but it was probably one of the most romantic places I’ve stayed in London… well, I can see the potential!
Admittedly, the view from my room wasn’t anything to write home about as the lot next door was undergoing some hefty construction, but I didn’t really need to stare out the window with all the luxury glittering all around me on the inside.
Within very easy walking distance to Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall and Harrods, the Baglioni features easy access to some of London’s most luxurious offerings. The spa here is said to be world class as well, but as I was running around like a crazy person visiting friends, I never had the chance to check it out. Luckily, London never goes out of style and I’m sure I’ll be back before I know it!
I hear the raging from the budget crowd, “Angie, these hotels look fantastic, but they’re out of my price range.” So let’s talk about one of the best ways to stretch a travel budget in London – apartment rentals!
In London, I spent a few nights at an unassuming property found on HouseTrip.com. Sure, there were no frills like fancy chandeliers or attentive staff or butlers for heaven’s sake, but I had a fully equipped kitchen and WiFi, and there’s not much more I need to survive. Plus, it was very conveniently located at the Hammersmith tube stop, and very close to shopping and Kensington Gardens, one of my favorite spots for a long, reflective walk.
The benefits of renting an apartment in London – especially for longer stays – are really worth researching before a visit. You get a great value, often paying hundreds less than a hotel, and you feel like a local. I went to the grocery store and stocked my fridge and actually, gulp, cooked for myself all 5 nights. I hadn’t been able to do that all year! (I’ve yet to brave cooking in a hostel!)
YHA St. Pancras
Lastly and most budget friendly of all, I can recommend the YHA St. Pancras, though I won’t get into details just yet. I worked with HostelWorld.com to see if hostels really are an option for me, so stay tuned for that post. In the meantime, check out Hostelworld’s Colm Hanratty and his rebuttal to my post, “Why Hostels Make Me Hostile.”
As you can tell, I’m all about the mix and match when it comes to accommodations. Sometimes I go big, and sometimes I just go cheap. Either way, it works for me!
Got questions about where to stay in London? Check out my other recommendations for London here. And if you have suggestions for where I should stay on my next visit, leave me a note in the comments!