Accommodation

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under £70
Mid-range £70 to £140
Splurge Over £140

London has a wide range of accommodation to suit all tastes from hostels through historic bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), mainstream chain hotels and apartments all the way to some of the most famous and exclusive luxury hotels in the world such as The Savoy, The Ritz and Claridges. Hotel rates in London are notoriously expensive, and considerably higher than the UK (and indeed, European) average. Prices invariably become even more inflated close to major sporting tournaments (such as the London Marathon, Wimbledon or major England football/rugby fixtures), or other important events (such as Royal ceremonies) taking place in the city – so it pays to plan your trip around such occasions or book your accommodation well in advance.

Most people want to base themselves within the central area of London (Zones 1 and 2 of the Underground) – but this is also by far the most expensive part of the city to stay in, with even the traditional “budget” hotel chains like Premier Inn or Travelodge charging a premium in the centre compared to properties located just on the fringes of Zone 2 or in the outer boroughs. Be wary therefore of big-name chain hotels with “London” in their title that look suspiciously cheap – you may find that they are actually in the outer suburbs or even on the outskirts of the city with a commute of nearly an hour into Zone 1. Hotel prices are often linked to their proximity to a Tube or overground railway station with a fast link to the centre of town, so for this reason do your research carefully – sometimes being that extra five minutes away from a station can make the difference in cost and quality and local food and drinking options. In any case, you can always catch a bus anyway – by far the best way to see the city and get about generally.

Hotels

There are hundreds of London hotels and there is no one particular area that is more desirable or advisable area to stay in. It all depends on whether you need quick access to certain airports or business areas/tourist attractions. Your budget will also have a lot to do with which part of London you stay in. Generally speaking, the rates you can expect to pay are as follows:

£15-£30 per night. This will buy a bunk within a shared dormitory in a hostel within Zone 1 (central London) or possibly a Bed and Breakfast within the outer suburbs. It is also possible to find an advance purchase rate in any of the budget hotel chains (Premier Inn, Travelodge, ibis) at this price, but again you will be basing yourself in at least Zone 3 and probably or further out. Here is information about the different transport zones of London.

£40-£80 per night. Expect to pay this for a small independent 1- or 2- star hotel or guest house in Zone 1 or 2. Remember that London hotel star ratings on most websites are based on the services provided, and not on the cleanliness of rooms, friendliness of service, etc. Rooms at this price range tend to be very small and the quality can admittedly be somewhat hit and miss. Some of these establishments offer excellent value for money, whilst others can be very poor indeed. Always do your research online before booking.

£80-£150 per night. This is the realistic starting point for a room in a 2-3 star mainstream chain hotel within Zone 1 or 2. The aforementioned budget chains tend to average out at the £100 per night mark.

£150-£300 per night. This is the rack rate for a 4-5 star hotel such as a Hilton or Marriott. As with most things, prices can greatly vary.

£400+ per night. This is the going rate for a luxury hotel within the West End or the City, and even the more modest chain hotels have been known to charge this amount during periods of high demand — the Summer Olympics of 2012 was a prime example. Suites in famous luxury hotels such as the Savoy or Claridges can run into £1,000s per night (even tens of thousands!), and are generally aimed at those who don’t have to ask the price.

Many of the big name hotel chains now offer substantial discounts (with rates often down as low as £30-£50 per room per night) if you book well in advance, but the drawback is that you have to pay the full amount upfront at the time of booking and there are no refunds if you cancel. The heart of the West End is the most expensive place to stay with most hotels being either 4 or 5 star and are therefore priced accordingly.

The City can also be very expensive during the week, as it relies heavily on the business market but prices often drop over the weekend and it can be a good way of getting into a higher standard of accommodation than you could otherwise afford. Bear in mind though that this part of central London becomes a ghost town over the weekend, and you will find that few (if any) bars and restaurants will be open.

Should you choose not to stay central, the extra cost of getting around is probably not significant compared to your savings from a cheaper hotel. Always be sure to check where the closest tube station is to your hotel. Staying further out will be cheaper but when travelling in allow 1-2 min per tube stop (near the centre), around 2-3 min per stop (further out) and 5-10 min per line change. This can easily total up to a 1-hour journey if there is a walk at each end.

A more imaginative alternative could be to stay in a nearby town with quick and easy train travel to London. For example, lively Brighton (otherwise known as ‘London by Sea’) is only an hour away, but your budget will go much further and there are excellent accommodation options.

Here is a roundup of options to be found in the following central districts:

Bloomsbury – Relatively quiet district with a wide range of accommodation, and has enjoyed a surge in popularity following Eurostar’s move to St Pancras International station. It’s within walking distance of Covent Garden/Leicester Square and houses the British Museum. Cartwright Gardens features a dozen small B&Bs in historic houses. Many budget options are located on Argyle Square (just off the Euston Road). The area becomes a little seedy toward King’s Cross.

Earl’s Court and West Kensington – Budget and modest accommodation as well as good 4-star hotels. Be careful with the cheapest accommodation in this area, though, as it will likely be very seedy indeed.

Paddington and Bayswater. This area has undergone a lot of change largely resulting from the Heathrow Express train coming into Paddington Station. Good hotels can be found in the immediate area of the station and in quieter spots a short walk away as well as in the traditional mid-range accommodation area further south in Bayswater. It’s a great choice if you’re arriving in London at Heathrow and a good central area to explore the city.

Westminster – Lots of small B&Bs around the back of Victoria railway station in the Pimlico area.

Also, consider Heathrow Airport and the surrounding area — although it is 15 mi (20km) from the heart of the city, you are spoilt for choice for hotels both in and around the airport boundary, and with the frequent transport links to and from the centre, not too much of a handicap. You can often get into big name chain hotels a lot cheaper than their equivalents in the West End for example, with the obvious advantage of being close to the airport on the days when you are travelling.

A slightly left-field option is to check the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity that purchases notable old buildings in the UK, renovates and runs them as holiday lettings.

Popular Budget Hotel Chains include Premier Inn, Travelodge, Space Apart Hotel and Britannia Hotels so it is usually worth checking these out first. The standard is of course suited to the budget traveller but rooms are usually clean, comfortable and well maintained. Travelodge in Barking is a good pick. Although you are further from the City Centre you are still on the underground system (Zone 4) and just 35 min from Kings Cross. And if you’re lucky you can get rooms there from £19 per room per night, which might make the extra travel time worth it!

Hostels

Not necessarily as unpleasant as you may think, and as long as you don’t mind sharing with others, they are the most cost-effective option and also offer breakfast as well as kitchens for self catering. The “official” Youth Hostel Association of England and Wales (YHA) operates five hostels in Central London. Like everything else, you should book online well in advance – the hostels usually fill up on Friday and Saturday nights about 14 days before. A top tip is don’t be put off if there is no availability left online, phone the hostel in question to see if there are still beds available or if there has been a cancellation. Some of the YHA’s properties also offer a limited number of private family rooms – expect to pay around £60 per night.

Keep in mind that for foreign visitors, the YHA hostels will require to see a form of ID (a passport or national identity card) and a valid membership card from a local YHI (Youth Hostelling International)-recognised Youth Hostel association. For British visitors, a valid YHA (SYHA for Scotland) membership card is all that’s required. For all non-YHI members, the YHA will levy a £3 welcome stamp per day.

There are a number of other, independent hostels throughout the city and these are listed in the relevant district articles.

In the summer season, many of the colleges and universities in Central London open up their student halls of residence as hotels during vacations, at usually much lower rates than proper hotels, but expect very basic facilities (e.g. communal bathrooms, no catering facilities), but you will get the personal privacy that you don’t get in hostels for not very much more cost. London University vacation accommodation providers include; UCL Residences LSEVactions.

Apartments

Some apartment-hotels offer good value accommodation for those travelling in a group – often better quality than many hotels but at a cheaper individual rate per person.

Capsule-style crash spaces are just arriving, but currently these are only in central locations.

Short-term apartment or flat rentals are an attractive option for many travelers to London, and there are innumerable agencies offering them, almost all of them nowadays through the internet. A key consideration for renting a short term flat is if you are visiting in a large group or a family. In such cases a short stay in London can be more affordable compared to staying in a hotel. Your best protection is to deal only with London apartment rental agencies which have been recommended by independent sources you feel you can trust, and to deal only with those that accept confirmations via credit card.

Alternative Accommodation

Travellers can choose from a variety of homestay styles such as homeswapping (lovehomeswap.com), living in a temporarily vacated room (anyfriendofours.com) or the high end version where companies specialize in homestays with full hotel services such as housekeeping and concierge (viveunique.com). Most of the time these options are safe but it is important that guests and home-owners take equal precaution to ensure their valuables are safe guarded. Home-owners should always provide guests with terms and conditions of their live-in house rules to ensure there are no mishaps and both parties are at ease. This new trend allows guests to enjoy a less touristy version of London as most of these homes will be in residential areas which each have their own unique charm and experiences. This new trend also allows them to generate additional income or to cover their rental bills whilst they do so.

Holiday Rentals

Hotels are generally expensive in London comparing with other European cities, as a result the city has a vast number of self-catering accommodation on offer, many of them are apartments in various central areas of the capital. Well established local sites include Interhome and Alpha Holiday Lettings.