This page is a general guide to choosing a hotel in London in plain text! The few tips given here applies wherever you decide to stay. It is highly recommend you read this page if you are looking for affordable accommodation. This article is gathered from the experience of both travellers and hoteliers in London. If you have any other views please do not hesitate to email us and we will add them to this page.
London has the highest number of hotels in any capital or city in Europe. Whilst like all other products more choice is good news for the customer, it does make choosing the right place to stay at the right price ever more difficult.
This is not helped by the fact that terms such as Hotel, Motel, Bed and Breakfast, Guest House, Lodging and hostels are used by all kinds of establishments and the fact that each term has a different connotation to it across the world in itself causes confusion. So...
2. Hotel, Motel, Bed and Breakfast, Guest House, Lodging or a Hostel?
- In a hostel expect to share a room with up to 10 others and sleep in bunk beds, beds on top of each other. Don't expect much service, hygiene, en-suite facilities or much breakfast. Sanitary facilities are shared in hostels and rooms are in the main unisex. There is no bedding either. You get a blanket on checking in to sleep on sometimes PVC covered beds! Hostels suit backpackers and students on very low budget only. Avoid them if you have the budget.
- In a guest house, lodging and even sometimes in a bed and breakfast you will be staying in a private building, most possibly owner living with you. Standards are not that high, breakfast minimal, if any, bedding usually uncomfortable and there may be restrictions on your movements particularly at night! Remember B&B has a lower quality attached to its meaning in the USA then Europe. In Europe B&Bs are famous for short stays both in the cities and in the rural areas and are generally of much higher standard than the US relative to their own market. B&B tends to refer to the service itself provided not the level or management of it.
-In a 2 or 3 star hotel you should receive basic hotel amenities to make you feel relaxed and comfortable. You must expect high standards of hygiene and comfort at least equal to, and better than your own house. Remember you must feel you are at home and get a good night sleep as well as you get in your own bed if not better.
-In a 3, 4 or 5 star hotel you should get more or less as above but more amenities, a bar, a gym perhaps, etc..
If you plan to "live-in" in the hotel during a long stay choose a 3 and above star hotel. You do need the facilities not to get bored and pass your time. You pay highly for it though. If you need somewhere nice, clean, comfortable to sleep and stay after a day of being out and about touring or working choose a 2 star hotel. You will get comfortable bed, TV and drink making facilities whilst you put your feet up to wind down before a good night sleep. You will save up to 50% and get what you need hopefully in a friendly comfortable atmosphere.
3. What do stars and diamonds mean?
Very briefly, UK traditionally had 1 to 4 star hotels; 1 is very basic and 4 was highest. The tourist authorities in the past 10 years introduced a diamond scheme for bed and breakfast establishments where the symbol ? is used. The classification criteria is very similar to stars, so a ** is a ¨¨. Diamonds refer more to the fact that there is facility only for one mean (breakfast) whereas a star rating points to more meals and catering facilities.
Across Europe there are more classification within the star system:
* = Basic, ** = Economy/Tourist, *** = Tourist, **** = Business, **** = First and ****** = Deluxe
For instance, the Falcon Hotel is classified as a *** in the Hotel Guide, the largest hotel guide publisher in Europe. Falcon Hotel however still uses it old English 2 star classification although it can be regarded as ***. Falcon has a 3 Diamond application made to the English Tourist Board pending as of Nov 2005.
4. So, I go for a 2 star hotel, what should you expect to get in central London?
If you are travelling for business or are a visitor and wish to save your money to spend on your shopping and entertainment you will choose a 2 star hotel mainly because there is a wide variation in price between a 2 star and 3 star hotel. As a typical example a 3 star hotel in Lancaster Gate (3 mins. from Falcon Hotel) charges ?90 for a double room whilst same accommodation at Falcon Hotel cost less than half that! So, if you are choosing a 2 star what should you expect and not expect:
(a) Cleanliness and comfort
No matter what grade of a hotel you choose you must get the same level of cleanliness and comfort throughout the hotel. Fixtures and fittings may not be as luxury but must be functional and clean at all times.
Your room should be serviced, bathrooms cleaned and fresh towels supplied daily and beddings changed regularly. Be warned many 2 star hotels and bed and breakfast places save money by not employing enough chambermaids and save on not changing towels in turn degrading the service and the hygiene you receive.
(c) Entertainment Facilities
Inside your room, basic entertainment facilities, minimum color TV and tea / coffee making facilities should be the same. Outside of your room, a 3 star will have a lounge and a bar. A 2 star hotel will only have a breakfast room. For many people a bar in same hotel is a luxury not only because of high prices charged for drinks but also lack of proper atmosphere. Statistically, 90% of visitors use a bar briefly only once during their stay. With a centrally located 2 star hotel you should be able to enjoy the many Public Houses (bars) in central London at affordable prices in great atmosphere. The same goes with any restaurant a 3 or 4 star hotel may have.
It is well known that property prices are very expensive in London. For this reason many 2 or 3 star hotels are forced to rationalize space. Proper bath tub is a rare commodity; most hotels have shower. Unfortunately many hotels even in higher grades install an "airplane cabin" style shower and toilet. These are sealed units of as little as 120cm by 60cm housing a shower, a toilet and a basin all in one! You will feel like having a shower on top of the toilet pan and may be more comfortable to shave whilst sitting down on the toilet pan to save your knees! Worst, there is only room for one person at a time! Falcon Hotel does not use these cabins. All en-suite facilities are proper. Also, like Falcon Hotel, expect to have lots of hot water all day.
Many bed and breakfasts, 2 or even 3 star hotels may give you what they call continental breakfast. It consists of a croissant in a plastic bag with a sachet of jam and butter you collect from the reception for consumption with a drink you make in your room! Come on, really! Breakfast is the most important meal for a traveller, businessman or tourist. A city hotel in London must do better. Why do they do it then? Simple, they turn the kitchen and breakfast room into letting rooms to make even more money!.....You must expect to be given freshly cooked hot breakfast served to you at your table and be able to eat as much as you like for the hard day ahead of you. Falcon Hotel serves English breakfast (fruit juice, choice of cereal, egg bacon and a vegetable with plenty of toasts). Always ask what kind of breakfast you will be getting. To look at Falcon's breakfast menu click on this link: Full English Breakfast for a PDF file of the menu.
Here you get a mix of 2,3 and 4 stars, some do some don't. Why? Since the early 1960's many of London buildings were listed by the town local planning authorities as buildings of historic importance. This means no alterations to the buildings are allowed internally or externally. as a result, it has been impossible for many hotels set in old buildings, literally 95% of London!, to install lifts in their establishment. Falcon Hotel does not have a lift. By far the majority of buildings however do not go beyond 4th floor. Expect a few flights of stairs whether you are in a 2,3, or 4 star hotel. If you have a medical condition do ask to be located in the lower levels.
(g) Safety and hygiene
By law all hotels must keep minimum standards. They should be visited regularly by the authorities and receive a report of what may have been wrong. If you are concerned do ask when they were visited last and whether they have taken remedial action against any points. Ask to see a copy of the inspectors report if your are staying regularly at a place and feel unsure. Falcon Hotel was visited in Spring 2006 and has bebn fitted with a new fire alarm system with detectors and sounders in every room!
(h) More safety
Regretfully crime is still a concern across all London. If concerned, ask if the hotel building is manned 24 hours a day and if there is a close circuit camera system in operation. Also asked if they have had any crimes recently!
(i) Fax and Email
You should be able to use email facilities free of charge and fax at no or reasonable charges.
(j) Safe deposit
You should be able to use a safe either in your room or in the reception. A 4 star may have safe in rooms. A 3 star in either room or reception and do not expect a safe in your room in a 2 star. Falcon has safe at reception. By experience a safe at the reception is a safer option because it is manned and if guests forget things in their safe in their room it is not in possession of next guest. Remember chambermaids must not have access to safes.
Many visitors overlook noise levels, mainly from traffic, in a big city like London. Many hotels are naturally situated on high roads and many do not have double glazing for the planning issues in relation to buildings being listed and double glazing not allowed. Make sure your hotel is situated in a quiet position preferably on a side road. Generally if you end up in a traffic road, back and top floors are quieter but lack view! Falcon Hotel is blessed to be in a "square". Squares were built with houses around them sharing a large common garden for private use by the surrounding buildings. Also, don't forget small things such as doors banging in the middle of the night. By law all doors have to be sprung self shutting for fire reason and when they shut they just slam! Shock absorbers must be placed on all doors to eliminate this annoying issue.
Like all capitals, London suffers from traffic and parking problems. If you should have a car, do not expect free parking in central London but make sure your hotel is not situated in a red lines zone (on redlines even stopping for 1 second is prohibited). Make sure there are metered parking spaces near your hotel. Falcon Hotel has metered parking just outside.
(m) Size in important to some!
London is known as the capital city of people "living on top of each other"! Whilst many cities like in the USA (Manhattan possibly excepted) are wide and open, London buildings are high and narrow and attached to each other. This means rooms are in the main, be it residential or commercial, are smaller than many hotels in, for instance rural America. If you need a big hotel room you are advised go to a 4/5 star new built hotel well outside central London. In central London, even high star hotels have small rooms. It all has to do with the rocket price of properties in London at around ?000 per square foot! Of course, within what is relatively smaller rooms in London, there are variations but they tend to be marginal; a small room is say one foot (30cm) narrower than average room and a large room in turn only one foot larger than a medium room. Falcon's rooms are in the main very much average for a central London hotel.
This point is so obvious one could nearly miss it. Whether you are a tourist or a businessman, remember you spend something like 80-90% of your time in your room in the bed, sleep or otherwise. The importance of quality of and comfort of beds therefore can not be underestimated. Most important to try and get away from those cheap contract beds which will leave you with a stiff body for the next day! Falcon's beds are divan based. The mattresses are firm but on a sprung base and double beds sprung edged for extra comfort. In fact the same beds are used by Marriot at their hotels! For those Marriot sleepers the make is Sleepeezie Hotelcare.
(o) More on Beds
Without getting into domestic matters, check these out. Do beds have mattress protectors? The domesticated know they are necessary not only to protect mattresses but really to provide extra hygiene. Second, do they use double sheets on double beds or do they use single sheets on double beds to save a few pennies?! Falcon is proud to answer positive on both points. Remember 80-90% of your time in your room is spent in beds!
(p) Location, location and location!
This point should be really on top of the list. Ensure you are in the right part of the city easy to get to and get out of ! London like all other European cities is big. You must expect to get to your hotel within maximum of one hour from major airports. If you are staying in London for a couple of days for a city-break, attending a wedding or a business meeting, the last thing you want is to travel 3 (or even 4 in the rush hour) hours to get to your hotel; checking into and out of your hotel can itself take a day of your time! There are two main express ways of getting to London from Airports. (1) from Heathrow using Heathrow Express to Paddington with journey time of 15 minutes (and Falcon Hotel is a further 2 minutes away!) and (2) from Gatwick to Victoria 30 minutes. Falcon another 20 minutes on underground (subway or tube) trains. Also make sure the train or underground station you are next to has checking-in facilities for your luggage to your airline for your return journey. Most important if you are not going to airport straight away on your day of departure because it gives you up to an extra day luggage free in London! Paddington has checking-in for all major airlines.
(q) Air Conditioning
With the summer approaching many first time tourists, particularly from hot countries become concerned about lack air conditioning. Falcon does not have air conditioning and you are unlikely to get it in a low star hotel or bed and breakfast unless you go to a 5 star hotel. Our parents told us England is a cold and wet place. Well, they are right. Do not worry about lack of air conditioning because even in the height of summer there is hardly need for one! Even on hot days, night time tends to be cool and sometimes cold. Between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. temperatures drop on average by 2-3 degrees (centigrade) every hour! The night's cold keeps most buildings cool during the day. If you ever noticed why there are hardly any outdoor pools in the UK, this is the reason, it is rarely warm at night to keep the water temperature! Advise to travellers is simple: be concerned about cold and damp places, particularly in the autumn and winter. Make sure your place has proper heating and that it is not shut down during the summer months!
Very few hotels in London have wooden flooring. In fact, use of wooden flooring is not only illegal (councils regulation and unless sound proofed which is very expensive) but also does not work well in the cold and damp UK environment. Falcon Hotel is fully carpeted from top to bottom. If you are allergic to carpets look hard around possibly at new built hotels which might have concrete flooring and therefore possible to have wooden flooring. Otherwise the advice has to be to avoid wooden flooring in most hotels if you want to get some sleep!, unless of course you have a medical reason not to.
Please remember not all 2 star and budget hotels are the same
Our advise is if you are not sure then ask. Email is free, so make the most of it. Ask as many questions as you feel directly to the hotel and examine their replies very carefully. Read review sites and compare carefully.
The worse thing to happen to any of us is to have to sleep in a place we do not want to!
+44 (0) 20 7723 8603