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Sleep: London

The Big Smoke’s crane-filled skyline tells a tale of prosperity and progress, and the capital’s ever-evolving hotel scene is no exception. From the labyrinthe of Soho to Mayfair’s mews, we’ve bed-hopped across grand dames and hipster hideouts to give you the definitive sleeper’s guide to central London

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Covent Garden Hotel

Covent Garden Hotel

Covent Garden

It was planned as London’s first square, but these days Covent Garden is about so much more than people-watching in the eponymous, cobbled piazza at its heart. Fanning out from the pretty Seven Dials area is a warren of alleys dotted with independent shops and theatres — the centrepiece being the Royal Opera House in the main square. As part of Theatreland, it can get busy, although pedestrianised zones keeps things calm.

Best for value: The Hoxton Holborn
This offshoot of trendy-but-cheap The Hoxton Shoreditch may have small rooms — categories run from ‘Shoebox’ through ‘Snug’ and ‘Cosy’ to ‘Roomy’ — but it punches above its weight with three affordable restaurants run in conjunction with members’ club Soho House. Plus there’s a beauty salon and Pret a Manger breakfast bags, while the lobby shop charges supermarket prices, breakfast and wi-fi are free, and you get an hour of calls (UK and abroad) with every stay.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £79, B&B. thehoxton.com

Best for service: One Aldwych
From daily fresh flowers to the goody bag of T London toiletries, One Aldwych takes service to new levels. Set in a building not unlike New York’s Flatiron are 105 rooms, two restaurants, a buzzing lobby bar and a guests-only lounge co-designed by Paul Smith. It’s all about the detail here: gluten- and dairy-free menus in Indigo Restaurant, underwater music in the pool, cult Oskia spa products, free nightly shoe shining…
■ Rooms: Doubles from £265, room only. onealdwych.com

We recommend: Covent Garden Hotel
With eight properties in the capital alone, Kit Kemp is one of London’s best-known hoteliers, but the oldest of her Firmdale family is this, the Covent Garden Hotel in the heart of the Seven Dials area. With a mini cinema in the basement and extravagant leather key fobs, there’s a certain theatricality to the hotel — and that’s before you reach your bed. The 58 rooms team outre feature wallpapers (safari print, say, or a modern take on paisley) with antique tables, oversized headboards, armchairs upholstered in Kemp’s trademark clashing fabrics and sleek modern bathrooms stocked with Ms Kemp’s signature Rik Rak toiletries. Brasserie Max, which opens directly onto the cobbles of Monmouth Street, is popular with locals and visitors alike, but guests are also given free access to the first-floor Drawing Room — an opulent two-roomed lounge complete with antique fireplaces, oversized sofas, shelves of antiquarian books and an honesty bar. The weekly Film Club takes place on Saturday lunchtimes in the 47-seat cinema, which shows everything from blockbusters to art house — it’s the perfect complement to a Champagne brunch.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £318, room only. firmdalehotels.com

Mondrian London

Mondrian London

South Bank

London’s ever-growing cultural hub sprawls along the south side of the Thames. Squaring off against titans like the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London, the South Bank has its own landmarks: the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, Tate Modern and now — towering above it all — The Shard, Renzo Piano’s tapered, 52-storey glass tower.

Best for a hideaway: Mondrian London
Perched Thameside beside Blackfriars Bridge — above a shallow beach at low tide, seemingly floating on the water at high — this provides even know-it-all Londoners with an enchantingly different view of the capital. Hip US hotel brand Mondrian has created a spectacular cultural gumbo for this, its first European property: the basement spa is Miami white, the rooftop Rumpus Room bar pure ’70s Manhattan and the rooms a cross between mid-century California cool and Savile Row. Elsewhere, the lobby is firmly transatlantic, with copper-clad walls resembling grand ocean liners. Elsewhere, farm-to-table restaurant Sea Containers is sceney yet relaxed.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £234, room only. mondrianlondon.com

Best for art: citizenM London Bankside
All you’d expect from the ‘chic budget’ Dutch chain’s London outpost: self check-in stations, Skype phone rates, free wi-fi and a reasonably priced canteen. But as well as a convivial vibe (the living room-like lobby centres round a sunny atrium), in homage to its neighbour, Tate Modern, citizenM displays artwork by the likes of Gavin Turk and Mario Testino.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £109, room only. citizenm.com

We recommend: Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London
None of the 202 glass-walled rooms at this hotel are bog-standard. Occupying floors 34-52 of The Shard, even those facing the south side see as far as the Surrey Hills — although it’s the Thames vistas you want, ideally
In deference to the views, the 202 rooms are subdued but luxe: taupe satin headboards, creamy leather panelling and Frette sheets in the bedrooms, and Toto toilets in the sumptuous bathrooms. If you tear yourself away from your room, there’s a rooftop gym, pool, and Gong, Europe’s highest hotel bar. With its no-reservations policy, it’s tricky to get into, but guests are given priority and don’t incur a minimum charge, as other punters do.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £350, room only. shangri-la.com

St James's Hotel and Club

St James’s Hotel and Club

Mayfair

Home to some of the UK’s priciest homes, Mayfair gives you a vicarious glimpse of the high life. In a prime spot between Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch, this genteel area is full of old-school private members’ clubs, high-end shops and mansion blocks. Three parks — Green, St James’s and Hyde — are a short stroll away, and the people-watching is second to none.

We recommend: St James’s Hotel and Club
There’s a reason why this hotel down a quiet cul-de-sac between Piccadilly and Pall Mall has the hushed feel of a private members’ club. Until 1978, it was: the St James’s Club for diplomats. In fact, the hotel’s membership scheme, The Club, is named in homage to its history. The hotel feels intimate, with just 60 rooms, a cosy bar, private exit onto Green Park and one of London’s tiniest Michelin-starred restaurants, Seven Park Place by William Drabble; there are just nine tables so book well ahead. The hotel’s decor is sumptuous yet chic — silk and cashmere wallpaper, Murano chandeliers and classic lacquered furniture, while Hypnos beds are dressed in bespoke linens and TVs are hidden in what look like chests of drawers. Some of the suites have rooftop terraces, and 400 German Expressionist works of art from a private collection are scattered throughout. Best of all, there’s not even the faintest trace of hauteur here — guests really are made to feel like they’re beloved members of the establishment.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £292, room only. stjameshotelandclub.com

Best for luxury: The Wellesley
The Wellesley does luxury with a capital ‘L’. It’s all art deco upstairs, while seven sumptuous rooms and 29 suites share 10 butlers. Downstairs, you’ll find a marble-lined restaurant, jazz lounge, Crystal Bar and a cigar lounge with the largest hotel humidor in Europe plus a terrace. And that Rolls-Royce parked outside? It’s for chauffeuring guests around the exclusive neighbourhood.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £550, room only. thewellesley.co.uk

Best for pools: Le Meridien Piccadilly
One of the grand Neo-baroque buildings lining Piccadilly, Le Méridien was built in 1908 as a hotel, and although the business-chic rooms have been updated since Starwood took over, there’s still an old-school grandeur to the public areas. But the real stand-out is the basement gym and pool, which — with its marble columns, vast arched windows and classical fountains — could have been lifted straight out of ancient Rome.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £229, room only. lemeridienpiccadilly.co.uk

The Langham, London

The Langham, London

Soho

Only an idiot would stay in Soho for peace and quiet with its heaving nightlife and crowds of tourists. But locations don’t come much more central, and if you’re in the mood to party, this is the place to do it. A tightly knit web of streets between Oxford Circus and Leicester Square with peaceful Soho Square at its heart, Soho is wall-to-wall bars, restaurants, private members’ clubs and nightclubs — as well as being London’s gay village.

We recommend: Hazlitt’s
It’s hard to imagine now, but in Georgian times, Soho was a rather genteel district; and although Hazlitt’s is in the centre of the action on Frith Street, it instantly takes you back to those days. Four listed 18th-century buildings off leafy Soho Square house just 30 rooms up wonky staircases and along rabbit warren corridors. The atmosphere is one of a well-to-do friend’s house: breakfast is served in bed, one of the many parlours has an old-fashioned honesty bar, and the complex is presided over by a ginger cat, Sir Godfrey. The rooms are named after period characters — the hotel’s own name is taken from essayist William Hazlitt who died here. Each is different, but all offer a (subtle) blend of old and new: antique four-poster and canopy beds coexist beside plasma TVs and triple-glazed windows, old-style cisterns opposite decadent Ren toiletries in the bathrooms. Wherever you are, the focus is on comfort — all rooms have a claw-foot, free-standing bathtub, and you’re encouraged to read; the bookcase in the lobby contains works by dozens of authors who’ve stayed at the hotel, including Bill Bryson, Susan Sontag and Ben Okri.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £288, room only. hazlittshotel.com

Best for tradition: The Langham, London
It just turned 150, but you’d never know. A grand wedding cake building, cut off from Soho proper by Oxford Circus, the Langham is one of the most forward-thinking grande dames, with a Chinese medicine-inspired spa, one of the blingiest afternoon tea rooms in town, and even a new ‘Club’ lounge for well-heeled guests. Rooms sport modern-traditional decor — pelmets and antique furniture sit alongside modern patterned carpets and neutral colour schemes.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £336, room only. langhamhotels.com

Best for singles: Z Soho
Location is what it’s all about at the Z — a dozen conjoined townhouses in the heart of Soho. It’s just off Old Compton Street yet charges Zone 3 prices by scrimping on space with pod-style, cabin-sized rooms (the cheapest are windowless). Style, however, hasn’t taken a battering: rooms hint at Scandi chic and boast organic mattresses and wool duvets, plus there are industrial-style walkways and spiral staircases.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £85, B&B. thezhotels.com


Published in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)