London, like most capital cities, is packed with some of the most ultra luxe hotels in the world. Most of these properties are out of reach for a thrifty tourist, but London visitors can snag amazing discounts with last-minute bookings at the high-end chains.
Last-minute travelers can often get rooms for around $200 that normally go for $500 to $600 a night. Try the trendy and posh Apex London Wall Hotel, the Saint Georges Hotel, or Club Quarters at Gracechurch.
The shoulder season (September through November) also offers opportunities for affordable luxury. Even the London Ritz drops its rates by nearly 50 percent in October and November if you've got spare coin. The Clarendon and the Buckingham, two four-star boutique properties loaded with amenities, often have rooms for under $200 during the months of October and November.
London is busy all year round, but expect to pay premiums for stays during spring months (March through May) when the city's glorious gardens are coming into bloom and the weather is mild. If you want to save a few pounds and don't mind dreary weather, visit in the winter months of January and February, when budget hotel chains such as the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express in London slash rates to fill rooms.
Don't expect any lodging bargains in December, however. Christmastime in London is a peak travel time, and prices go through the roof. If business takes you to the city in December, you'll likely find the best deals at airport hotels such as the Sofitel Hotel Heathrow, rather than at properties downtown.
Keep in mind that air conditioning is far from the norm in lots of London attractions and even London hotels, so be prepared to sweat if you travel during the dog days of August. Travel on the Tube can be unbearable in the heat.
If you travel to London in October, you may find it overrun with school children. They take their week-long term breaks during the cool fall month, and popular city attractions can be crowded.
If your travel plans fall in February, you may want to check the dates of London's Fashion Week. You'll pay a lot more for your room during that week, and the city will be more congested than usual.
The Bloomsbury and Holborn neighborhoods are ideal for exploring on foot and home to London's Museum Mile, situated between Somerset House on the Strand up to Kingsway on Euston Road. It's a stone's throw from hedonistic SoHo, a must-see adventure on your London trip. You'll find cheap rooms at B&Bs such as the Garth House in Bloomsbury and the Guilford House Hotel.
London's East End is another area ripe for exploration and easy on the budget. East End is famous for Dickens and notorious for Jack the Ripper — and home to some of the most cutting edge galleries in the world. You'll get great rates on rooms at neighborhood hostels such as St. Christopher's Inn and St. Christopher's Village. The boutique hotel Tune Hotel Liverpool Street has minimalist charm and cheap rates.
The South Bank is an up-and-coming haven for tourists too, and home to the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the massive London Eye Ferris wheel. Splurge on a ride on the city's iconic landmark for an unforgettable view. You'll find cheap hotels in London at South Bank properties such as the Carlton Hotel and RestUp London.
The British Museum is an architectural gem chock-full of the world's finest antiquities — and it's also free to the public. The massive Victoria and Albert Museum is also free; it houses collections of all genres of art as well as jewelry, furniture, and textiles.
The labyrinth color-coded galleries of the London's National Gallery in Trafalgar Square contain priceless treasures including Botticelli's Mars and Venus. If you have any interest in art history, plan to spend at least half a day at this free museum. If modern art is more your thing, don't miss the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern.
No trip to London would be complete without a palace or two, so be sure to tour Buckingham Palace and the gardens at Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. Pay tribute to Diana at her memorial fountain. Soak up the scents at the Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent Park. Bask in the shadow of Buckingham Palace in lovely Saint James Park. Don't forget to visit the Tower of London, and sneak a peak at the crown jewels inside. Wander through Westminster Abbey, the site of 40 monarch coronations.
Even if you're not a shopaholic, you'll want to hit Harrods just for the majestic experience. This London landmark even houses a shrine to Princess Diana and her star-crossed lover Dodi Fayed. Wander through the perfume galleries, luxurious leather goods, and upscale linen goods. Visit the Old Spitalfield Market in East London to buy the trendy retro clothes that the local urbanites wear.
While London is served by two major airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, chances are good that you'll land at Heathrow if you're arriving from the U.S. Heathrow hotels are numerous, and you can find rooms to meet any budget. Super-cheap options include the Apple Guest House Heathrow and the Heathrow Lodge; you can also find economical B&Bs such as K Hartley B&B and Benny's.
There are lots of options for getting into central London from the airport area. The Transport for London Information Centre is in Heathrow's Underground station for terminals 1, 2, and 3; pick up a free route map and fare schedule for public transportation.
The most convenient option, of course, is a taxi, but prices are outrageous. The National Express bus service is a popular option; the bus takes about an hour from Heathrow to Victoria and costs five pounds.
The cheapest, fastest option is to ""mind the gap"" and take the Tube. Trains are located at all the terminals and run about every five minutes from the wee hours of the morning until just before midnight. The train takes about 45 minutes into central London and costs about four pounds.
If you do land at Gatwick, you'll have the same transportation options into the city. You'll also find cheap hotels, including the Gatwick White House Hotel and the Bent Arms Badgers Inn B&B.
London is home to some of the trendiest hostels in a world capital city. Try the Dictionary* in Shoreditch, London's hipster hotspot. The Gallery* is perfectly located near Hyde Park, so you can stay on a shoestring while you hobnob with the nabobs in Mayfair. The YHAs on Oxford Street and Holland Park are best in class for their location and hotel-type amenities.
If you're up for an adventure, try the Generator Russell Square*, whose stated mission is to be ""London's largest, liveliest, and funkiest hostel."" This mega-hostel has over 800 beds in mixed and female rooms and is near Leicester Square and the British Library.
Most London hostels offer free daily walking tours of the city and all the usual modern conveniences, such as an in-house coffee shop and bar. You'll have no trouble finding a clean and comfortable hostel bed for less than 18 pounds a night.
While London is truly a pedestrian city and best explored on foot, you'll still want access to public transportation. For 99 cents, you can download the London Tube app (http://www.presselite.com/iphone/londontube/) with maps and schedules. Locals rave about the Tube Deluxe app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/london-tube-deluxe/id300139358?mt=8), which has live status updates and an integrated journey planner. Pick up a reloadable Oyster fare card, and ride the Tube for lower fares than with paper tickets. If you're traveling to destinations in East London, such as Sutton House or Columbia Road Flower Market, consider taking the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). Use your Oyster card and enjoy the interesting views.
The website Visit London (www.visitlondon.com) is the city's official travel guide; you'll find essential tourist information there. You can even order your Oyster cards online so you have them before you leave home. The website also has its own app, the London Official Guide, (www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information/getting-around-london/london-maps-and-guides/apps/london-official-city-guide-app) making the information portable.
There are other excellent London travel apps to help you get the most from your vacation. The Addison Lee app (www.addisonlee.com), similar to Uber, lets you book and prepay a private-hire minicab right from your phone at lower rates than London's black taxis. Of course, if you prefer the ubiquitous black taxi, the GetTaxi app (http://gettaxi.co.uk) will hook you up with one.
Want to see the nearest Banksy masterpiece? There's an app for that, too: the Street Art London app (http://geostreetart.com). If shopping is on your itinerary, the Regent Street app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/regent-street/id880921803?mt=8) has deals, special events, and other promotions at major retailers in the area. Holidayen (www.holidayen.com) is an automatic London travel itinerary planner with customized maps so that you don't get lost.
Other useful London travel apps include the Craft Beer London app (http://craftbeerlondon.bluecrowmedia.com/), which helps thirsty travelers partake of the city's craft brew revolution. If coffee is more your style, the London's Best Coffee app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/londons-best-coffee/id400916958?mt=8 ) will take you to your java.
You'll do a lot of walking in London, especially if you save money by booking cheap London hotels away from the central area. To understand the city's unique address system, it's helpful to know what the abbreviated postal code means. The first letter or letters designates location (N is north, NW is northwest, etc.), and the number indicates its distance from central London. The smaller the number, the closer to the city center an address is. It's a convenient way to gauge your distance from your destination.
If you're planning your itinerary around your favorite landmarks and activities, you'll probably want to book a room located for easy exploration. Some of the most popular attractions are in the priciest areas, but you can still find reasonable rooms.
Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and Clarence House, home of the Queen Mother, are popular tourist destinations, as are the beautiful gardens at Hyde Park and Saint James Park. Getting the ""royal"" treatment in London is best accomplished on foot; luckily, you can find cheap hotels in Kensington such as the Westbury Hotel and the Cromwell Crown Hotel. The High Street Kensington Tube station is a short walk for access to the rest of the city.
History buffs and museum lovers might want to spend time exploring Kings Cross and Trafalgar Square to explore the British Library and Westminster Abbey. Kings Cross offers a number of hotels including the YHA London St. Pacras. Hotels in Victoria, such as the Park Hotel, Chester Hotel London, and Rafayel Hotel & Spa are a 15-minute walk away and next to beautiful Lillington and Longmoore Gardens.
The Soho and Covent Garden areas have rehabbed their Red Light reputation and now offer visitors some of the hottest nightclubs and live music venues in the city. There are also lots of mom-and-pop value restaurants for an authentic London snack. Look for deals at the Sanctum Soho Hotel, the Covent Garden House, Travelodge London Covent Garden, and the YHA London St. Paul’s and immerse yourself in the neighborhood's lively culture.
One of the most exciting London landmarks is Piccadilly Circus, with its dazzling illuminated billboard signs, statue of Eros, and bustling underground station. It's a perfect location to launch your London exploration. Rooms near Piccadilly have a slight premium over other London neighborhoods, but you can still find deals in the off-season at properties such as the Best Western Premier Shaftesbury London Piccadilly and the Z Hotel Piccadilly.
If you're in London for some spectator sports such as Wimbledon or an Arsenal or Chelsea game, book a cheap room in the city near a Tube station. Your Oyster card will get you right to the lawn at Wimbledon or to Emirates Stadium for your soccer match.
One-way roads, grinding rush-hour traffic, and uncontrolled chaos are three good reasons for staying off the road in London — not to mention the plethora of bicycle couriers who weave through traffic and appear out of nowhere. London's robust public transportation system of buses, rails, and the Tube is economical and easy to navigate. If your visit is confined to London and the suburbs, save yourself the hassle of a rental car.
If your visit includes a day in the country exploring castles or looking for Downton Abbey, you may want to get a rental car. The cheapest, safest approach would be to book your car in a town near the area that you'll be visiting. Take the train to the town where you reserved your car, and start your driving adventure there. You'll get lower rental rates and avoid the misery of driving in London traffic.
If you do decide to try your luck driving in London, your valid U.S. driver's license works, as long as you are 23 or older. Gas prices are shown by the liter, not the gallon, so plan accordingly. The city also charges a daily congestion surcharge of about 8 pounds if you drive in central London during the week between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Don't try to trick the traffic police; a sophisticated camera system records license plate information and sends it to a government database. Cars that haven't paid their congestion charge by midnight get penalized a whopping 120 pounds.
Pay extra attention to parking. It's best to park only at a meter, a pay-and-display lot, or a public garage. Other street parking will lead to costly tickets and most likely towing fees. Keep in mind: Most hotels in London do not have parking facilities.
No matter when you visit London, you'll fall in love with the city. Its two-thousand-year history is displayed in its peerless landmarks. But it's not content to be a city of the past; London is modern and uber-cool, one of the world's most popular destinations for people of all ages.
You can book a cheap London hotels in almost every neighborhood and have a fun and fascinating adventure. Find the best deals on hotels in London at Hipmunk today. (* Hipmunk does not sell lodgings marked by an asterisk.)
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.