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Best boutique hotels in London: Where to stay for character and charm

Discover some of London's best boutique boltholes

Cathy Adams,Lizzie Pook
Wednesday 29 March 2023 07:59 BST
Enjoy everything London has to offer by staying in the heart of the city
Enjoy everything London has to offer by staying in the heart of the city (iStock)

Choosing where to lay your head in London while travelling in the UK can be a tricky affair. With a plethora of snazzy design hotels, some of the grandest, oldest establishments around and a frankly bewildering array of so-so spots offering cheap-as-chips theatre dinners to baffled tourists, it can be tempting to book into the nearest Premier Inn and be done with it.

Well, don’t. Let us tell you that the Big Smoke is home to some beautiful boutique hotels that you need to have on your radar. Brimming with charm and often nestled within coveted locations, with some of the capital city’s main scenes and sights within striking distance, opt for one of these city break boutique hotels instead, and you’ll be laughing. Trust us.

Whatever your hotel checklist and picture-perfect city break might entail, be it relaxing evenings in the hotel garden, cockatil (or two) in hand, stepping out and taking advantage of the must-visit museums and food markets on your doorstep or simply having a place to unwind while visiting the city for business, there will be a boutique hotel to suit just that.

From five-star locations in Chelsea to affordable rooms in Shoreditch, join us on a tour of the best boutique hotels in London.

Best hotel for flamboyant design: Zetter Townhouse

Neighbourhood: Clerkenwell, Central London (nearest tube station: Farringdon)

The Club Room at the Zetter: perfect for royalists and Britpoppers (Zetter Townhouse/Jefferson Smith)

The fashionably eccentric interiors at Zetter Townhouse extend from four-poster beds fringed with garlands of Union Jacks, to stuffed kangaroos and miniature wooden boats. Known to some as the home of the Zetter’s “Great Aunt Wilhelmina,” the snug boutique bolthole housed in two grand Georgian buildings also serves some truly terrific cocktails. Popular with creatives, browse the knick-knacks at Clerkenwell’s independent shops, or indulge in the food markets.

Best hotel for an urban setting: The Ham Yard Hotel

Neighbourhood: Soho, Central London (nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus)

The leafy Orangery at the Ham Yard is the perfect place to enjoy a bite to eat (Ham Yard)

If you need to be in Mayfair or Soho, Ham Yard is perfectly located, as it’s housed in an “urban village” setting at the bottom of Regent Street. Make the most of the shopping opportunities the neighbouring streets have to offer. The light-filled modern building is decked out with signature Kit Kemp interiors (all neon lights and furniture the colour of highlighter pens). Make sure you stop by the dazzling wall of 135 interconnected clocks, and the beautiful fourth-floor roof terrace, which is filled with olive trees, puffs of lavender and vegetable beds.

Best hotel for modest budgets: The Hoxton Hotel

Neighbourhood: Shoreditch, East London (nearest tube station: Old Street)

The Hoxton Hotel: boutique touches at budget (for London, anyway) prices (Hoxton Hotel)

East London’s first “destination” hotel opened in 2006 and it’s since won legions of fans for its relatively affordable rooms in a great location. Sure, its “shoebox” rooms are on the small side, but they’re smartly designed and you’ll get a fridge stocked with snacks, a cool retro phone to use, fast wifi and access to some of Shoreditch’s coolest street art sites on your doorstep. The enduringly popular Hoxton Grill also serves up pretty great American comfort food from its red leather booths.

Best hotel for quirky artwork: Artist Residence

Neighbourhood: Pimlico, Central London (nearest tube station: Pimlico)

Art fans will love the original works on display at Artist Residence (Artist Residence)

Occupying a handsome five-storey regency terrace in Pimlico, this hotel’s grand surroundings belie its quirky cool interiors. You’ll find other Artist Residences in Brighton, Penzance and Oxfordshire, but the rakish touches to this London branch – scattered kilner vases and bedside tables made from milking stools – as well as a buzzy cocktail bar downstairs and pop art pieces scattered throughout its 10 rooms, make it a must-visit. Many of London’s Royal Parks are within walking distance, too.

Best hotel for the fashion crowd: The Mandrake

Neighbourhood: Fitzrovia, Central London (nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road)

Find your zen at The Mandrake (The Mandrake)

Remodelled from a Riba-winning building in swanky Fitzrovia, the Mandrake is inspired by its medicinal botanical namesake. When it opened its doors in 2017, the luxury spot (which pays homage to “healing and positive energies”) was an instant hit with the capital’s fashion crowd, who flocked to its moody dark corridors and Instagrammable, foliage-filled inner courtyard. Its 30 texture-filled rooms, set over four floors are some of London’s sultriest. The hotel is close to the British Museum and some of the city’s best shopping streets.

Best hotel for pared-back chic: Boundary Hotel

Neighbourhood: Shoreditch, East London (nearest tube station: Old Street)

Head to the Boundary for clean, contemporary design (The Boundary)

Unsurprisingly, rooms at Terence Conran’s design hotel Boundary are easy on the eye. Each comes with a handmade bed, clean-lined furniture from Eames, Mies Van de Rohe and Le Courbusier, and original artwork on the walls. You could do worse than to spend an evening on the rooftop bar and grill (with views across London’s East End skyline), and there’s always Redchurch Street round the corner, if you’re in need of some retail therapy.

Best hotel for theatre-lovers: Henrietta Hotel

Neighbourhood: Covent Garden, Central London (nearest tube station: Covent Garden)

The stylish Henrietta Hotel is well located for Theatreland (Henrietta Hotel)

Want to be in the thick of it but don’t want to compromise on style? The Henrietta – the first London outpost from the Paris-based Experimental Group – gives great access to London’s bustling West End, without feeling like a tourist trap. Rooms are a zingy mix of leopard-print wallpaper, marble skirting boards and geometric floors, and there’s also an 80-seat restaurant on site for a thoroughly decent pre-theatre dinner.

Best hotel for history buffs: Great Northern Hotel

Neighbourhood: King’s Cross, Central London (nearest tube station: King’s Cross St Pancras)

The grand exterior of the Great Northern Hotel (Great Northern Hotel)

Dating back to 1854, the charming Great Northern Hotel now stands proud between the Eurostar’s St Pancras terminal and King’s Cross. Mini rooms modelled on sleeper carriages sit alongside pantries filled with tea, coffee and cakes (it’s more “help yourself” than “room service” here), but the main draw is the extra sleep you’ll get being so close to the train platform – we calculate it as a breezy three-minute dash.

Best hotel for business travellers who like to unwind: South Place Hotel

Neighbourhood: The City, Central London (nearest tube station: Moorgate)

(South Place Hotel)

The City is chocka with places to stay for frazzled business travellers, but there’s nowhere quite like South Place Hotel. Occupying an unassuming spot between Moorgate and Liverpool Street (and therefore right by the new Crossrail station) is this Conran + Partners-designed boutique hotel with big ambitions. For starters, there’s the art: a canopy of flowers dangles at the entrance and in the bar area, while screens in the lobby and lift blare out kaleidoscopic digital art.

The bedrooms are no less singular, with handpicked artworks from nearby Hoxton Art Gallery and cosy faux-fur throws and 100ml “oranges and lemons” toiletries from perfumer James Heeley. South Place Chop House, the steakhouse on the ground floor, has long been a firm favourite for brunch and dinner, with a lively atmosphere to match; while rooftop restaurant Angler has long closely guarded its one Michelin star. If you’re after a well-placed hotel to go from suit to sundowner, look no further.

Best hotel for museum visits: Number Sixteen

Neighbourhood: South Kensington, West London (nearest tube station: South Kensington)

The private garden at Number Sixteen is the perfect spot for afternoon tea (Number Sixteen)

Number Sixteen is actually a row of four early 19th-century townhouses, just two blocks from South Kensington tube station – putting you within striking distance of some of London’s most incredible museums and galleries. The entrance is discreet (you may need a helping hand to find it), but once inside you’ll find a smattering of classic Kit Kemp touches, from the beautiful driftwood chandelier in the drawing room, to the striking Quality Street-purple and sunflower-yellow pops in the library. Rooms are classy-cool and there’s also a tree-filled private garden for al fresco cocktails.

Best hotel for a proper London view: Hotel Café Royal

Neighbourhood: Piccadilly Circus, Central London (nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus)

The Regent suite at Hotel Cafe Royal has balconies that look directly over the billboards of Piccadilly Circus (Hotel Cafe Royal)

Few hotels have as “London” a location as Hotel Café Royal, tucked discreetly away in a very indiscreet place: Piccadilly Circus. This gorgeous heritage property has retained its historic features (check out the old-school lifts), and has hosted some seriously starry guests, including David Bowie and Sir Winston Churchill.

The suite to ask for is 202 (the Regent suite), a vast space with three (three!) balconies overlooking the flashing billboards of London’s most OTT public space, which make the most wonderful, surreal place to enjoy a drink before shuffling downstairs to sip champagne and nibble a posh dessert at Michelin-starred chef Albert Adrià’s Cake & Bubbles.

Best hotel for business travellers: Vintry & Mercer

Neighbourhood: The City, Central London (nearest tube station: Mansion House)

The plant-filled Vintry & Mercer lobby (Amy Murrell)

Vintry & Mercer is part of a growing band of contemporary leisure hotels in London's businessy heart. The sister property to Kensington's Ampersand Hotel is buried amid the narrow streets just behind Mansion House station, home to the City of London's historic livery halls. It's from this plum location that Vintry & Mercer takes its name and inspiration: Vintry for the wine heritage, Mercer for fabrics.

Despite its historic location, this 92-room property makes a seriously modern statement: there are plants sprouting from the lobby, bulb lamps and cosy leather armchairs tucked into every corner. Rooms are compact but jauntily decorated, with each design detail reflecting the hotel's heritage: there's bespoke fabrics in popping jewel tones, palm-leaf wallpaper and antiquated maps of the area (plus a free minibar and upscale C.O. Bigelow toiletries in the bathroom). The Mercer Roof Terrace provides spellbinding views of a City sunset alongside its farm-to-table steaks and fish; while sexy-cosy downstairs speakeasy DND wows with its jewelled photographs and playful barrel-aged cocktails.

Best hotel for film buffs: Victory House

Neighbourhood: Leicester Square, Central London (nearest tube station: Leicester Square)

One of Victory House's executive queen rooms (Victory House)

Sandwiched between the Prince Charles Cinema and Leicester Square is Victory House, an 86-room boutique overlooking the Odeon cinema. The hotel, housed in a late 19th-century building that was once L'Hôtel de l’Europe, is very much inspired by the area: silent films are projected onto the deep purple walls, while cinematic black-and-white photos give it a whiff of Parisian glamour. The rooms and suites aren't deluxe in size, but rather thoughtfully designed; some suites on the sixth floor, the highest in the hotel, come with characterful round portholes and drooping eaves.

Overlooking Leicester Square might not be everyone's idea of a good night’s sleep, but everything inside the rooms and suites at Victory House is included in the rate, including a set of earplugs.

Best hotel for afternoon tea: 100 Queen’s Gate

Neighbourhood: South Kensington, West London (nearest tube station: South Kensington)

The light, plant-filled Botanica where afternoon tea is served (100 Queen's Gate)

Hotel- and embassy-strewn Queen’s Gate runs between groomed Kensington Gardens and South Kensington, meaning some of London’s best museums and galleries are almost on the doorstep (the V&A and the Natural History Museum to name just two). Technically part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, this boutique-style property is housed across grand townhouses that were the former home of aristocrat William Alexander.

The rooms and neat and plush, with velvet soft furnishings, fun additions such as old-style telephones, and cosy fireplaces. Downstairs, suntrap atrium Botanica serves an Instagrammable afternoon tea of traditional sandwiches and scones; while in-res restaurant Cento offers Italian dishes. The hotel's various artefacts – tweezers in a glass cabinet, a portrait of Virginia Woolf – add to the ever-so-slightly cerebral feel.

Best hotel for an eco stay: Treehouse London

Neighbourhood: Marylebone, Central London (nearest tube station: Oxford Circus)

Treehouse's cosy-sexy bar, The Nest (Simon Brown Photography)

On the upper floors of a nondescript office building in the triangle between All Souls Church and the BBC on Langham Place is Treehouse London, which, like its sister brand 1 Hotels, places its eco credentials centre stage. Overflowing with plants, the lobby leads off to clubby Mexican Madera, the first outpost of the LA original, which comes with superb views across the roofs of the West End from its cushion-lined wicker bucket chairs. The food’s worth hanging around for too. Rooms host cloud-like beds and fun accoutrements (in my room I found a childlike kaleidoscope and a piggy bank), while there’s almost no plastic to be seen. Instead, there are bulk-size amenities, colourful wooden bird motifs nailed to wooden beams in the bathroom and a wall of windows complete with cosy nook to peer over the nearby church. This is a hotel with sky-high views as well as aspirations.

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