Adrian Mourby

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London has some of the best hotels in the world. I think many of us missed them bitterly during the pandemic lockdowns. Whether it’s somewhere to stay whilst sightseeing or shopping- or when catching a show, part of the joy of Britain’s capital city is its charming places to stay overnight.

Here are just ten of the best hotels in London, old and new. Some were designed as hotels in the nineteenth century, others were built as houses. Some have been converted from Edwardian offices or from gentlemen’s apartments. All have great individual charm.

I’ve also included a few things to do nearby because all of these hotels are in perfect locations for sightseeing. As Dr Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Who could be tired of London with so much do nearby?!

The Trafalgar Hotel is unique in being the only London hotel that looks directly on to England’s most famous square. In 1832 when the piazza that would, one day come to be known as Trafalgar Square was nearing completion, Morley’s Hotel was opened on the site of what is now South Africa House.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes stayed at Morley’s in 1900 while he was writing The Hound of the Baskervilles, and it is thought that the fictional Northumberland Hotel in that novel may have been based on Morley's Hotel. Certainly Northumberland Avenue – a feeder road into the new square - is just round the corner. However Conan Doyle was not a fan, writing to his mother that he was "somewhat sick" of Morley's hotel and intended to move on.

Once Morley’s was demolished in 1936 to create South Africa House there was no hotel on this magnificent imperial square until 1998. Then planning permission was given to L&R Company. Their new hotel, the first in 70 years to look directly on to Trafalgar Square, retained the facades of Nos 25 to 34 Cockspur Street on the southern edge of the square.  These 130 modern rooms are cleverly tucked behind what used to be a number of Victorian travel agencies. The new building also had rooftop bar, known as The Vista and a ground floor lobby-cum-dining room known as Rockwells.  In 2017 L&R completely refurbished their London hotel, creating a new lobby and enclosing most of the bar. Although hugely popular since its opening because of those panoramic views, The Vista had been wholly at the mercy of London rainfall, even in summer. 

Today the Trafalgar Hotel, under general manager Matthew Beard trades on its unique selling point of that rooftop view. Victoria and David Beckham came to stay when she was opening the Harrod's Christmas Sale. The Rolling Stones visited and spent time on the rooftop (photos of them are in many of the hotel’s bedrooms today).

In 2014 the Sci-Fi film Edge of Tomorrow featured Tom Cruise’s character landing a helicopter in Trafalgar Square -  the first and only time such a stunt has occurred in a movie – and this event as shot for real from The Vista Bar.

The eighteenth-century redevelopment of London beyond the City of Westminster was dominated by two hugely wealthy families. The Grosvenors, Dukes of Westminster created Mayfair out of their land north of Green Park and later moved west to create Belgravia (still the most expensive neighbourhood in the capital) and their nearest rivals to the Grosvenors – (admittedly only the 14th richest family in Britain) - were the Earls of Cadogan. The foundations of the Cadogans’ London estate were established in 1717 when Charles, the young   Baron Cadogan married Elizabeth Sloane, daughter of Sir Hans Sloane, who had purchased the Manor of Chelsea in 1712.  

In 1777 Charles’ son, now the first Earl of Cadogan commissioned the architect Henry Holland to create one of the first purpose-built new towns in Britain. "Hans Town", in the area we now know as Sloane Square and Chelsea, provided attractive Georgian terraced houses to gentlemen of moderately affluent means. In 1811 and 1813 Jane Austen visited her brother Henry who lived in one of these houses, No 64 Sloane Street.

Sir Hans was also commemorated when the Cadogans named their main piazza Sloane Square. But they also put their own imprimatur on the development by naming a web of streets stretching north of the famous square Cadogan Gardens.

In the nineteenth century this entire complex of terraces was given a makeover by the Fifth Earl who had served as Disraeli’s Under-Secretary of State for War. The earl chose the architect Henry Holland, who created five-storey terraces of red brick houses topped with white Dutch gables. The style was so distinctive it garnered its own name: Pont Street Dutch.  

In the middle of this vertiginous architectural extravaganza stands 11 Cadogan Gardens, four town houses that were combined in the twentieth century to create a private members club that became a hotel in 2012.  

Eleven Cadogan Gardens overlooks the kind of exclusive gated and railed park you find in films like Mary Poppins and Notting Hill. Inside the hotel there are 56 bedrooms and two bars linked by dark and moody stairwells and corridors. With lots of 18th and 19th century portraits adorning these dark walls you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back centuries in time.

The bedrooms however are modern, bright, and airy and the ground floor bar-cum-restaurant is a revelation. In 2018 the Cadogan Estate – who still own the hotel – ripped out the old kitchens and servants’ quarters to create a modern bar and restaurant that opens on to Pavilion Row behind 11 Cadogan Gardens. Pavilion Row was originally the mews running behind these huge red brick houses. Many of the old stables have been turned into artisanal bakers, butchers, or ice cream parlours.  As a result, the hotel has a split personality.

At the front of 11 Cadogan Gardens the hotel has a Victorian clubland vibe with a library, drawing room and its Chelsea Bar which looks like it’s waiting to film an episode of Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, at its rear, the Hans’ Bar & Grill (once again named after Sloane himself) is illuminated from above by skylights. It has big bright windows and green banquettes. Guests take breakfast here, but it is also hugely popular with Chelsea’s yummy mummies who meet here for coffee or brunch.

At this lower level the hotel has a gym, a room called The Curio, which is more traditional in style and makes a great private dining room.

11 Cadogan Gardens is managed for the Cadogan Estate by Iconic Hotels, who have done so much to restore Cliveden in Buckinghamshire to its former glory. This is an ideal hotel for shopping in and around Sloane Square. It’s also only five tube stops from London’s West End.

DON’T MISS: The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square is the home of the English Stage Company and has a commitment to new British writing. Works by Caryl Churchill, Terry Johnson, Jez Butterworth and Martin McDonagh have been premiered here.

This fashionable hotel opposite leafy Green Park was rebuilt in the 1930s and still has a certain Art Deco look to its geometric bay windows. It was constructed on the site of Hope House, a large, heavy Victorian residence in the Renaissance style owned by Henry Hope MP. When that was demolished in 1933, a radical new building, full of metal-framed windows called Athenaeum Court was built in its place. Athenaeum Court offered a range of apartments in Piccadilly and was fortunate to survive the West End bombing raids of 1941.

In the 1970s the apartments were converted into a hotel and in 2019 The Athenaeum was completely refurbished- inside and out - only to be almost immediately closed by London’s pandemic lockdown. Now reopened -and looking just as good as new- it has 150 rooms and suites, a double-height lobby and a small dining room, named 116 after the hotel’s address on Piccadilly. (The daily menu is small but self-confidently so (never trust a restaurant with a large menu).

 Downstairs there is a basement bar with an extensive whisky collection, a gym and small spa.

Two of the distinguishing features of the hotel are its “living wall” and The View, its lounge for guests on the very top floor. The View used to be a penthouse suite but is now open to all guests and offers an extensive view across the treetops to Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.

The Living Wall, nine stories of foliage, covers the building’s exterior corner with Down Street. On this side of Piccadilly, it’s a singular sight, although it provides an echo of all the greenery opposite in Green Park.

The hotel is well decorated with colourful, cheeky art celebrating London’s West End. Furniture is modern and each bedroom and suite has a DVD player. These are something of a rarity nowadays in hotels but can be very useful if you are travelling with children and want them to calm down with a favourite film. In fact, reception has an extensive catalogue of discs that can be borrowed free of charge. The fact that the list includes a lot of animated features, Harry Potter, and four copies of Mary Poppins tells you a lot about the target audience at the Athenaeum.

Pre-pandemic The Athenaeum was a hotel of choice for Hollywood A-listers (who have a tendency to find one place in a city and gravitate towards it). Now that transatlantic flights have resumed and travel is getting back to normal, the Spielbergs and De Niros may be returning soon.

DON’T MISS:  Green Park used to be a lot larger but then one of the royal Georges appropriated about a third of it to create a garden for Buckingham Palace. What is left is a wonderful leafy place for a morning jog, or to sit in a deckchair on a summer’s afternoon or have a picnic.

Close to the Blue Plaque commemorating where William Pitt the Younger used to live is one of the best restaurants on Baker Street. Kitchen at Holmes is a sophisticated dining area of round tables and easy chairs with a long bar serving cocktails and pouring wine.  As you enter through what look like French windows there is a hat rack decorated with all manner of dressing up headgear – a sola topee, a top hat, a Peaky Blinders flat cap and the famous Sherlock Holmes deerstalker.

Following a labyrinth of corridors, diners come to the reception of the Holmes Hotel (which is actually on Chiltern Street because the hotel is a composite of four eighteenth-century townhouses, two on Baker Street and two on Chiltern Street). A bust of Sherlock Holmes stands near reception, there is a modern oil painting of the detective in the hotel’s drawing room and black and white photos from Sherlock Holmes films in the corridors. The rest of the ground floor is full of eclectic decorative detail. A life size bronze of a sleeping dog lies by one of the fireplaces in the guest Lounge. There are brass monkeys on many shelves. Huge books the size of coffee tables are everywhere, and on each floor there are framed mysteries for guests to try and unravel. Is that huge white ceramic pineapple a decorative item or really a clue? This is a hotel that likes to have fun. It's gym is named after "Piggy Doyle" which was the name by which the young Arthur Conan Doyle used to box when he lived in Aston, Birmingham. As a tribute to Holmes' creator, it even contains a punchbag.

Twenty-five years ago these four houses were knocked together to create a 120-room hotel with panelled corridors leading in all directions. In 2019 this warren was extensively refurbished, creating a quirky but stylish townhouse boutique hotel named after Baker Street's famous fictional detective. 

There are some glorious bedrooms, especially the two duplex “Loft Suites” rooms, which have their bedroom and bathroom on a mezzanine floor, leather sofas downstairs and even a turntable with a selection of LPs – David Bowie, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Amy Winehouse – to play.  Style predominates in this hotel but is never inhibiting.

Dining in The Holmes Kitchen is part of the fun of staying here. The bar and restaurant are comprised of a series of interconnected panelled rooms with dramatic downlighting and modern gas-flame fireplaces. The drama is further enhanced if you order one of Sherlock Pipe cocktails (£13) which comes in a bell jar full of smoke, accompanied by a deerstalker to wear while drinking it. When the bell jar is lifted, and the smoke dissipates, your cocktail is revealed. This twist on the negroni is served in a see-through glass calabash-shaped pipe as used by Sherlock actors from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch. The hotel’s signature cocktail is made from Talisker, Campari and Johnny Walker Black Label. An additional part of the fun is looking around Holmes Kitchen to see who else has ordered it.

DON’T MISS: Madame Tussauds Waxworks, one of London’s most popular attractions is just a four-minute walk north of Holmes Hotel. Madame Tussaud opened her first premises in 1835. Today 10 million spectators visit the 24 Tussaud’s locations around the globe. At the moment two of the biggest London attractions are the chance to pose with all six James Bonds in their dinner jackets and be photographed with HM the Queen and her immediate family. 

Iconic Luxury Hotels have done a superb job refashioning what was a rather tired old building that had had many names down the years but was most lately known as the London Hilton Green Park Hotel. The property was different from Iconic’s other projects: a labyrinth of 15 gentleman’s town houses, built by the Grosvenor Estate in the eighteenth century and knocked together in the 1930s. It took two years and many millions of pounds to turn the old Green Park Hotel into a modern 172 luxury boutique hotel.

Iconic also created Dandy’s on the ground floor, a jaunty cocktail lounge where the hotel’s reception used to be. Here food and drinks are served from 11am every day. “Dandy” is a word that the hotel makes much use of. It expresses the style of the young men of St James and Piccadilly who used to dress up exquisitely, copying their nineteenth-century ideal, Beau Brummell. Elsewhere the hotel makes much of its foxy logo. Indeed the downstairs “Club” dining room and “Den” are meeting places decorated with witty images of foxes or of the imaginary “Reynard” family who (allegedly) came to Half Moon Street from France in the nineteenth century and made it their home.

There is a general sense of fun about this hotel. The minibars are stocked with free Maltesers in case guests want to snack while watching TV. There’s a portrait in one of the clubrooms of Lord Byron listening to his iPad and in the lobby a 25,000-crystal peacock by Swarovski has been named Alfie in reference to Alfred, Lord Douglas the lover of Oscar Wilde. (Ironically it was another of Wilde’s lovers, Robbie Ross – not Bosie Douglas - who lived in this building when it was 40 Half Moon Street).

DON’T MISS:  The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 by a personal act of King George III who wished to create a British art school with its own annual exhibition. In 1868 the RA moved into Burlington House just a half a mile away from the Mayfair Town House. Its annual Summer Exhibition, which is open to public contributors as well as Academicians, is a major event in the London calendar. 

The Corinthia is an imposing hotel just behind Trafalgar Square.  It opened in 1885 as the Metropole and was the brainchild of British hotelier, Frederick Gordon.  Gordon had trained as a lawyer but in his 30s moved into creating elegant restaurants across the British capital, something of an innovation in the 1870s. From restaurants it was but a short step to building hotels. By the 1890s he was known in Britain as "The Napoleon of the Hotel World" for his “Gordon Group”.

In 1883 Frederick Gordon started work on The Metropole.  Hotels were needed this close to Charing Cross Station to accommodate the massive influx of travellers arriving from Europe at Charing Cross Station.

For much of the twentieth century the Metropole, because of its proximity to Whitehall, was frequently requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for whom it provided offices and planning rooms. It was even believed to be the headquarters of MI6 at one stage. The original James Bond cartoon strip in the Daily Express used the hotel as the model for M’s headquarters.

In the twenty-first century however the Maltese Corinthia Group took over the hotel, reopening it in 2011 as Corinthia London. Beautifully refurbished, this is now one of the most glamorous places to stay in London. 

The Corinthia has a superb dining room called Northall squeezed in at the apex of its triangular location. On one side is Northumberland Avenue and on the other, Whitehall Place which explains its portmanteau name. The Corinthia also has one of the best spas in London. As so often happens, this is in the hotel’s basement, but it does not feel crushed nor constrained. Instead, it is an elegant, dark pleasuredome, recalling an upmarket Japanese ryokan.

DON’T MISS: Benjamin Franklin’s London home is just a three- minute walk across Northumberland Avenue from Corinthia London. This house in Craven Street has been beautifully restored to its original eighteenth-century style and is staffed by enthusiastic and well-informed staff.

Ebury Street by Victoria Coach Station marks the beginning of Belgravia. One moment you are pushing your way through crowds of backpackers and the next moment you are facing the exuberant pink facade of Polly Paschen coffee shop opposite the Lime Tree Hotel on Ebury Street.

Ebury Street is a fine address on the very border of London’s most expensive neighbourhood. Dame Edith Evans lived at No 11 and Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond at No 22.

The Lime Tree Hotel stands at numbers 135 and 137. From the moment you enter through glass doors (painted with pink and white blossom) you know you are in a special boutique hotel.

Its 27 rooms are spread across two Belgravia town houses that were knocked together in 1900, providing the premises for the Imperial Nurses Club. Later in 1960 this double-fronted dwelling became a hotel. Today it is run by Matthew and Charlotte who spent a small fortune upgrading the hotel while retaining its idiosyncratic nature. The two townhouses are joined on some floors and not on others. You have to plan your route down to breakfast. One lot of bedrooms is accessed through the comfortable reception with its sofas. Others are up the stairs past the Buttery dining room, which is open for breakfast through to supper (with brunch lasting from 8am till 2pm).

A fine breakfast menu includes Stracciatella on Toast (with chorizo), the usual smashed avocado but also the “Allotment Breakfast” of halloumi, avocado, portobello mushrooms and eggs for vegetarians. There are some beguiling oil paintings of dogs on the walls of the Buttery, specially commissioned from the artist, Nicholas Todd Hunter.

Just about everyone who works at Lime Tree House seems to be really enjoying themselves. That ambience definitely comes from the top with Charlotte and Matthew setting an amiable, “anything is possible” and “nothing is too much trouble” example.


Two of London’s best museums are just a mile from the Lime Tree’s front door. The Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert, devoted to arts and design, are neighbours on Cromwell Road. It’s possible to spend a whole day at each and still not see everything.

Royal Horseguards occupies an imposing position on the Thames embankment opposite the LondonEye. It was built as a block of residential apartments in 1884 on land recently reclaimed from the river. During the 1860s Victorian engineers comprehensively tidied up the sprawling River Thames using smart new quaysides, making it narrower, deeper and less tidal. On one of these quays a series of embankment gardens was created. Overlooking one of these – Whitehall Gardens – the Liberal MP Jabez Balfour built a new headquarters for the Liberal Club. He also attached an impressive apartment block for gentlemen.

The whole ensemble had the look of a French chateau and was designed by Alfred Waterhouse who also drew up plans for the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

Unfortunately Balfour was also a fraudster. All the money people had invested in his Liberator Building Society to finance the block disappeared rapidly into his own pockets. In 1892 after the collapse of the Liberator, the disgraced MP fled Britain with what funds were left. Three years later he was tracked down in Argentina by Scotland Yard and unceremoniously bundled on to a waiting ship. Balfour was sentenced to 14 years but got out in ten.  

After such a dramatic story – the history of this apartment block did not get much quiet when in 1916 MI6 moved in to its eighth floor. Here Mansfield George Smith-Cumming, known as “C” directed intelligence and subversive operations, initially against the Kaiser’s Germany and then against Bolshevik Russia. Secret agents who took the electric lift up to the eighth floor included the novelists Somerset Maugham and John Buchan.  

In 1971 the apartment block was converted into a hotel which subsequently bought sections of the old Liberal Club to use as grand function rooms. Today the hotel is known as Royal Horseguards because of its proximity to the parade ground of the Household Cavalry (which is made up of the red-coated Life Guards and the blue-coated Royal Horse Guards).

This 282-room hotel celebrates its military connections with reproductions of many famous military paintings in the lobby. There are the Scots Greys charging at Waterloo as painted by Lady Butler in 1881 and opposite it the young Duke of Wellington as painted by Goya. The hotel’s cosy bar, which looks out on to Whitehall Court, is named Equus in honour of the local cavalry.

Bedrooms at Royal Horseguards are something of a potluck. If you get one overlooking the Thames you’re in for a treat because these days the river is illuminated from dusk till dawn. Rooms facing south across the Thames have a view of the bright red of the OXO Tower, the changing hues of the Royal National Theatre and the great vertical circle of the London Eye.

By day guests have the pleasure of direct access to Whitehall Gardens from the hotel’s terrace. There is also easy access to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, both of which are in easy walking distance.

DON’T MISS:  Gordon Wine Bar on the Thames Embankment is one of the most idiosyncratic watering places in London. It was founded in 1890 by Angus “Staff” Gordon in a subterranean grain cellar. In 1974 Gordon’s was taken over by Luis Gordon (no relation), but its cellar with yellowing news cuttings of the Coronation of 1953 remains wonderfully unchanged.

The extravagant L’Oscar in Holborn is a delightfully over-the-top hotel. This building was formerly the headquarters of the Baptist Church in England and was always lavishly decorated, but now under the direction of French designer Jacques Garcia it has reached a kind of decorative apotheosis. Mirrored ceilings, gilded walls, a seven-storey chandelier cascading down the main staircase and a restaurant based on Café Florian in Venice are just a few of the hotel’s more splendid features.

There are almost 500 Lalique birds used as light fittings in the hotel. The 150 individual napkin rings for the hotel’s Baptist Grill came from Sandbury Antiques market in Kempton Park and bills are presented on refurbished church collection plates. The four metal doors, each with a peacock motif, leading into the bar were rescued from a scrap metal site in France by the hotel’s CEO. Two thousand hollow-stem crystal champagne coups were made specially for L’Oscar in Poland. 

No aspect of the hotel is routine. The choice of each book has resonance and Bloomsbury memorabilia is everywhere. Black and old gold predominate and over the entrance there is a large white neon sign over the main entrance proclaims “l’oscar”. This is not a hotel that is backward coming forward.

DON’T MISS: Covent Garden is a pleasant 15-minute walk away from L’Oscar. Enroute you’ll pass Walker Slater, home of the most elegant tweed suits in Britain. In the market itself go for lunch at The Crusting Pipe, which serves simple British dishes in a series of vaulted brick cellars running beneath the marketplace. 

The Cavendish we see today is a modern hotel. It even has underground parking (rare in London) just off Jermyn Street. Yet it has a gloriously ancient and colourful pedigree. It was founded early in the nineteenth century as Miller’s Hotel with its entrance on nearby Duke Street. It then passed through various owners and incarnations before becoming The Cavendish in 1836. In 1902 it was bought by Rosa Lewis, the formidable “Duchess of Jermyn Street”. Rosa became Louisa Trotter, “The Duchess of Duke Street” in the BBC’s 1970s TV Series based on The Cavendish.

When Evelyn Waugh published his second novel Vile Bodies, he based a number of its London scenes in a slightly dodgy hotel off Piccadilly called Shepheard’s. In this this parody Cavendish the hitel is run by Lottie, an inveterate name-dropper and schmoozer of titled folk down on their luck. When the book was published, Rosa Lewis considered herself so traduced by Waugh that she banned him from The Cavendish for life.

Sadly, the original Cavendish was damaged in a Luftwaffe bombing raid on 17 April 1941 that also killed the singer Al Bowly who had a flat nearby. Limping on into the post-war period The Cavendish with its missing façade was demolished in 1964 so a new,14-storey hotel could be built on Jermyn Street.

The modern Cavendish has a new restaurant with views across Jermyn Street to Fortnum & Mason. It was opened in May 2021 as “The Mayfair Lounge & Grill” and is run by Paragon Hospitality who have researched the recipes and menus that Rosa Lewis used in her time and reproduced some of them.

The hotel hopes to make its new restaurant a major social centre in the West End just as it was in the days of Rosa Lewis. For theatre-goers it is introducing an Early Bird menu consisting of a three-course meal, and a glass of house wine for £35pp which will be served from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

DON’T MISS: The edge of London’s West End is very near the Cavendish. Tickets for most shows can be picked up in Leicester Square which is just a ten-minute walk away and which is also where many major film premieres are held. You cannot be in this part of London without going to a movie or stage show.

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