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As the capital of the U.K. and one of Europe’s largest cities, the ever-chic, metropolitan London is a veritable traveler's playground. Visitors can museum-hop, dine at some of the world’s best restaurants and bars, tour historic sites, shop and even explore nature — all within city limits. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, London is home to a mind-boggling number of hotels, including dozens of incredible boutiques from which to choose. Figuring out where to stay in such a large, bustling city isn’t the easiest process — especially if you’re looking for more distinctive properties — so we’re helping you narrow the field by naming our favorite London boutique hotels based on a variety of categories, from luxury to family-friendly.
Best Budget: The Culpeper Bedrooms
The Culpepper is less of a hotel and more of an East London pub with five bedrooms — but beautifully appointed ones a that. The pub, which doubles as a lobby and front desk, takes up the ground floor of the property, and there's a good chance that if you asked the locals hanging out there, they wouldn't even know the third floor had bedrooms. There’s also a formal restaurant on the second floor that serves an ever-changing pan-European menu and a seasonal lounge on the rooftop with excellent skyline views that serves as a little garden of sorts, with flower boxes of cucumbers (appropriate, since you can see the Gherkin from here). The five rooms aren’t the largest, but they’re beautiful with a countryside-meets-city-meets-beach vibe: there are distressed concrete walls, warm wood headboards and shelves, and Acapulco chairs with sheepskin throws, to name a few of the standout design elements. Though you won’t find traditional amenities here, it makes for a great stay at a fraction of the cost of most London hotels of this design caliber.
Best Historic: The Milestone
Though this hotel opened in 1922, it's history goes back to 1689, when the grand Kensington House was built on the same site and served as a private nobleman's residence. Eventually, the home was replaced by a new building, which in turn was replaced by the current Victorian structure in the 1880s. But today, the hotel is part of the Red Carnation collection and features 56 rooms and suites and six extended-stay residences individually decorated by the in-house design team with styles that range from traditional English (think florals and canopied beds) to strikingly modern (think black and red minimalist furnishings). The hotel notably has two staff members to every guest, so you can expect excellent service. In the evenings, live music can be enjoyed in the quaint restaurant and lounge. As a plus, the hotel is pet-friendly, so you can bring your four-legged friend to enjoy the quintessential London hotel as well. A number of the suites have views of not only Kensington Gardens but also of the palace itself.
Best for Families: St James's Hotel and Club, Mayfair
For families looking for a proper hotel that feels anything but Disney-esque, the St James’s Hotel and Club is the right pick. The Victorian building, erected in 1892, was formerly a diplomat’s club and the gentlemanly aesthetic still holds strong, especially in public spaces. Silk wallpapers meet warm wood paneling and dark wood trim, with a mix of modern and antique-style furniture. Rooms take on a bit of a more of a contemporary look, with muted palettes of beige, subtle accent colors and streamlined furnishings. It’s a great 60-room boutique hotel for any type of traveler, where the formal but not stuffy vibe lets everyone relax, but kids get particularly special treatment here — they have their own concierge to help them discover some of the best activities in town. While parents will enjoy Seven Park Place, the hotel’s restaurant by chef William Drabble, kids can have fun with a board-game-themed afternoon tea.
Best for Romance: The Franklin
Set in a row of four Victorian houses in Knightsbridge, the 35-room Franklin has a moody, sexy atmosphere thanks to designer Anouska Hempel, who also decorated the famous London hotel Blakes, often considered the first boutique property in the city. You can expect luxe detailing, like Carrara marble floors, silk and velvet upholstery and wall hangings, and elegant wall mirrors across the whole property — it’s got a distinctly Italian vibe, which, as the hotel is in London, adds an extra touch of romance. (The hotel is part of the Starhotels Collezione, an Italian brand.) For a great date night, dine at the restaurant looking out towards the garden, which only has space for 30 people, meaning you’ll have a much more intimate meal. After dinner, finish your evening with drinks at the glamorous 1920s-style bar, decorated in a sophisticated black-and-white palette, that’s known for its champagne and gin selection.
Best Luxury: The Goring
Perhaps one of the most iconic luxury hotels in London, The Goring has multiple claims to fame, including being the only hotel issued a Royal Warrant — meaning it is of special service to the royal family (for instance, Kate Middleton stayed here before her wedding to Prince William). The boutique property is located in Belgravia and sits just across from Buckingham Palace though don't be fooled — it's not only for royals. The 69-room hotel, founded and still run by the Gorings since it opened in 1910 (the only London hotel still owned by its founding family) welcomes all kinds of guests looking to feel like nobility. Maybe you’d like to play a game of croquet in the beautiful garden, which is one of the largest private gardens in the city? It’s also home to a Michelin-starred restaurant and known for its afternoon tea service, which has earned The British Tea Guild Council’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award and The Award of Excellence.
Best Nightlife: Mondrian London at Sea Containers
At 359 rooms, the Mondrian London is a bit of a stretch in the boutique category, but its swanky Tom Dixon decor coupled with an incredible nightlife scene qualifies it for this list. The Southbank hotel, located right on the Thames across from St. Paul’s Cathedral and near Tate Modern, is one of the sexiest in town with sleek nautical vibes — most notably a copper front desk designed to look like a ship’s hull. Rooms are minimalist and done in grey, black and white with a pop of red, but they feel quite comfortable. The hotel is home to posh Dandelyan, voted the best cocktail bar in the world at the 2017 Tales of the Cocktail awards, and the rooftop Rumpus Room was designed to look like a golden-age cruise liner ballroom. Without a doubt, Mondrian London is the place to see and be seen south of the river.
Best for Celeb-Spotting: Chiltern Firehouse
As you might infer from its name, this hotel is housed in a former Victorian-era firehouse in Marylebone. It’s probably best known for its restaurant, which has been an A-list hotspot for the last several years. Notable diners include Kate Moss, David Beckham, Orlando Bloom and Mindy Kaling, not to mention politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. But the hotel itself, run by famous American hotelier André Balazs, is a great place to stay, with an incredible staff (nicknamed “the brigade”) that’s ready to do everything, like help you unpack, iron your clothes and fold them up neatly when it's time to go. The hotel describes its 26 stylish rooms — with working fireplaces, we might add — as an “experience of grand domesticity,” and with simple white walls, navy blue carpets, plush armchairs and benches and marble-lined bathrooms with standalone tubs, they do feel luxurious without being too over-the-top. It might be notoriously difficult to secure a reservation at the restaurant, but as a guest of the hotel, you might have a bit better luck. Plus, you never know who you might dine next to.
Best Design: L'oscar London
Having just opened in Holborn in June 2018, L’oscar is already making a splash on the boutique hotel scene. Its interiors were done by Jacques Garcia, a French designer known for his sumptuous yet elegant aesthetic and for working not only on famous hotels like the NoMad in New York and La Mamounia in Marrakech, but also on projects like a renovation of the Château de Versailles and his own Château du Champ de Batailles. Here, for his first London hotel, Garcia has transformed a former Baptist church into a playground for design lovers. You’ll find everything from peacock motifs on silk screens and the walls to velvet upholstery on the furniture to Lalique butterfly crystal taps in the bathrooms. It’s an eclectic, even provocative design scheme for sure, but it works, and it’s been drawing the masses. Also bringing in crowds? The Baptist Grill, situated beneath an octagonal dome in what was once a chapel.