In praise of London’s independent hotels

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Ridgemount Hotel
Despite a changing industry, Ridgemount Hotel is still going strong as one of the great independent (and budget) options along Gower Street in Bloomsbury. Photo: Courtesy of Ridgemount Hotel

Walk down London’s Gower Street and it’s easy to imagine how it looked 10, 20, 30 years ago—its historic architecture is home to many long established organizations such as University College London and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Then there’s the reason that most Cheapos will be in the area—the abundance of reasonably priced hotels on the street.

But, while the picturesque townhouses may give off an air of permanence, change is underway. Aled Rhys of Gower Street’s Ridgemount Hotel mentioned it in an interview with us: many of the once independently owned hotels are being taken over by chains.

While chains are included in EuroCheapo travel guides and can often offer convenient and well-priced options, the site is a strong champion of keeping it independent and personal. Not only does it make for a nice bit of variation from identikit interiors and breakfast, but also, when you stay with owners who know and love the area, the visitor leaves the city with so much more than the usual selection of picture postcards.

Ridgemount Hotel Breakfast Room

Smaller hotels offer charming perks like this homey breakfast room at Ridgemount Hotel. Photo: EuroCheapo

Changes in ownership

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Gower Street. After speaking to Mr. Rhys, and reading a review of another Gower Street hotel that had recently changed hands to its apparent detriment, I stopped by some of the hotels on the street, to see how the area was shifting for myself. I spoke to the receptionist in one of the hotels that has changed ownership in the last couple of years. While she was friendly and professional, the differences between here and the Ridgemount, just a few hotels away, were obvious. She had only been working for the hotel for a few months (all the staff members of the Ridgemount have worked there for at least five years), and couldn’t tell me anything about the history of the hotel (compare this to the detailed information given on the Ridgemount’s website).

Of course, any new business takes a while to bed in and establish roots but—from this visit alone and with the owner nowhere to be seen—this hotel felt very much to be run as simply a business concern, in comparison to the personal touch embedded in the family and independent establishments that we champion here at EuroCheapo.

Luna & Simone Hotel

The rooms at Luna & Simone, a 3-star family-run gem on Belgrave Road, offer plenty of character and detail unlike their corporate competitors. Photo: EuroCheapo

The downside of chains

The hotel business in London is changing—Mark Desira of Luna & Simone spoke about the rapid growth in the number of hotels in his area of the city near Victoria—and accommodation, whether independently owned or part of a chain, should also change to meet the demands of the 21st century traveler. However, it would be a pity if this occurred at the expense of their personality.

London, and the UK as a whole, seems to encourage the growth of chains: There are certain restaurants and shops you’ll see over and over again in the city and beyond. Many are good, but it undeniably brings a dull predictability to any high street. It would be a pity if this also happened with the city’s accommodation. It’s London in particular where, in comparison to other cities and especially the States, rooms are both smaller and more expensive. For the visitor, that makes individuality, personality and all those added extras even more valuable.

Cherry Court Hotel

Cherry Court is an excellent cheapo find around the corner from Victoria Station with friendly owners that really appreciate their customers. Photo: EuroCheapo

Supporting the small hotels

For now, at least, there are plenty of hotels all over London that still pride themselves on the personal touch, from the Ridgemount and Luna & Simone mentioned above, to the Cherry Court and the Celtic Hotel. All boast of their returning visitors, testament to the value added by the personal touch. EuroCheapo continues to celebrate and support independent hotels and hostels, as well as giving honest reviews of the big boys.

If you do stay somewhere worth writing home about on your travel and adventures in Europe—do remember to write to us, as well, to tell us all about it. We’re always looking for new cheapo-worthy hotels to add to the website.

About the author

Frances Ambler

Frances Ambler has been doing her best to live in London on the cheap since 2003. She works as an editor in one of London’s best – and free – museums, as well as writing for various websites including domesticsluttery.com. An avid second-hand shopper, ten years of "research" culminated in her most recent project: writing for the soon-to-be-published "Rough Guide to Vintage London."

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