London: Insider Info

London: Insider Info - London, United Kingdom

Alex Robertson Textor visited hotels in London and wrote the hotel reviews in this guide. After his experience, we asked Alex to tell us about his experience scouting out hotels in the city, plus other thoughts on visiting the city like a local.

Amsterdam,Hotel London

The three-star Amsterdam Hotel in Earls Court is a Cheapo favorite.

What are your favorite hotels in London?

The best bargain in London, barring hostels, is very likely easyHotel. The easyHotel South Kensington is much less garish than I’d feared, and, if timed right, very cheap. Among the best hostels for cleanliness, mood, and budget concerns are YHA Earls Court, Hyde Park Hostels, and YHA Holland House.

There are a number of hotels that represent great value in London, places that may not be rock bottom in the pricing tables but where rates are reasonable and staff is uncommonly sweet and devoted. Among these, I favor Celtic Hotel, Crescent Hotel, and Amsterdam. You’ll be well taken care of at these hotels.

If I wanted to splurge but still keep things within budget, I’d stay at Vancouver Studios or Base2Stay. The former sports dainty suites and a gorgeous garden; the latter splashy, neatly modern rooms. Both are real winners within their price points.

What was your favorite thing about working in London?

London’s neighborhoods are distinctive and fascinating, and updating the London city guide for EuroCheapo meant that I was able to see many parts of the city. London really feels limitless in terms of variety and depth, and it was thrilling to be able to see as much of it as I did.

What surprised you about London?

I’d done a lot of research before getting to London, but I was truly surprised by the cost index. I’d recommend that Americans in London not constantly convert prices and fares back into dollars.

It makes more sense to simply come up with a budget based on estimates of hotel rates, meal costs, and daily expenses in British pounds, and just stick with that. You could drive yourself crazy stressing out about the $12 cup of hot chocolate or the $25 Kew Gardens admissions charge. Do your advance research, figure out a reasonable budget, and stick to it.

Funny London story.

I talk more about London’s unique situation with hotels in the hotel scene article here.

In brief, I’ll just say that people running hotels in London are, on average, less friendly than people running hotels in just about every other European city I’ve visited in my hotel reviewing days.

So when I was offered a coffee by Andreas, the Greek Cypriot manager of Stylotel, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Andreas apologized for being bad at making coffee and offered instead to whip me up a freddo, the foamy iced-coffee drink popular in Greece and Cyprus. It was delicious, and took me back to the week I spent reviewing hotels in Athens, hopped up on sugar and caffeine from all the freddos offered to me by hotel proprietors.

Borough Market London

London's Borough Market offers a fun and local experience for those willing to see more than the museums and main attractions of the city. Photo: Magnus D.

Tell us a London city secret.

There are so many of them. Here’s one, though it’s really more a piece of advice: buy—or at least look at—Time Out’s London for Londoners and 1000 Things to Do in London . They’re both action-packed guides to the city, and they’ll enable you to pierce the city’s protective veil. You’ll learn which tourist attractions are deemed by locals to be worth a visit, and you’ll leave with a richer sense of the city’s quirks and hidden corners.

London’s incredible markets shouldn’t be missed, either. There are food markets, like the very exciting Borough Market, as well as bric-a-brac and artists’ markets. Brick Lane on Sundays is quite interesting. Even the tiny little community book market in Hampstead turned up some great items, including an old map of the Shetland Islands.

What was your favorite local food item?

Tough to pick. I love the attention to organic food and traceability in the UK. Yogurt labels, for example, will include all sorts of information about where the cows producing the yogurt in question graze.

I love the bacon, the pickled vegetables in sandwiches, the dry ciders, seasonal fruits like rhubarb, and all the fab dairy products on hand, including clotted cream. And toffee puddings. Can’t forget those.

Turkish Market Green Lanes

Filled with cheap Turkish markets and restaurants, the Green Lanes neighborhood is a hidden gem for affordable eats. Photo: claire_doble.

Where can we find cheap food in London?

London is an expensive city. There’s just no way around it. Even a relatively inexpensive takeaway will set you back a good £10. A simple, straightforward meal at a gastropub will run £20 if you’re lucky, for a main and a starter or dessert with a drink.

That said, London is not quite so terrifyingly dear at lunchtime. There are a number of chains in the city, including Pret a Manger, Eat, and Benugo, where it’s possible to get out with a sandwich and a drink for as little as £4.

Cheaper yet are the prepared sandwiches on sale at British supermarket chains. At branches of Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose, and Sainsbury’s markets, among others, you’ll find freshly prepared sandwiches for as little as £2, as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, bread, cheese, meat, and other ingredients for inexpensive dining and snacking.

There are also neighborhoods known for inexpensive food. One example, itself a very cute ‘hood that gets few tourists, is Green Lanes, where you can feast on Turkish delicacies for cheap.

For more budget-friendly food tips, check out Meredith Franco’s helpful London Cheap Eats briefing.

Highlight of reviewing period.

I had the incredibly good fortune to live in London for eight weeks while my partner worked a temporary job there. I kept myself busy with all sorts of things—visiting hotels for EuroCheapo’s London city guide, other freelance gigs for clients at home, urban exploration, and little trips around the UK and beyond. It was a glorious eight weeks, and it’s hard to pinpoint one highlight.

That said, the following are from my hall of fame: ascending Primrose Hill on a perfect late spring day; being led on tours of Hampstead Heath, Maida Vale, and Osterley Park by long-term London residents; drinking perfect flat whites at a café called Flat White; eating Nordic Bakery’s kick-ass Finnish cinnamon buns; discovering interesting neighborhoods like Green Lanes, Deptford, Whitechapel, and Little Venice; chancing upon charming pubs by accident; and last but not least, learning to distinguish between dry and extra dry ciders.