My favorite London hotel — and why there isn’t a “best hotel” in town. Or most anywhere.
As a travel agent, there are many times I get asked “what’s the best hotel?” in a given place.
Now, no agent knows every city or resort area in the world personally. But even with places I know very well indeed, there really isn’t, to my mind, an answer. Because the answer can be completely different for different clients.
Of course, budget matters and price range will go a long way towards narrowing down my suggestions.
But even when money is no object, or not the number one factor, it’s still not that simple. Because one person’s “best hotel” can be another person’s “meh” at best. And value is relative.
I’m lucky enough to be able to travel to London regularly. So, for example, take my favorite London hotel, Dukes. It’s a small boutique property with a wonderful location on a quiet cul-de-sac. I’ll use it to illustrate why no one hotel is right for everyone.
Size — Dukes has 90 rooms, including 15 suites. This makes for more personal service, but some people like bigger hotels. Nothing wrong with that. Dukes has one restaurant, a drawing room-conservatory for tea, and a wonderful little bar — often hard to get into if you’re not a guest — where Ian Fleming is said to have been inspired for James Bonds’ “shaken not stirred” martini.
However, some travelers like multiple in-house dining options. Or a more modern or hip bar option. It’s not that celebrities never go to Dukes, but it is not a “see and be seen” kind of place. (The only celebrity I’ve ever seen at a London bar was Tom Jones at the Hyatt Regency.)
Dukes is also not big enough to have, say, an indoor pool, or a huge spa. And not being part of a big chain means you don’t get “points.” (And I get it, especially when you travel for business, but when you can use frequent stay points for personal travel, sometimes the best hotel is the best hotel within that chain.)
Having hotel staff recognize and welcome you when you walk in and out can be a plus — or a minus. Personally, I love seeing familiar faces. And things like having the bar staff remember your favorite drink as early as the second visit makes a hotel feel like home. But I’ve had clients tell me when they travel that they’d really prefer feeling more anonymous and not having to smile at anyone, especially in the morning.
Also, Dukes, with only five floors, has one elevator — a small one that isn’t particularly fast. But they’ll help get your luggage to the room, if need be. And, when I’ve stayed there I usually just walk up and down the stairs.
Location — I’m an Underground kind of person, and I like London buses, so Dukes’ location in a cul-de-sac near Green Park — about a five-minute walk if you use a little back pathway — works perfectly for me. But for a taxi right at the hotel front door, you generally need to have the doorman call one. And if you want to be RIGHT in the theatre district, or plan to spend all your time in museums, or South of the Thames, or in the East End, well, again, there might be better fits.
Traditional vs modern — Dukes is regularly renovated, and the rooms, while not generally huge, are lovely, with great beds, toiletries etc. But they’re British and the hotel is not going for the trendy crowd. In fact, Dukes doesn’t use the nearly ubiquitous key cards that most hotels use — they have old-fashioned KEYS, heavy ones that you leave at the front desk and pick up on your return. I find that charming. Not everyone does.
Views, or lack thereof — If it’s all about “the rooftops of London, coo what a sight,” then there are taller hotels in town with some amazing views. And some with rooftop bars. Dukes does not and never will have a rooftop bar.
These days, to borrow a millennial phrase, there’s a great deal of FOMO — fear of missing out. But, the point of all this is to remind travelers again, whether you use a travel agent or do your own research, that it’s not about the best hotel. It’s about the best hotel for YOU.