There’s no easy answer to this common question.
In this feature we explore the pros and cons and then present you a good value, well-rated hotel that may potentially offer the “best of both worlds”.
How then is “central London” actually defined?
The London tube system defines the city into various “zones” and this seems a good starting point. For the sake of this analysis we’ve assumed “central London” as anywhere in zones 1 and 2 of the tube map.
Advantages of staying in “central” London:
- Save time and money on travel if you only want the iconic “sights”.
- Great choice of services and facilities e.g. shopping, eating, etc.
- Mostly safe around tourist hotspots with visible police presence, though some petty crime (e.g. pickpockets).
- Easy access to airports and rest of the UK. The big railway hubs in central London (e.g. St. Pancras, Paddington, etc.) link you to just about anywhere in the UK and Europe.
Disadvantages of being in the centre:
- You probably won’t meet as many “real” Londoners in the centre.
- Central London often more expensive for basics e.g. eating, transport.
- Outer London provides access to countryside and hiking/cycling trails.
- It’s a hassle to drive and park in central London.
The above is of course over-simplified.
“Central London” actually consists of several different areas – some could even be termed “villages” with their own distinctive character e.g. Fitzrovia, Kensington, Notting Hill, etc.
And if you’re “stuck” in the centre of town then a lazy day in one of London’s major parks may be as good as a day in the country.
If you do elect to stay in “outer London”, the north has a different character and accessibility to the south, likewise the east versus the west.
The convenience of your location also depends on the airport you’re using to fly in and out of the city. Check connections before you book your hotel.
The best of both worlds?
An ideal compromise could be to stay in an area like Hampstead: “central” enough (a few stops away by tube) and yet “feeling” out of town.
And as far as hotels near Hampstead go, you could do a lot worse than the well-regarded Holiday Inn Express – Swiss Cottage.
This modern and functional hotel is on Finchley Road, just outside the London congestion charge zone. The hotel is in a busy area opposite a shopping centre and cinema.
Management appears to be attentive and recent guest reviews have found it very hard to fault – especially given the reasonable room rate.
I recall a meeting with the Head of Marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group (who run the hotel) when he shared the results of their in-depth customer research for the “Holiday Inn Express” brand.
He told me they put a lot of effort in providing “the basics” (particularly a good shower and a decent breakfast) at the right price.
And he was emphatic about the “fair price” part. For this particular hotel at least, they may be achieving their goal.
The hotel is also right opposite Finchley Road tube so you’ll be able to waltz into London at will, or alternatively walk to the gorgeous Hampstead Heath if you prefer (less than a couple of miles away).
Finally, if you take low-cost flights into London’s Stansted or Luton airports then the very efficient direct coach services stop very close to the hotel.
Photo credits: Holiday Inn Express.