2. Staying in London

For the eight years I lived in Paris, I often traveled to London for weekend Anglophone breaks. Probably more than I should have, I imposed on my friend Paul to stay in his excellent house in Greenwich, but I have also spent many a night in hotels. London can be brutally expensive, but there are alternatives.

My favorite place to stay is Searcy's Roof Garden Rooms. Searcy's is a catering/restaurant company that has a facility at 30 Pavillion Road, which is almost literally in the shadow of Harrods. Most of the site has to do with the company's catering activities, but there is a 10-room bed-and-breakfast operation on the top three floors. Each room is different, but most of them make you feel as if you are staying in a movie-set version of an English country house. All of the rooms have private bathrooms with adequate water pressure, you get your own telephone number and you can plug in your computer (you'll probably need a British phone adapter). The beds are so comfortable that you can oversleep, but the excellent breakfasts -- Continental not English -- are delivered to your room and help you get going in the morning. There is a 24-hour garage right across the street, so this is a convenient place to stay if you want to take a car trip somewhere else in Britain (see my miscellaneous photos page for one idea) and either start or end your stay in London. If you rent a car at the airport, you can save the taxi fares to and from Heathrow or, more likely, Paddington (which has an efficient rail service to the airport). The parking, however, is not cheap.

Searcy's is appropriate for business travelers, although it has one highly funky element: you get in and out of the building through a creaky red-leather-lined freight elevator. Once you register, you get a key to call the elevator, which stops on the middle floor of the B&B area (so you may have to take your luggage up or down one flight of stairs).

As B&B's go, this is an expensive place to stay, but for luxury accommodations in Knightsbridge, it is incredibly cheap. You can often get rooms at a discount via LateRooms.com, (itself a good service to know about) if you are booking within two weeks of your stay. Click here to go directly to the Searcy's page.

Searcy's does not widely publicize the Roof Garden Rooms, but if you go its homepage click on Venues, then 30 Pavillion Road, and then Bedrooms, you can get more information and see photos of the rooms. The site also has booking information.

Note the almost uniformly positive reviews on Trip Advisor.


When I can't get a room at Searcy's, I call the Swiss House Hotel. It isn't as luxurious or quirky as Searcy's, but it isn't all that far away. It is located in South Kensington, also a nice place to stay (and not all that geographically far away from Knightsbridge), and livelier at night. This hotel can also be booked on Laterooms.com; its page is here.


If you are the backpacking type and don't mind shared facilities, there are any number of bed & breakfast inns that can provide acceptable  accommodations for a night or two. Many of these are near the Earl's Court underground station or Victoria Station (the main bus depot and a big train terminal), but  my favorites are a pair in Kensington, the Abbey House and the Vicarage Hotel. They are located next to each other on (the Brits would say "in") Vicarage Gate, which is just off of Kensington Church Street and not far from Kensington High Street, a good place for clothes shopping. They are nicer than the run-of-the-mill B&Bs, very clean and quiet. Because they are popular, it can be tough to get a room, and I have had better luck calling them when I got to London and hoping to snag a cancellation than trying to make a reservation.


I found Searcy's in the 1991 edition of a book called "Cheap Sleeps in London" by Sandra A. Gustafson. It also listed the Swiss House, the Abbey and the Vicarage although I already knew about those. The title of that book was a slight misnomer, by "cheap" the author meant "good value" not "inexpensive" in an absolute sense. The 2002 incarnation of this book is called "Great Sleeps London," and if I couldn't get a room at Searcy's or the Swiss House, I'd buy the latest edition for more ideas. You can order it from Amazon.com, and although I haven't seen this version yet, the index does still list Searcy's and Swiss House. If you agree with my taste in hotels, you'll probably agree with hers. Her write-up of Searcy's in the 1991 book was hilarious.



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