London’s Secret Small Hotels

These small hotel gems are among London’s best assets. The biggest perk? They’re so homey you’ll forget you’re a paying guest.

40 Winks
Micro-Hotel 40 Winks. Courtesy of 40 Winks

New York fashion executive Jonathan Crespo, 30, has a frantic domestic travel schedule, but hadn’t visited England until a few months ago. Before that first transatlantic trip, one aspect consumed him: finding the perfect intimate London hotel.

“Searching online, I looked for keywords like charming, lovely, comfortable, instead of worrying about free breakfast or what the service was like,” recalls Crespo.

As a seasoned traveler, Crespo’s instincts were well honed: the British capital excels at chic, small-scale hotels that often present a better value than the corporate giants. No wonder, given that the city center groans with grand townhouses that were built as single-family homes during the British Empire’s two-century heyday—and that now offer ideal skeletons to convert into grand yet inviting hotels.

More than any other capital in Europe, London can boast about its array of bed-and-breakfasts and guesthouses infused with local character. These homey hideouts—sometimes with just two rooms—feel more like staying with accommodating friends than in an anonymous corporate room. And that doesn’t mean you need to scrimp on service or amenities.

Some of our favorite small hotels are tucked into the center of London, practically hiding in plain sight and just waiting for in-the-know travelers to check in. Consider the Milestone Hotel, which has a desirable location directly opposite Kensington Palace (home to the royal newlyweds William and Kate) and exudes an old-fashioned country-house décor. The antiques were snapped up at Christie’s.

Other small hotels require venturing to London’s up-and-coming or underappreciated areas. The micro-hotel 40 Winks cropped up in a Queen Anne building in the fast-gentrifying Mile End district. As the impish name might suggest, it looks as if Dorian Gray had renovated a Venetian palazzo; expect lots of gold, exquisite antiques, and too-much-is-never-enough aesthetics.

What the best small hotels of London share is an oh-so-British hospitality. Yes, a few serve tea, and there are traditions to be nurtured. At a longstanding Soho property, be sure to duck into the library to find signed copies of books left by overnighting authors. It’s just one of the London secrets we can’t resist letting out.

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No. 5 Maddox Street

No. 5 Maddox Street
(Courtesy of No. 5 Maddox Street)

The 12 Asian-inspired suites (Chinese trunks; kimonos) are more flats than hotel rooms: each has a kitchen; some have balconies. The witty mini-bar divides treats into “good” (organic pasta), “bad” (jelly beans), and “baddest” (full-fat ice cream). 5 Maddox St., Mayfair; 44-20/7647-0200; living-rooms.co.uk; doubles from $405.

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Milestone Hotel

Milestone Hotel
(James Merrell)

A T+L World’s Best Award–winning hotel exuding old-fashioned country-house glamour, directly opposite Kensington Palace (home to the royal newlyweds). The antiques were snapped up at Christie’s. Doubles from $390.

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Hazlitt’s Hotel

Hazlitt's Hotel
(James Merrell)

Dating back to 1718, this string of town houses was once home to essayist William Hazlitt. Duck into the library—there’s a long-standing tradition that authors who overnight here leave a signed copy of their work. Doubles from $260.

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20 Nevern Square

20 Nevern Square
(James Merrell)

Hand-carved furniture; overstuffed pillows; tasseled curtains: is this the Edwardian house of an eccentric Raj-era expat? No, it’s a joyously maximalist hotel in Earl’s Court. Book the Pasha Suite for a terrace on the square. 20 Nevern Square, Earl’s Court; 44-20/7565-9555; 20nevernsquare.com; doubles from $125.

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Main House

Main House
(James Merrell)

Former DJ and safari guide Caroline Main hand-selected every item, whether animal skin or original painting, for her four-suite hotel in a whitewashed house. The genial proprietor delivers piping-hot coffee every morning. Doubles from $175.

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The Jesmond

Jesmond Hotel
(Courtesy of Jesmond Hotel)

Among the many affordable bed-and-breakfasts clustered together in converted mansions in the Bloomsbury area, minutes’ walk from the central artery of Oxford Street, the Jesmond is a true standout. For starters, the same family has been in charge for more than 30 years—and they’re still as welcoming as on day one. The cozy rooms have marble fireplaces, while the English garden out back is a true neighborhood rarity. 63 Gower St.; 44-20/7636-3199; jesmondhotel.org.uk; doubles from $125.

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The Colonnade

The Colonnade
(Courtesy of The Colonnade)

Little Venice is one of London’s most unjustly overlooked areas, and between its waterways you’ll find this 43-room hotel created by merging two Victorian mansions. (JFK and Sigmund Freud are both past guests after whom suites are now named.) The interiors look much like an artsy aunt’s trinket-filled guesthouse. From giant vases of fresh flowers in reception to four-posted beds and heavy silk drapes, the look is utterly English and terribly charming. 2 Warrington Crescent; 44-20/7286-1052; theetoncollection.co.uk; doubles from $309.

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Forty Winks

40 Winks
(Courtesy of 40 Winks)

The name’s a tip-off to the witty décor and vibe at this stylish micro-hotel, run by interior designer David Carter. He repurposed an old Queen Anne townhouse on a grubby strip in Mile End, one of the capital’s fast-gentrifying districts. Carter now welcomes guests to one of two specially designed rooms, which look as if Dorian Gray had renovated a Venetian palazzo (lots of gold, exquisite antiques, too-much-is-never-enough aesthetics). 109 Mile End Rd.; 44-20/7790-0259; 40winks.org; singles from $164 per night, doubles from $274, including breakfast.

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