Classic hotels don't have to strain wallet



You can still see the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum and the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace, but little else has stayed the same in this flush, vibrantly multiethnic, culturally blossoming metropolis. Exchange-rate sticker shock and the high price of food and tourist attractions make London one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Still, pricey hotels keep opening there. But so do more affordable, unusual places - Yotels at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which have high-tech, prefabricated chambers modeled on first-class airline seating, and easyHotel, a capsule-style inn with bright orange rooms sized small, very small and tiny, for $69 to $89.

But, to me, London wouldn't be London without its old-fashioned mum-and-dad hotels.

Abbey House

This London budget classic has an enviable location, on a quiet square in the Royal Borough of Kensington, near the bustling shops, restaurants, bus stops and Tube station of High Street Kensington.

Abbey House occupies a dignified, yellow-brick Victorian formerly owned by a bishop and a member of Parliament. Inside, the foyer's black-and-white tile floor gleams, ceilings soar, wedding-cake plasterwork decorates the walls and the balustraded staircase mounts gracefully to four upper floors.

Beyond that, the place is unlikely to suit upper-crust tastes. It has no elevator or air conditioning. Abbey House's 16 rooms are neat and clean with TVs and sinks but no phones. Shared showers and toilets are in the hall.

Abbey House, 11 Vicarage Gate, Kensington; 011-44-207-727-2594, abbeyhouse Doubles from $130, including full English breakfast and taxes; larger rooms that sleep three to four from $158.

Mayflower Hotel

The Mayflower occupies one of the almost identical white-porticoed rowhouses of Earls Court, about a 10-minute walk west of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Earls Court neighborhood has a pleasing, up-and-coming air, as well as pedestrian shopping passageways, small ethnic restaurants and its own namesake Tube stop.

The hotel opened two years ago after a thorough conversion that gave the building a cool first-floor juice bar, smooth stone floors, a reception desk framed by a huge wooden carving from Jaipur, India, and 47 rooms. Tending toward small but stylish, the rooms have high ceilings, Egyptian cotton sheets, Internet access, wide-screen TVs and marble baths.

Mayflower Hotel, 26-28 Trebovir Road, Earls Court; 011-44-207-370-0991, may Doubles from $149, including breakfast and taxes.

Pavilion Hotel

Sussex Gardens, another enclave of budget hostelries near Paddington Station, stretches somewhat monotonously between Hyde Park and Regent's Park. From the sidewalk, everything looks respectably buttoned-up.

But once you open the door at the Pavilion Hotel, you are in a netherworld where Dickens' Miss Havisham meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The walls are chockablock with portraits of unidentified dignitaries, sconces and heavy fabrics in leopard print and Oriental silk.

The Pavilion, hip and gleefully over the top, may not be for families or the AARP crowd. Themed chambers include the Enter the Dragon, the '70s tribute Honky Tonk Afro and Better Red Than Dead, an opera in crimson, claret and vermilion. All have private baths, satellite TV and phones but tend to be cramped, with fantastical beds occupying most of the floor space. There is no elevator.

Pavilion Hotel, 34-36 Sussex Gardens, Sussex Gardens; 011-44-207-262-0905, Doubles from $175, including breakfast and taxes (credit card transactions 4 percent higher).

Portobello Gold

This is a friendly Notting Hill spot known for its excellent selection of wines by the glass. Like many English pubs, it has rooms above the bar, but the ones at this little place are far more cheerful, comfy and well-maintained than at others.

All eight chambers - from the spacious, four-poster honeymoon suite to the twin-bedded backpacker room - are shipshape, with attached baths, telephones, television and wireless Internet access. A top-floor flat sleeps six, boasting a fish tank and private terrace with putting green. But the best buys are the four doubles on the third floor. They are decorated in warm yellows and beiges and have inviting duvets and big windows overlooking the back.

The neighborhood, full of small junk and specialty shops, is where Hugh Grant fell for Julia Roberts in the 1999 movie Notting Hill. Saturday mornings bring the famous Portobello Road thrift market to the pub's front door and, in late August, the wild Notting Hill Carnival passes by.

Portobello Gold, 95/97 Portobello Road, Notting Hill; 011-44-207-460-4910, Doubles from $123, including breakfast and taxes.

Premier Travel Inn

The Premier Travel Inn London County Hall is part of the city's biggest budget hotel chain. It occupies the former quarters of the Greater London Council and has 313 spotless, utilitarian, cookie-cutter rooms with built-in furnishings and practical carpets aligned along endless blank halls. Downstairs, a restaurant, bar and lobby are decorated with all the charm of an emergency-room waiting area.

But what you get for your money at the London County Hall is a reliable place to stay in one of the city's best locations. The hotel is across the street from Waterloo Station, with its Tube, train and Eurostar stations, and underneath the London Eye, the city's giant Ferris wheel.

Premier Travel Inn London County Hall, Belvedere Road, South Bank; 011-44-870-238-3300, premiertravelinn. com. Doubles $161, including taxes.

Susan Spano writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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