In London's luxury hotel business, once you've achieved the highest class of service, it's all about location, location, location. That is, you really should be within a 10-minute walk of Hyde Park Corner and less than a mile from Buckingham Palace. That's the clear lesson from this year's list of London's 10 Best Hotels, as determined by the board of experts, who rated nearly 800 of the world's best hotels for their rooms, service, decor, cuisine, public areas, recreational options and — yes — location.
This year's list of London hotels varies greatly, from boutique hotels and even charming lodgings in converted stables to large modern edifices managed by multinational hospitality chains. They have two things in common: They feature some of the finest service in the world and they're convenient to the best of London's many cultural and historic sites.
Starting closest to Buckingham Palace and working generally northward toward Mayfair, we begin with The Goring, near the Royal Mews right behind the palace itself. A 71-room, family-owned property frequented by heads of state since its 1910 inception, The Goring's history is delightfully rich. The first hotel in the world to boast en suite bathrooms in every guestroom, The Goring was used during World War I as a command center for the chief of Allied Forces. In other words, at times the entire Allied war effort was essentially run from the hotel's kitchen. Incidentally, the best room here isn't hard to find; it's called the Best Room.
Ten minutes' walk up Grosvenor Place, there's the Lanesborough, standing proudly at Hyde Park Corner opposite the former home of the Duke of Wellington. Described by one Forbes Traveler expert as "the quintessential executive's hotel," the Lanesborough features 24-hour butler service and a Royal Suite whose floor-to-ceiling windows offer fine views of the Wellington Arch and the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Afternoon tea here is among the best in the city, with two dozen varieties on offer — black tea, white tea, yellow tea, oolong, herbal infusions ... the works. The spa studio offers massages, jetlag treatments, manicures, pedicures and even a caviar facial.
Along the edge of Hyde Park, in the shopping mecca of Knightsbridge, the Mandarin Oriental features four separate 1000-square-foot Presidential Suites — and they aren't even the best on offer. The Sovereign Suite is 30 percent larger, while the Royal Suite is 1500 square feet and has a balcony running the length of the unit. ("A breakfast overlooking the park makes a perfect start to the day," said one reviewer.) They also offer one of the best spas in England, with eight treatment rooms, a steam room, gym and a color therapy relaxation area.
Northeast across Hyde Park, the Dorchester Hotel is "near perfection," according to one Forbes Traveler 400 board member — as well as T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, Johnny Depp and other luminaries who have stayed here. Gen. Eisenhower stayed here in 1942; his first-floor digs are now the Eisenhower Suite. Upstairs, the Oliver Messel Suite, named for the famous theater designer, was favored by Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. Three suites on the hotel's top floor have been given a complete redesign by the world-renowned Alexandra Champalimaud, whose work echoes the building's 1931 roots while remaining resolutely modern.
Heading up Park Lane and turning right onto Mount Street, you'll come upon The Connaught, located squarely in the heart of upscale Mayfair. Built in 1897, a major renovation has given the hotel an exquisite modern upgrade. The Guy Oliver-refurbished guest rooms retain the basic forms of Edwardian style while adding fresh touches like Greek marble bathrooms. Downstairs, the Connaught Bar updates the building's Edwardian roots with pale pastels, dark leather chairs and artistic touches from Deco to Cubism. The restaurant is overseen by Hélène Darroze, whose roots are in southwest France but whose reputation is among the top in London. Shoppers will love the location, within easy reach of Bond and Oxford streets.
Location is, in fact, the most pronounced unifying trait of London's finest properties. The list is so geographically concentrated, in fact, that eight of the 10 picks are clustered within one mile of each other in the Mayfair, Knightsbridge, St. James and Kensington neighborhoods of London; one could easily visit all eight lobbies on foot in less than an hour. The good news is, no matter which property you choose, you'll be enveloped by England's rich history and culture the moment you step outside. Which hotel you prefer ultimately comes down to your personal taste in decor, dining and amenities.