Travel has a definite allure. The opportunity to break from the routine and to experience something new offers the perfect antidote to the tedium of everyday life.
But travel also entails its own set of concerns and constraints. Flight delays, lost baggage and foul weather can quickly turn an alluring adventure into a travel nightmare. And the challenge of navigating an unfamiliar city and dealing with an unknown language and strange customs, cuisines and currencies can sometimes be overwhelming.
That is why the one of the most critical travel decisions is the selection of the right hotel. A good hotel can provide a place to retreat when plans go awry or when weariness sets in. The very best hotels are themselves a part of the travel experience, a place to which you would gladly return simply for its own sake.
In a prior post (here), I set out a few of my hotel recommendations. In this post, I add a few more based on more recent travel. I offer these suggestions for whatever use they may be for readers visiting the mentioned destinations. I also hope that by offering my recommendations, readers will be encouraged to add their own recommendations, using the comment feature in the right column.
I should note at the outset the criteria on which my hotel assessments are based. Although I believe that selection of the right hotel is one of the indispensable elements of successful travel, I am not a big believer in spending a lot of money on hotels. First of all, I am really cheap. Second of all, I find that the extra cost associated with expensive hotels rarely adds significantly to the value – and sometimes costly hotels are singularly uncomfortable places.
For me, the best hotels are quiet, clean and inexpensive, and provide a good base from which to explore the surroundings.
Based on these standards, the best hotel in which I have recently stayed is the Mandala Hotel in Berlin. The hotel is located on Potsdamer Strasse, adjacent to Potsdamer Platz, at the junction of former East Berlin and West Berlin. It is a new hotel and its rooms are sleek, modern and spacious. Each room has a kitchenette. The hotel has a modern fitness center and wi-fi is included in the cost of the room. It is walking distance from the Brandenberg Gate and the Tiergarten, and a block away from a major transport hub in the Platz. Across the street is the Sony Center, a multi-building structure with shops, theaters and restaurants. A single occupancy room is only about €170. (My travel post about Berlin can be found here.)
Another hotel that I enthusiastically recommend is the Gibson Hotel in Dublin (pictured at the top of this post). It is also a new hotel, with very modern rooms, a fully equipped fitness center and free wi-fi. The staff is friendly, cheerful and helpful. Every bit of tourist advice we received from the staff at the front desk was solid gold. The hotel is located at the terminus of the new Luas tram line and is a ten-minute walk along the Liffey River to the city center. The hotel was built at the tail end of the days of the Celtic Tiger, on the assumption that it would be surrounded by ranks of then-planned office towers. Most of the planned buildings were never built and so the hotel is forced to attract clientele based on price. Though this is a modern, upscale hotel, a single-occupancy room can run as low as €99. (My travel post about Dublin can be found here.)
By contrast to these two newer hotels, another hotel I am happy to give my highest recommendation to is an older, more traditional hotel in a very old and traditional city. The Old Bank Hotel is located on High Street in Oxford, directly across from All Souls College and in the heart of the ancient college town. It is a boutique hotel, with comfortable furnishings and original artwork. The cost of the hotel not only includes a sumptuous breakfast but also the opportunity to take a tour of the surrounding colleges with an expert tour guide. The rooms have an old fashioned elegance. This hotel is a little pricier than the others but well worth the cost. (The travel post in which I describe our visit to Oxford and other sites can be found here.)
Another more traditional hotel that I very much enjoyed is the Innside Madrid Genova, located on the Plaza Alonzo Martinez in Madrid. The hotel is located in a neoclassical 19th Century building that has been recently been retrofitted with modern hotel rooms. Breakfast, which includes one of the best cups of coffee I have ever enjoyed, is served in a bright, airy atrium. The hotel has a modern fitness center. It is located on one of the central metro lines. The Museo del Prado and the Buen Retiro Park are about a ten minute walk away, and the Malasaña district, with its lively street life, is nearby. A single occupancy hotel room is about €160 a night. (My travel post about Madrid can be found here.)
Finding a pleasant hotel in Europe is one thing, but it can be even more critical when traveling in Asia given the distances and the increased level of travel challenge involved. One hotel I am particularly happy to recommend is the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong. This hotel is unquestionably more expensive than my usual preferred hotels, but its location and accommodations would be very hard to beat. The hotel is located in the Pacific Place business district, adjacent to a very high end shopping mall full of shoppers from the Mainland intent on filling their suitcases with luxury goods. The hotel is walking distance from the Zoological Gardens, and nearby to the tram line that runs to the top of Victoria Peak. The varied breakfast buffet runs from traditional English breakfast to a full array of Asian choices. The hotel has a complete fitness center, which can be particularly important for helping to overcome jet lag. This hotel is not cheap, but it is worth it. (The travel post about my visit to Hong Kong can be found here.)
Another Asian hotel that I can recommend at least to first time visitors is the Westin in Beijing. Beijing can be a daunting and even overwhelming place, and for a first visit, I think many Americans would prefer to have a hotel that includes familiar comforts and reliable features. The Westin Hotel Financial Street in the Xi Cheng district may not be charming or even particularly distinctive, but it is very comfortable with well-appointed Western-style hotel rooms. The hotel has a complete fitness center and free wi-fi (although you can’t access Facebook, Twitter or Google). Though the hotel is pleasant but otherwise unremarkable, it does offer one amenity that more than makes up for everything else, and that is the absolutely astonishing breakfast buffet. The range of choices and quantity and quality of the food make the breakfast a truly wonderful experience. The hotel is located in a canyon of new, modern office buildings, so it is not the most ideal base for exploring, but the cabs are cheap and so it is easy to range around the city. Tiananmen Square is only a short cab ride away. Seasoned visitors may prefer a different hotel or a different location, but for a first time visitor to Beijing, the Westin does just fine. (The travel post about my Beijing visit can be found here.)
In my previous post about hotels, I described my then all-time favorite hotel, the Base2Stay in London. The hotel remains among my favorites, but after a recent series of extensive renovations, the hotel has changed its name. It is now known as the Nadler Kensington. I continue to favor this small hotel. The rooms and common areas are decorated in a simple Scandinavian style, which though perhaps austere to the point of severity, are practical and efficient. The location may not be fashionable, but it is functional – it is located a block from the Earl’s Court tube stop, on the Piccadilly Line (which also serves Heathrow), in an area with pubs, shops and cafes, and on a quiet street full of school kids and Mums pushing prams. The people who work at the hotel are friendly and helpful. A single occupancy room runs around £105 a night.
Though I remain a big fan of the hotel now known as the Nadler, I have also recently tried out a couple of other hotels in London that I am also happy to recommend. These two alternative hotels may present a more attractive choice for some visitors because of their locations. For visitors intended to sample the London theater scene, the Fielding Hotel near Covent Garden is a good choice. This small hotel is located on a short, quiet pedestrian street adjacent to the Royal Opera in the heart of the West End theater district. The rooms are small but charming, quiet and comfortable, and it would be pretty hard to beat the hotel’s location. It is surrounded by restaurants, pubs, and theaters and many of the city’s attractions are within easy walking distance. The hotel does not have a lift so this is not a good choice for someone with mobility issues but it is otherwise a little jewel of a hotel. A double occupancy room runs about £180 a night.
Another London hotel I can recommend in a quieter part of town is the Mornington Hotel, which is located in a quiet residential neighborhood just north of Hyde Park, near the Lancaster Gate tube station. The hotel is a short block from the Park and walking distance from the Paddington train station. The rooms are Spartan but clean and efficient. The proximity of Hyde Park and Kensington Garden make this hotel a great stop for visitors who want to enjoy London’s outdoor attractions. At the same time, owing to the proximity of the tube station, many of the city’s other attractions remain accessible. A single occupancy room runs about £130 a night. (My most recent travel post about visiting London can be found here.)
I have a few other European hotel recommendations as well. In Munich, I enjoyed a stay at the Pullman, a quiet, comfortable hotel in a mostly residential area at the Nordfriedhof station, just three stops from the city center on the main north-south U-bahn line. The Lufthansa bus from the airport stops directly opposite the hotel. The breakfast buffet is superb. In Barcelona, I stayed at the Hotel Alexandra, which is in an upscale shopping district, just a block away from the Rambla de Catalunya, the city’s famous boulevard with its pedestrian zone it its wide central median. The hotel is a good jumping off point for exploring the city. (My travel posts about Munich and Barcelona can be found here and here, respectively.)
When I am trying to locate a suitable hotel in an unfamiliar city, I rely on three resources: friends’ recommendations (for example, the Innside Genova in Madrid was the recommendation of a friend who lives nearby); Trip Advisor (which was how I found the Mandala in Berlin, the Old Bank in Oxford and the Gibson in Dublin); and Frommer’s (through which I found both the Fielding and the Mornington Hotels in London). Trip Advisor can be very good, and I find it reliable. However, there are some cities where it just has too many hotels – it is not very useful in London and New York, for example. Frommer’s is very safe and I find it a reliable source when traveling with my family. However, sometimes the Frommer’s preferred hotels can be, well, a little dull.
When I am looking for a hotel, I always prefer a friend’s recommendation, when it is available, and that is why I have taken the time to write this post. I wanted to make sure to pass along all of my best hotel recommendations, for whatever help they may be to others. By the same token, I hope that readers share their recommendations as well. I hope readers will take the time to post a note with their favored hotel recommendations, using the comment feature in the right hand column. As always, I welcome readers’ comments about my notes and observations as well.
Afterword: There is yet another reason why I wrote this post. This past holiday weekend, I was able to get away with my family to Pentwater, Michigan, our lakeside rural retreat (which I wrote about in a prior post, here). While away in Michigan, I enjoyed a number of extended, hours-long bike rides. As I pedaled away the miles, this blog post more or less wrote itself. It was in effect a mental exercise to accompany the physical exertion of the bike ride. I always return from vigorous exercise bursting with new ideas. I hope at least some of the other newly hatched ideas eventually find their way onto this site. For that matter, I hope I have a chance for further long bike rides and even more ideas.
In the meantime, I really do hope that readers will supplement this blog post with their own hotel recommendations. I look forward to hearing about everyone’s favorite hotel experiences.