Great Affordable City Hotels
How does $160 a night sound?
It’s true: staying at Main House, an intimate boutique property in Notting Hill—one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Europe, if not the world—is almost cheaper than staying home. And it’s not the only hotel of its kind. For those who know where to look, there are actually lots of petite, extraordinary, wallet-friendly lodgings (where low prices reflect the property’s modest size, not a deficiency in style or a low-economy special)—even in the world’s priciest cities.
There are tricks to finding truly special small hotels—and most of them involve looking beyond the usual booking-engine searches. Author Tim Leffel, who specializes in seeking out and writing about great travel values (his latest book is titled Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide to Getting More for Less), says that many of the most authentic, stylish urban accommodations aren’t even listed on Web sites like expedia.com or orbitz.com.
“Small hotels that have real character, a real sense of place, can be hard to find,“ Leffel says. “Some are family-owned, and others just don’t have the marketing resources to get listed on the big American booking sites. That’s why when you’re looking [on those sites], especially for places to stay in big cities, you usually find yourself scrolling through page after page of chain hotels.”
A better idea, Leffel says, is to hunt down smaller Web sites that cater specifically to certain destinations (venere.com, a portal for travel in Italy, and travelfish.org, which focuses on Southeast Asia, are two examples he gives). Such sites are usually run by people who live in the countries they cover; many are even hosted by expats who’ve fallen in love with their adopted homes (and who don’t mind sharing their knowledge with other travelers).
Another source for locating under-the-radar hotel gems, says Leffel, is the good old-fashioned guidebook. Since guidebook writers usually have to cover a lot of territory on a tight budget, it’s in their own best interest to find cost-effective lodgings that retain lots of local flavor. And finding the best guidebooks for your preferred destination won’t even cost you anything; you can comparison-shop at your local library or bookstore.
Doing such research can be well worth the effort. You may uncover rare treasures like Novecento Boutique Hotel, a historic nine-room locanda (guesthouse) in Venice just a few minutes’ walk from St. Mark’s Cathedral. Or like the Hotel Côté Cour, in Beijing, a sumptuous converted mansion in the “Old City,” where the rooms surround a courtyard of blooming cherry and magnolia trees. Both these lodgings, and plenty more, can be had for less than $250 a night.
So even if the economy’s got you down, says Leffel, there’s no reason you can’t still stay—and stay in style—in some of the world’s great cities.
"You can still travel,” Leffel says. “You just need to travel smarter."
Main House, London
The Hotel: Staying at Caroline Main’s uniquely converted, 1840s Victorian terrace house lets you feel like a stylish London apartment dweller. The hotel has just four spacious, wood-floored suites; each occupies its own floor, and is decorated simply but exquisitely with an eclectic assortment of antiques and objets (wrought-iron chandeliers, ornate gilt-framed mirrors, animal-skin rugs). If you’d like to entertain in your “flat,” a special doorbell lets you buzz in your friends.
The Locale: Notting Hill, a famously posh neighborhood near the northwest corner of Hyde Park, has streets lined with ivy-covered townhouses, upscale boutiques, and intimate eateries. The legendary antique shops and Saturday markets of Portobello Road are just steps from the hotel.
The Bottom Line: Rates for all suites are the same, about $160 per night; in most cases there’s a three-night minimum.Great Affordable City Hotels
Whitelaw Hotel, Miami
The Hotel: White-on-white (apart from the touches of shocking pink), whimsical but still classy, the Whitelaw embodies Miami Beach’s combination of old-school kitsch and sleek modern design. The 49 rooms all have crystal chandeliers, beds with ornate padded headboards, and watermelon-colored walls embellished with graffiti-style designs; a similar aesthetic prevails in the lobby lounge—where free cocktails are served every night at 7. The patio, with its umbrella-shaded tables overlooking Collins Avenue, is great for people-watching.
The Locale: Smack in the center of Miami’s historic Art Deco district, the Whitelaw is surrounded by one of the world’s greatest collections of 1930s and ’40s architecture. But while the pastel buildings and boardwalk still evoke the beachside glamour of decades past, the major-league decadence of modern-day South Beach—velvet-rope dance clubs, bars, restaurants, and gorgeous young things wearing as little as possible—is just a few minutes’ walk north (add a few more minutes if you’re wearing stiletto sandals).
The Bottom Line: Standard rooms with two double beds start at $229 per night; those with a single king bed start at $249.Great Affordable City Hotels
Hotel Côté Cour, Beijing
The Hotel: A historic courtyard mansion turned boutique inn, the Côté Cour’s 14 stylishly appointed rooms surround an inner sanctum of blooming magnolia and cherry trees, where parakeets sing from bamboo cages. Garden-view deluxe rooms are spacious, with carved-wood king-size beds, sumptuously colored rugs and textiles, and sleek modern baths with both walk-in glass showers and huge freestanding tubs. Breakfast and afternoon cocktails are served daily in the airy, art-filled lounge.
The Locale: Set in the inner city of “Old Beijing”, the hotel abuts a protected historic district of bustling, lively hutongs (alleyways). The city’s most famous shopping neighborhood, Wangfujing, is within easy walking distance.
The Bottom Line: Standard rooms with queen-size beds start at around $170 per night; deluxe rooms with king-size beds and garden views are around $230.Great Affordable City Hotels
Hotel Le Saint-Grégoire, Paris
The Hotel: This handsome dormered 18th-century building was once a private mansion; now its 20 rooms (along with a firelit lobby and a stone cellar–cum–breakfast alcove) are overseen by a friendly, impressively multilingual staff. Guest quarters are small, but prettily and individually decorated with antique wood furniture, fresh white linens, and understated floral fabrics, as in une maison de campagne.
The Locale: Set on a quiet Sixth Arrondissement street between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Montparnasse, the hotel is a perfect base for exploring Paris’s most famous sights. The Luxembourg Gardens and the city’s oldest church, Saint-Germain-des-Prés (not to mention its most venerable department store, Le Bon Marché) are just a 10-minute walk away; Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower are just 15 minutes away by metro.
The Bottom Line: Superior rooms with double beds start at about $235.Great Affordable City Hotels
Novecento Boutique Hotel, Venice
The Hotel: Like the home of an exotic world traveler, this tiny jewel-box of an inn is filled with unusual art, gorgeous textiles, and unique furnishings from far-flung locales like Asia and North Africa. The nine guest rooms are uniquely kitted out with bedsteads of elaborately carved wood or iron scrollwork; embroidered wall hangings, rugs, and throw pillows; and tiled bathrooms with old-fashioned basins (and, occasionally, old-fashioned water pressure). The common areas include a second-floor sitting room where you can play chess in front of the fireplace, a breakfast area where pastries and fresh-made cappuccino are served in the mornings; and a tiny, lovely garden courtyard.
The Locale: On a quiet little street in the San Marco District, the inn is removed enough from the city’s well-worn tourist paths to feel peaceful—but still just a 10-minute walk from the Piazza di San Marco or the Ponte dell’Accademia, which spans the Grand Canal toward two of Venice’s greatest art museums, the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
The Bottom Line: Double rooms start at about $190 per night.Great Affordable City Hotels
Sumahan on the Water , Istanbul
The Hotel: Once a 19th-century Ottoman distillery, this 20-room property sits right alongside the Bosporus. Enormous windows in the minimalist-chic rooms (many of which have wood-burning fireplaces) overlook palace spires, the Bosporus Bridge, and the sea dotted with sailboats; the view is equally good from your platform bed as it is from your expansive glassed-in shower. The hotel’s terrace restaurant serves just-caught seafood; in the beautifully domed marble hammam, attendants scrub, massage, and steam away any lingering traces of jet lag.
The Locale: Just outside the seaside village of Çengelköy, where seafood restaurants and charming wooden houses line a waterfront promenade. Sumahan’s gleaming wooden launch can ferry you to the spectacular Byzantine Dolmabahçe Palace in 15 minutes; the sights of Sultanahmet (like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque) are a half-hour’s ride.
The Bottom Line: Deluxe rooms with queen-size beds start at about $240 per night.Great Affordable City Hotels
International House Hotel, New Orleans
The Hotel: An elegant, 1906 Beaux-Arts-style building houses this gem of a hotel, with interiors done by L.A.-based celebrity designer LM Pagano (Johnny Depp’s favorite). Décor in the 134 rooms and suites is refined without being fussy—damask bedding, tufted armchairs, ornate light fixtures, and lazily spinning ceiling fans are offset by high ceilings, huge windows overlooking the city skyline, and sleek, modern baths. Jasmine white tea martinis are served in the candlelit, velvet-upholstered, slightly Gothic bar—appropriately called Loa, the voodoo term for “divine spirits.”
The Locale: Although it’s technically in the Central Business District, the hotel is just a couple blocks south of the French Quarter—which means the historic balconied homes of Royal Street, the gardens and buskers of Jackson Square, and the city’s most fabulous restaurants, antique shops, and live music venues are moments away.
The Bottom Line: Deluxe queen rooms start at $189 per night.Great Affordable City Hotels
Washington Jefferson Hotel, New York City
The Hotel: The Washington Jefferson’s 135 rooms are on the petite side (a few might even qualify as ultra-petite), but their style and amenities stand up to those at much pricier hotels. All have padded-headboard beds with goose-down duvets, Frette linens and towels, and iPod docking stations. The common areas—including a fitness room and Japanese restaurant—are also small, but choice (New York Yankee Hideki Matsui has been known to stop by for sushi).
The Locale: Although slightly off the beaten path in Hell’s Kitchen, the hotel is an easy (and equidistant) walk from the Theater District, the swanky shops of Fifth and Madison avenues, and Central Park. It’s also set on a street lined with lively restaurants and bars.
The Bottom Line: Deluxe rooms (with two twin- or queen-size beds) start at $150; Superior rooms, with king-size beds and Jacuzzi tubs, are around $180.Great Affordable City Hotels
Art Hotel, Buenos Aires
The Hotel: Occupying a stately, renovated, century-old townhouse, the Art Hotel lives up to its name: the grand, high-ceilinged ground floor (which has a cozy library lounge and breakfast area) does double duty as a gallery, and each of the 36 clean-lined, wood-floored rooms is decorated with paintings, photos, and drawings by Argentine artists.
The Locale: The posh, tree-lined district of Recoleta is home to Buenos Aires’s National Museum of Fine Arts; the architecturally spectacular Recoleta Cemetery (burial place of Eva Perón); and many of the city’s five-star (and five-dollar-sign) lodgings. Avenida Santa Fe, one of the city’s toniest shopping strips, is just a five-minute stroll from the hotel.
The Bottom Line: Queen rooms start at about $145, King rooms at $165, and Kings with private balconies, $195.Great Affordable City Hotels
Number 31, Dublin
The Hotel: Old-world elegance meets hipster mod at this intimate, walled compound, where the 21 rooms are spread between a classical Georgian townhouse and two architect-overhauled carriage houses. Rooms in the former have high ceilings with ornate crown molding, espresso-colored walls, wingback chairs, and (in some cases) original fireplaces; those in the latter have a groovier aesthetic, with recessed lighting, modernist furnishings, and a communal sunken lounge where leather banquettes surround a fireplace. In the morning, you can fuel up with house-made breads and marmalades or a “Full Irish” (bacon, sausage, eggs, tomato, and potato cake) in the sunny breakfast nook.
The Locale: Although Number 31 sits on a quiet street, it’s right in Dublin’s city center. St. Stephen’s Green is just two blocks away; the National Gallery Museum is just a little farther; and a 20-minute stroll brings you to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle.
The Bottom Line: Standard double rooms start at about $160 per night; larger Superior doubles start at around $190.Great Affordable City Hotels
Condesa DF, Mexico City
The Hotel: A wedge-shaped, French Neoclassical–style building from the 1920s got a funky-mod overhaul in 2005, when hotelier Jonathan Morr and interior designer India Mahdavi reimagined it as a boutique hotel. Now the 40 smallish guest rooms are a boho-chic mix of natural elements (stone floors, wood paneling, alpaca-wool rugs) and futuristic, whimsical details (sculptural basin sinks, molded fiberglass tables). All surround a leafy central atrium (with an ultra-cool rooftop sushi bar) that morphs from a laid-back hangout to a pulsingly popular nightspot when the sun goes down.
The Locale: The artsy neighborhood of Condesa, abuzz with bars, restaurants, and art galleries, is a hub for hip young things—but quiet can be found, too; the hotel is practically right next to the lushly landscaped Parque España.
The Bottom Line: Rooms with small private balconies start at about $195 per night.Great Affordable City Hotels
Banks Mansion, Amsterdam
The Hotel: This relatively new hotel (it opened in 2004) occupies an impressive old building (a former bank dating to 1923). Its 51 rooms—most of which overlook the Herengracht Canal—are outfitted in Art Deco finery, with inlaid-wood consoles and headboards, leaded-glass windows, arched floor lamps, and upholstery in colors of mahogany, black, and gold. Welcome perks include rainforest showers and complimentary decanters of whiskey and other spirits—although it’s nicer to take cocktail hour in one of the deep armchairs of the common lounge.
The Locale: The hotel’s exclusive, canal-ring neighborhood is known as the Golden Bend. The name is a nod to the high concentration of wealth here—as evidenced by the opulent waterfront mansions (including the official residence of Amsterdam’s mayor). The surrounding streets are lined with charming cafés, and the shops of the Kalverstraat, PC Hooftstraat, and Albert Cuyp market are an easy walk from the hotel.
The Bottom Line: Deluxe King rooms start at about $200 per night; those with canal views are around $240 (and worth the price difference).Great Affordable City Hotels