I won't repeat myself here when I wrote a very long and thorough Trip Advisor review but let me tell you that the Renaissance St. Pancras exceeded our wildest expectations! My review I believe is dated today with RP8133 as my TA name. We were treated like members of the Royal Family I swear! We booked a Chambers Club room and were comped an upgrade to a beautiful junior suite, the exact room I had asked for. I had emailed the Executive asst in advance of our trip to tell her it was a special occasion and she went all out for us. So did the concierge and nearly everyone else we encountered. The breakfast in the chambers club was excellent with hot and cold foods and pastries as good as off any patisserie in Paris! We had cocktails and light snacks in the evening and were served again in the same manner as every other time. When we first went in I headed over to serve myself wine as is usually the case in these clubs and was told "please make yourself comfortable, we are happy to bring drinks to you" and they did. The hotel itself is an historic experience in it's beauty alone but the service makes it really really special. Do check it out and spring for a stay in the Chambers rooms rather than the newer Barlow rooms. You won't regret it!
The St. Pancras looks like an absolutely amazing historic and well dressed, well furbished hotel property with superb amenities, and your review does great credit to it's level of service and hospitality. If I had already seen the sights and/or were planning a rail trip within London or over to France, that would definitely be my first choice. I'm so glad you had a nice trip, and thanks for your review!
I am presently trying to sort out a London stay for a first time sightseeing excursion next Spring. I am considering the Ren. St. Pancras, the Grosvenor JW and County Hall. Between the three, my primary concern will be the ease with which we can get to the majority of sightseeing attractions, either by walking or metro (My mom will be with us. She's a hard charger, but getting to be a certain age, so I need to be mindful of that). In noting the location of the three properties along with familiarizing myself with the public transportation maps, it would appear that County Hall would be the most convenient. Can you or other experienced London sightseers here on Insiders please comment on ease and proximity of these properties to main attractions? Thanks.
Pluto: For central London and access to Tube and Bus and the major sight seeing, County Hall is the best placed, In my humble view. It sits between two tube stations, Westminster and Waterloo. These two tube stations cover many of the major tube lines, and if you plan on using the tube, go online to Transport for London (they run the tube and bus system) and get yourself and your Mom an "Oyster" card (like a NYC MTA Metrocard). You can buy them in advance over the web or buy them in the UK in a Tube station (or other authorized outlet). They are re loadable. Be warned, Tube fares are high, about $5 to go one way in one zone in London (its a zoned system, but all of central London is zone 1 or 2)
I have stayed at County hall probably 100+ times in the last 10 years and at the Grosvenor House (JW) about 20 times in the last 5 years. County hall is directly across the Thames from Big Ben and Parliament and the London Eye sits in front of the hotel. Many rooms face the Eye and Parliament, ask if you can get a good river view room. Grosvenor House is across a busy motorway from Hyde Park and the closest tube stations are Marble Arch and Bond Street. County Hall is really central London, whereas Grosvenor is more the western side of London.
I have never stay at the St Pancras Hotel as its too far from my work there and the cab fares are a killer! Maybe others who have stayed there can provide better insight.
London Buses are alsovery good and from County Hall there is a bus that goes to Regent Street, Oxford and Piccadilly Circus, etc. Check out London Buses as they are more scenic and less steps than the tube.
Grosvenor House is very nice and is a beautiful hotel and is near Park Lane and in an upscale neighborhood.
If you are flying into Heathrow, look into the Heathrow express train (there is also one called Heathrow connection). The former is an express train from Heathrow to London Paddington Station (Think Paddington Bear, that is where he was found and is the basis of that children's story), where you can then take the tube to County Hall. If you stay at Grosvenor house, the taxi from Paddington to that hotel is about $15 to 20, to County Hall double that. The Heathrow connection is a non express train to Paddington that is less expensive than the express
So, if you planning on going to Buckingham Castle, The Tower, Covent Garden, Walking the Strand, Stomping at the Savoy, taking in a few shows in the west end, doing some shopping, I think County Hall is the best option as it is accessible to all with minimum travel time.
From experience, I can tell you the Tube Map doesnt really portray the distance between stations and things are really much further apart than they appear, so you may want to get yourself an app or a book called A to Z (pronounced Zed) its the London city/street plan and has a good index. You can probably find used ones on Amazon . It is invaluable to navigate London, and it also has tube stops so you can figure out where you are and how to get from one point to the next.
If you want to change $$ to GB Pounds, dont do it at the airport, hotel or any kiosk. Bring the $$ you want to change and find a Marks & Spencer dept store (they have a good web site). They all have a Bureau De Change, and they have great conversion rates and charge NO COMMISSION!
Also, be aware that most credit card machines in London (and Europe) now need a card with a "smart Chip". If you plan on using a credit card, call your issuing bank and see if they can give you a smart chip enabled card. Also, if possible, use a card that doesnt charge currency fees (like the Marriott Visa). And let thre issuing bank know you will be nusing the credit card in the UK, it prevents allot of declined transactions as this is part of the issuing bank's fraud prevention process (out of normal spending triggers a fraud alert).
I hope this is useful and enjoy your trip. I go to London on Business 10+ times/year and then take my family there at Christmas, its a family tradition.
Thanks very much for the stack of valuable info. From the maps I've been studying, it looks like County Hall is the best bet as well. At first I thought it would be difficult to tube there from LHR, but now I see that the Bakerloo line can be caught at Paddington and taken all the way to Waterloo, although I am also seriously considering the option of scheduling a hired service through the concierge in advance, due to luggage and Mom (which would be a nice treat for her - she deserves it). I found a website where I can purchase the Oyster card before hand (www.tfl.gov.uk/oyster). Thanks for the skinny on single use (and taxi) prices as well as the distances and the street index (and Marks & Spencer). I have the Marriott card (and I always call to report when going abroad) with the new smart chip, but it's the chip and signature as opposed to chip and pin. Much has been discussed here on Insiders regarding the Marriott card with the new chip. Curious as to why you don't recommend using your debit card at ATM's abroad? What I've noticed with using my debit card abroad (mine is with a CU as opposed to a bank; I don't know if that makes a difference) is that while the exchange rate is very fair, I am charged a fee: about 1% when using it for purchases, and about 3% when using it in ATM's for foreign cash. It looks like Parliament is on the opposite side of the hotel as the Eye. So you're recommending a room somewhere in the middle facing the river?
Thanks so much again for the great info.
Not a fan of using ATM cards abroad, just my own preference, I usually take cash and change it at M&S and found this to entail fewer fees, fewer security worries vs ATM and just as easy. I used to do no fee traveller's checks from my local AAA, but there is no real advantage to that anymore (Used to be you obtained a better rate with TC's than csh, but alas, no longer). As to tube or not, car hire can be almost $200 from LHR, depending on exchange rates. I would recommend Paddington express then a taxi from there to County Hall as that can be very cost effective and not as much luggage schlepping.
Outstanding report and It is exactly how I feel about the hotels. (Yes, I can be and have been wrong at times, but you really nailed it)!
Since I do not take the tube, but rely on taxi's, The County Hall has been wonderful to me.
Would enjoy you join a few of us (MRI0 at The County Hall on May 15th. Any MRI is welcome to an informal "Meet and Greet"! All our on their own for food and beverages, and I hope I can have the management assist in a memorable event. If I get an upgrade, we all can use my suite for the event.
Thanks so much for your wonderful contribution! Please keep contributing!
For exchange rates this is the place where I change money. http://www.bestforeignexchange.com/
It generally has the best exchange rates around.
Even better rate if you order on line print it out and then go to one of their branches.
There is one conveniently located on the Strand for those that are staying at the County Hall property.
If you are selling dollars just print out this page and take there to ensure you get the rate quoted on the website: http://www.bestforeignexchange.com/Exchange-rates-check-exchange-rates.php
Great exchange rate referral thanks. This makes me even more excited about your Petrus and Hawksmoor recommendations! A thousand dollars buys about 75 GBP more than it did back in October when you guys provided restaurant ideas. Hey how about that, some good financial travel news.
sidenote: when I booked one reservation, it said a 235 cover restaurant and I said to myself, ouch this really is big boy dining (235 x 1.6 rate = $350) until I realized it was the seating capacity
I always use that FX place and luckily for me the Strand branch is very close to where I work.
I'll generally only mention restaurants that I have really enjoyed. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences that is what makes it interesting.
This was another place I enjoyed: http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/
Yes the GBP is taking a pounding of late!
235 cover restaurant i like that.
PLuto, I agree with Seltzer as far as location and proximity to most of the sights. I was a bit concerned about this but the Tube is just so easy to use and takes you everywhere you need to go so that's what we did. We never took a cab aside from one evening that we were running late to meet friends. But if I were traveling with an elderly parent I would think as you do and want things close by and would likely put Mom in a cab versus shlepping her onto the tube. But the tube is very very easy to use and inexpensive if you buy a travelcard as we did. £7.60 if I recall correctly for off peak (after 9:30 am) zone 1-2 which is all we needed. Great value. When we return with our teenage kids I wouldn't hesitate to take the tube everywhere with them. We took the bus once but it was slow and I find it difficult to understand the routes. Cabs are just plain expensive. Do spring for a hop on hop off open top sightseeing bus though! They are expensive but the ticket is good for 24 hours if I recall correctly and you can get on and off where you like. That's a great way to see lots of things and keep the traveling between attractions easy on your Mom. Have a great time!
I would say though that your Mom may really appreciate the historic beauty of the hotel being a restored train station and if nothing else worth a trip there to see it. Have a great time and if I can help with anything please feel free to ask!
I will definitely pay a visit to the St. Pancras, just to see it, and who knows, perhaps if there's a (hopefully) future visit, we can stay there and enjoy it's beauty, that awesome CL that gets rave reviews, and the pool/spa offerings (which look very inviting). This leads me to another question, again for anyone. How many days would one need to visit the most important offerings (historical, architectural, worthwhile museums, etc.) in London? I realize that it can all never been seen. I also don't want to feel rushed. With points one can do the stay 4 nights, receive the 5th night free, but it seems to me that it might be more prudent to plan about 7 or 8. Thoughts?
Rhoke, I'm glad you mentioned the difficulty with understanding the bus routes. I feel the same way when in Paris. It just seems a bit more confusing than the metro, yet I agree, more of the city can be seen by bus. Perhaps I shall just bite the bullet and try harder. Or like you and others have suggested, just do the open top tour bus to get an initial feel and orientation for the city. My mom can do the metro easily, I just don't want her shlepping luggage. Last trip I started carrying all of her luggage, and I think it bothered her, but she needs to let us wait on her, as she's always doing so much for others. I think she worries that we might see her as burdensome, and the opposite is true. We don't want her to ever feel like she can't make the trips with us! We love traveling with her. Thanks again for the post.
If I were you I would break it up into areas and this will give you an idea of what you want to see and what is worth seeing.
South Kensington - You can choose one or more of the museums: Victoria & Albert, Science or Natural History. From there Knightsbridge is not too far away there you have the shops Harvey Nicholls, Harrods. Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park are also in the area.
West End area - Sights such as Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, any Theatres that you may wish to visit. Then there are the museums: National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Courtauld Gallery, Wallace Collection to name a few. Also Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street. This overall area would be seen over at least 3 days. The good thing is the majority of these places are free to visit.
City: St Pauls, Museum of London, Tower of London, Tower Bridge.
North: Camden, Regents park, London Zoo.
South Bank: Tate Modern museum.
Greenwich: Take river cruise from Westminster to Greenwich, there you can see the Cutty Sark, Maritime Museum, Greeenwich Park and Greenwich Meantime.
This is just to give a few ideas, I'm sure I have left some places out which I can't think of right now.
Also if you were wanting to do a day trip from London then you have nice places like: Windsor, Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury.
There are plenty of things to see and do, the longer you stay the better.
SG1974: one thing I would add is the half price tickets booth in Leicester Square, like the NYC TKTS booth http://www.tkts.co.uk/leicester-square/. Never know what you will find, but worth a gamble to see high quality shows if available at a better price. The National Theatre, just a 5 min walk from County Hall Hotel, is not part of the half price ticket scheme, but you can line up (as we say in America) at 9AM to buy unsold first 4 rows for 50% off, the line can form early (like 6:30am) for good shows. The theater web site http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ has the details, some good shows on there now, ones not liekly to come over to the American Side of the Atlantic. Call the box offcie to find out what ticket schemes they have going, as they do change from time to time.
We didn't head to St Pancras from Heathrow but instead took a Virgin train from Birmingham to London Euston and walked to the hotel from there. 3 blocks and was very easy. ONce you arrive you won't touch your luggage again! We only had 3 days in London and believe me we tried to do it all! We were TIRED at the end of every day! But it gave my hubby a flavor of London and I know he can't wait to go back.
I have stayed at the St. Pancras which is a beautiful hotel, at a great location as it is right in the St. Pancras Rail Station where you get the Eurostar to the continent, and British Rail high speed trains to Dover. Its very easy to get to from Healthrow....just take the tube for 5 GBP approximately 24 stops which takes about 1 hr. The bellman will take you and your bags to the train from the hotel. The CL is fabulous, there was food all day long, breakfast, lunch, tea, shorties, dessert. There are butlers in the CL, who bring al your drinks to you at the table, and even stop by periodically to refill you drink. I thought the food in the restaurant was good as well (had to have the steak and oxtail pie even though I could have made the CL offerings in to dinner).
Beware though, that if you do not Book Chambers Club, you are not eligible for upgrade into Chambers Club even as a Lifetime Platinum
Checking rates for Friday, March 22nd
One day before departure, MR rooms opened up and I was able to stay for 40,000 points (this property is currently a Cat 8 and is on the list to become a cat 9 after May 2013 so probaby even more points/night). I did switch over to a points room, and they absolutely refused to upgrade me into a Chambers Club Room. I asked at checkin, and even though they had available rooms, they would not upgrade me as I did not book Chambers Club. I had paid their 'extra fee' for an upgrade, which they ended up refunding to me, as I was platinum and upgraded to the best refurbished room at no fee. I asked again the bellman the next day when I was leaving, and he told me that they had vacancies the night before in the Chambers Club, and next time I should remember to book that category of room to stay in the historic part of the hotel, and be upgraded in that section. All I can say is I never have these problems in FS properties. St. Pancras is a Renaissance.
I did just check reward availability for Mar 22nd, and noticed the interface has been changed so you can now use points to book Barlow and Chambers Club, and for the same amount of points.
Luckily I was on my way to my cruise ship (which costs less than a night in Chambers Club for the entire week), so not in my room other than to sleep, having arrived late due to the backup at immigration at Healthrow, had to meet my cousin for tea, buy my train tickets from National Rail for the next day, and thendeparted early on the high speed train to Dover. Rest of my waking hours in the hotel were actually spent in the CL. Everything about the hotel, other than not getting an upgrade to the best available vacant room as a platinum was very nice.
Be warned, you need alot of money (333 GPB (496 USD)/nite - 2331 GBP (3480 USD)/wk ) or points (280K for the week) though to stay at this property.