An Alternative To The Typical Heathrow Airport Hotel

Filed Under: Hotels, Travel

I wanted to write about the upcoming overnight I have at Heathrow, both to shed some light on the reality of my “review trips,” and also to get some feedback from you guys.

This involves my upcoming review trip, where I’ll be flying ANA’s new 777-300ER business class, Lufthansa’s A350 business class, ANA’s new 777-300ER first class, and Delta’s new 777-200 business class (in that order).

What my review trips are really like

I think when people picture the life of a “travel blogger,” they think of ridiculously big breakfasts in bed, holding a coffee cup with two hands and gazing off into the distance, or a picture of someone walking away from the camera holding someone’s hand, with some sort of an inspirational quote as the caption.

Or maybe they picture something like this (for the record I don’t know anything about this guy, other than the fact that I saw this video a long time ago, and was amused):

(Un?)Fortunately, that couldn’t be further from the reality of my life, so it presents a fun contrast.

What are my review trips like?

  • I’m lucky if I get a few hours of sleep at night
  • I’m up at 4AM photographing the lobby of an airport hotel so that I can get a picture without anyone in it, only to be questioned by the hotel security guard about why I’m taking pictures
  • Rather than sitting in a coffee shop sipping an espresso while reading a magazine, I’m typing furiously at 3:30AM on my laptop while snacking on a bag of pretzels I took “to go” from the snack basket on my previous flight
  • I show up at lounges before they even open (even if my flight is 12 hours later), so that I can get pictures of the lounge without people in it
  • Unfortunately even with a 24 hour layover somewhere I rarely get to enjoy a destination much, because the nearly dozen blog posts every day on OMAAT won’t write themselves, and my goal is to publish reviews as quickly as possible (and many of them take hours and hours to write)

So the reality is that when I take review trips I rarely actually enjoy the destination, but rather it’s all about providing the best reviews possible. That’s objectively not all that glamorous, though truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way — I get a real thrill out of it.

This is all to say that I plan my overnight layovers different than most.

I should note that my review trips are different than my “other” travel. If Ford and I are going on a vacation somewhere, I plan it very differently.

An upcoming overnight at Heathrow

For my upcoming review trip I’ll have a roughly 24 hour layover at Heathrow, though I’ll be both arriving and departing right around rush hour.

So I’m trying to decide where to stay. Most people would say “wow, 24 hours in London sounds so fun.” That’s true for most, though:

  • It’ll take two hours roundtrip to get to the hotel, and if I take the tube there’s no way I can work during that time, given how crowded the tube is from Heathrow; alternatively I can get a car service, and frankly it’s probably worth it to me for the ability to be productive, though I’d still ideally avoid driving for two hours
  • While the Heathrow Express is pricier, I would find it worthwhile in terms of being able to be productive during the ride; the problem is that I don’t love any hotels near Paddington Station, so I’ve always found this to be of limited use (if anyone knows of anything great nearby, please let me know!)
  • Or I could stay at yet another airport hotel in London, which isn’t glamorous, but sure is efficient in terms of limiting my transit time, and maximizing my ability to work, and possibly even being able to go to the gym, which sure is nice on these trips, since I’m otherwise just sitting and eating and drinking

I think my Marriott Ambassador perfectly summed up the reality of my travels with his welcome note during a stay last year at the Courtyard Gatwick:

With that in mind, I’m trying to get creative and think of an option other than staying at a Heathrow Airport hotel for an upcoming stay, so I figured I’d share my thoughts on that.

If I go into the city my plan would be to review the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, which is the newest Hyatt in the city, and is also an Unbound Collection property.

But now that I investigate more closely, it seems there may be some options that can provide some charm without having to trek into the city. Hyatt has a partnership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and they have three hotels not that far from Heathrow in the countryside.

Now, I realize January isn’t the ideal time to enjoy the English countryside, but I figure it can’t be less nice than Heathrow hotels?

First there’s Great Fosters, which with current traffic is six miles and 13 minutes from Heathrow. It’s a historic English countryside manor, and apparently has a Michelin-starred restaurant (not that I’d likely be eating there).

Then there’s Stoke Park, which with current traffic is 12 miles and 22 minutes from Heathrow. It’s described as a Georgian mansion, and the website says that it has “proved popular as a setting for Hollywood films, including some about a certain suave British spy.” Hah.

Lastly there’s Monkey Island Estate, which with current traffic is 16 miles and 24 minutes from Heathrow. It’s on the River Thames, and is apparently only accessibly by footbridge.

All of these places look infinitely cuter than anything at Heathrow, and they’re convenient compared to heading into the city.

I don’t like to Google this stuff because I always find stuff I don’t like, but if any of these places are known to be haunted (because they kind of look like they might be), please do let me know. 😉

Bottom line

I spend so many nights near London airports, and I almost always find it easiest to just stay at an airport hotel so that I can avoid traffic, and can work, work out, and rest. It’s not very glamorous, but it does the trick.

However, I really want to try something different this time around. So if anyone has any thoughts on the above hotels in the English countryside (or any other hotels), I’d love to hear them! I’m leaning towards Great Fosters given just how close it is, but am open…

Alternatively, if there’s any nice place to stay near Paddington Station, I’d love those tips as well. While the tube is efficient enough for going into London, I just struggle with “wasting” two hours on a short layover where I’m not able to work.

So I’m curious what you guys think — where should I stay for my upcoming 24 hour Heathrow layover?

Comments
  1. While just a quick taxi ride away, the Beaumont is close to Paddington and is a fantastic property. Is affiliated with Virtuoso, but, no points to be gained unfortunately.

  2. The Hilton London Paddington is certainly “nice” (although not glamorous) and is connected directly to the station. It’s extremely convenient, a good business hotel and, as a Diamond, you will have access to the Lounge.

  3. Re Paddington Hotels – some cool ones one Marylebone.

    Eg:

    Chiltern Firehouse
    Zetter

    Even the London Edition or The Dorchester are within a 15 min cab.

    The Elizabeth line when it opens will really help you out for London layovers

  4. @ Gene — Huh? Not sure what it is with your attitude sometimes. Do you tell that to FCQ as well when she’s shuttling back and forth to Vietnam for no apparent reason other than to earn miles?

  5. @ Ben — The FCQ recommends sleeping in and then announcing in the lobby “Queen, get out of my way, I’m trying to take a picture.” You will be much more rested.

  6. Great idea. Might want to add The Langley (Marriott Luxury Collection) to the list. It’s closer to Heathrow than two of those and as a Category 5 Hotel would be ideal for a lot of your readers to burn their annual Chase Marriott Cert. I’ve considered it several times.

  7. @ Gene — Well that’s great for the queen. I take these review trips because they generate useful content here, and like I said in the post, I “wouldn’t have it any other way.” I live my life by my standards, not someone else’s arbitrary standards, so I’m not sure what exactly I need to reevaluate. I have a much more balanced life now than in the past, and these review trips are just a small part of that.

  8. Ben, a few months ago Ford booked us at Cliveden House for an overnight before our LHR departure. It’s about 30 mins door to door. Gorgeous hotel and gardens, and very nice spa. Highly recommend! Best – Jack

  9. @ Matt — How did I not know this existed? That seems like an EXCELLENT option, and is a great use of points. I’m sold, and think I’ll book that. I ultimately prefer the “real” status perks through a hotel directly affiliated with a program, rather than the limited benefits through SLH. Awesome!

  10. @ Jack — Thanks for the recommendation, that also sounds great. Will check it out this time or next time!

  11. Marriott has a country house hotel not far from Heathrow too.

    Oakley Court in Windsor, about 10-12 minutes by car from Heathrow, is also quite nice and you get the advantage of being able to play tourist in Windsor. Windsor is great at night and in the morning before and after the day trippers. Windsor is where the Queen lives most of the time.

  12. BTW. I think this whole category of “country house hotel” that the UK has is something we are truly missing in the US. It’s actually amazing that more of these properties (there are hundreds ranging from 3 1/2 stars to 5 stars) don’t affiliate with Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Luxury Collection, or Tribute Portfolio brands. The UK also has some many country inns and pubs with B&B rooms, again a type of hotel category we lack in the US.

  13. Cliveden is nice, but it would be best other than winter to enjoy the extensive grounds, gardens, & walks down to the river.

  14. If you are in the Paddington area you should the The Royal Lancaster London, its a 5 minute walk from Paddington Station and where they filmed part of the Italian Job. Its independent but I think it is part of iPrefer.

  15. I used to live by Paddington, and I would certainly agree that the vast majority of the hotels suck. Have you looked at the Royal Lancaster hotel, I believe its in either the LHC or FHR?

  16. Oh Ben, you know what you really want to do is plane spot. Suck it up and stay at the Marriott Heathrow, lol.

  17. We travel regularly between the US and continental Europe. When my children were small we found that the best way to mitigate jet lag was to take a day flight from New York to London and then spend the night in the UK before continuing our journey the following day. After spending an egregious amount of money for two subpar rooms in a terminal connected hotel at LHR the first time, we discovered Great Fosters. It is magical! There are formal gardens including a maze, it was one of the first buildings converted to a hotel in the UK, and even the bar menu is excellent if you don’t want a haute cuisine dinner. (One note, we stayed in a suite called the Nursery and once heard an unidentified child’s voice, so it may actually be haunted.)

  18. Marriott Park Lane. Marriott Park Lane. Marriott Park Lane. (A 5 minute Uber or 15 minute walk from Paddington.)

  19. Clivden/Stoke/Great Fosters are all great options. (I live in Central London and go to the Surrey countryside at least once a month….).

    They’re all worth trips in their own right. None have that formulaic american chain feeling.

    Beaverbrook, Pennyhill Park, Wooton House are also worth a look.

    Not practical for this purpose, but my absolute fav UK manor house is Bovey Castle. (it’s incidentally where Tom Daly got married)

  20. Lucky, I think your schedule is still too punishing.

    I get that most of your trip reports are “work” trips, and yes, you do not get to enjoy for most part of it, but make sure you have enough rest. (When you are in the air, even though you are in J or even F most of the time, it is not really “resting”.)

    For this trip, I like Matt’s idea too. In fact, if the time taken via cab is not that much longer than the heathrow bus shuttle, it may be a good alternative to the heathrow airport hotels that are not attached to the terminals.

  21. I’m not sure I agree with your logic here but this might just be me.

    I have never really seen a hotel as a destination. It’s a bed for the night. I am staying there because I am unable to stay in my own bed.

    For example, if I am staying in a San Francisco hotel, it’s not because I want to stay in a San Francisco hotel, it’s because I want to visit San Francisco so I will look for somewhere convenient to where I actually want to visit. Sure I want somewhere “nice” but beyond a certain point, a bed is a bed is a bed.

    Sure all the hotels you have listed are “nice” and “fancy” and “expensive” compared to the hotels around Heathrow but you also have the hassle of getting there. If Google maps says it will take 15 minutes to get there by car it seems to be forgetting it can take 20 minutes just to get out of the airport onto the motorway then suddenly theres another hour of travel

    Of course if fancy hotels are your thing then why not but I would perhaps be looking to see if there is something or somewhere in the area that I have always wanted to see (perhaps you would like to visit Windsor Castle or visit LegoLand) and then looking to get a hotel close to that so I can get up early the following day, visit said location and then head to the airport and get back on my plane.

    Personally I spend far too much time in hotels and airports so always look at what I can do to escape even if it is just going our for a meal in the local area. YMMV

  22. If you want to head into London for the night anything by Hoxton is pretty good. Also the Shangri-La for the best views of the city

  23. @Mark Roddis: “For example, if I am staying in a San Francisco hotel, it’s not because I want to stay in a San Francisco hotel, it’s because I want to visit San Francisco”

    Yes, but you are not a miles-and-point blogger who has found a specific and lucrative niche in reviewing luxury airline and hotel products. The job of such a person would actually consist of going to hotels just for the sake of going to hotels, wouldn’t it?

  24. Cliveden is a great country house hotel, full of history. (The ‘Profumo Affair’ …and where Meghan Markle had her pre-wedding stay.) Then lunch could then be had, at the nearby Fat Duck restaurant. (Three Michelin stars).

  25. I would also recommend Great Fosters. I had dinner there a couple weeks ago. It is a wonderful place, full-scale English. You will really enjoy it!

  26. Pennyhill Park is another option. It’s in Bagshot. Cool place. Soccer field in front and it has a huge, fantastic spa.

  27. Stick with what you do best and know. Do your normal routine near Heathrow. Why get yourself tired ?

    I’m going to London next month. Someone recommended Ffionas for breakfast , buying tickets in advance for Churchill museum , Churchill pub , hop on hop off , and getting an Oyster card.

  28. W/r/t Paddington, this maybe isn’t your style as it’s an independent, but I really liked staying at the Pilgrm Hotel (spelling is correct). Decent bed, nice bathroom, and a coffee shop for a lobby. It’s also a 90 second walk into the station.

  29. @ ben: Piccadilly line takes around 35 minutes from LHR to the city and it costs less then 5 GBP.
    Or you can take the national express to Victoria which takes 45 minutes and costs 6 GBP.
    I live in north east London and I always take piccadilly line and it takes me just over 1 hour to my bed.

  30. Ben, as an avgeek you HAVE to stay at the new(ish) Hilton Garden Inn at T2/3. The rooftop bar is the highest midfield point at heathrow after the control tower, and the view is absolutely amazing.

  31. I always like Richmond…beautiful place, lots of nice restaurants and bars, close to LHR, amazing open spaces and the Bingham Riverhouse is a great boutique hotel on the river!

  32. Remember that Hilton Padding is actually 2 hotels with a somewhat secret brand new tower. The room in the tower are modern and very appealing. The tower also has a separate private exec lounge which is also upgraded.

  33. The Sheraton Skyline Heathrow has a Madhu’s restaurant in it. By far my favorite Indian in the UK.

  34. Stoke Park is indeed amazing but it’s quite a lot more than 22 minutes from LHR! If’ you’re pushed for time I really wouldn’t use it. Also a former colleague who was utterly shallow and totally pretentious used to rave about it because it was for people like him and he met so many people like him there! You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable there.

  35. Some good properties and they beat the usual LHR hotels. That said, as a local – make sure you allow plenty of time if staying in some of these places. E.G. Monkey Island from LHR T4 would take a lot longer than 24 minutes in rush hour!

  36. We live about a mile from Great Fosters. It’s an amazing place with so much history. QEI stayed there and the rooms and gardens are amazing.

    When I worked at MSFT I always booked my favourite US friends there. The restaurant is amazing – proper English cuisine, far superior to our ex neighbours in France

  37. if you’re looking for a (supposedly) haunted hotel, stay at great fosters. ask the staff if they’ve ever seen ghosts and see their reaction. and if you really want to push it, ask for the room all the way at the top.

  38. I had wanted to stay at Great Fosters for a barely 24 hour layover, but it was full. We stayed at The Runnymeade on Thames instead. Not far from Heathrow and not as expensive as some in the area. It has a nice walking path along the river and an indoor pool. Not a grand country house style hotel, but nice – and easy when you don’t want to go all the way into London.

  39. JW Marriott Grosvenor House, Marriott Park Lane, Bankside Autograph Collection, and Bulgari come to mind, in no particular order. I would also be curious to see about The Ritz — the original Ritz!!! — as supposedly Marriott can book you a room over the phone but they can’t market them.

  40. Consider hotels in/around Bray, Berkshire, such as the Waterside Inn (Monkey Island is not far from there), simply as there are some phenomenal Michelin starred restaurants to choose from (incl Waterside), it’s a lovely place on the river, and it’s a 20 min ride to Heathrow.

    Re the tube/subway, you’d be guaranteed a seat from Heathrow to London. And, if you want central London (Knightsbridge-Piccadilly etc), it’s a quicker option than Heathrow Express. The service at the Intercontinental London is generally phenomenal, as is Brown’s just down the street… and you’re right in the middle of everything London has to offer.

    Agree with other comments above above Maddhu’s at Sheraton Heathrow – a gem of an Indian restaurant, though little great accommodation nearby.

  41. Hi Ben I’ve stayed in claridges hotel it’s about 10 minutes away from Paddington station would definitely recommend it… it’s known to be one of the nicest hotels in London and can be booked on points

  42. Stoke Park is great for the James Bond Goldfinger history and the inspiration for the Oval Office in the White House. But yes, it will take a bit longer to get to.

    The Goring has the royal connection, Pennyhill is nice, Dorchester, The Connaught are unique.

    There are so many. A lot of great advice so far from the posters.

    My suggestion, make it special. Can always do a boring hotel in the future.

  43. Haha, I like to take pictures of empty airport lounges, empty hotel lobby and empty cabin too. I fully understand the pressure to rush and take all the pictures before people come in.

  44. Another recommendation for the Langley. We stayed there in September to celebrate my birthday and it was excellent. Lovely building, beautiful setting, great bar and the indoor pool/spa complex was AMAZING.

  45. @Ben what a great post! It generated a lot of useful hints for me. Also just my two cents but if I’m being generous maybe what Gene really wanted to ask was what happened to the push to get additional contributors (and maybe reducing your writing time commitment and increase time for well whatever other stuff). If you’ve already covered this somewhere else apologies.

  46. I’ve stayed at Great Fosters a number of times. It is a private club as well as a teaching hotel for those who want a career in the hospitality industry. As such the service can be hit-or-miss (sort of like flying with very junior flight attendants, who don’t have much experience and are unsure of their duties).

    My brother-in-law is a club member and celebrated his 60th birthday at Great Fosters in August. I was quite impressed, actually, since another birthday party at the same location five years ago was not very well organized by the catering staff.

    The swimming pool is enormous and a real treat in the summer – as is wandering through the extensive formal gardens. If you stay at Great Fosters, make sure you get an room in the original 16th-century structure – not one of the modern additions, which are pleasant enough, but not the reason for staying at this historic property.

  47. All depends on what you want. While not glamorous, the Thistle Kensington Gardens is approximately 0.7 miles from Paddington and is right on Hyde Park. In times past, I have walked from Paddington and stopped for a bite a quick beverage at the Mitre Lancaster Gate. If you choose it, I would recommed upgrading to a Deluxe room (+15 GBP/night). I have also enjoyed the Leinster Arms that is just around the corner from the hotel. I dont believe Thistle (a UK chain) are part of any rewards program, though.

  48. @ADS
    Hilton Syon Park?

    The last time I was there the bar and lobby appeared to be almost literally crawling with women who I assumed were prostitutes, apparently there to service the, er, gentlemen-bachelors who were far from their homes.

    Which was a bit startling at first, then just unpleasant.

    Which is a pity, because the stately home in the gardens is lovely, and the hotel design is fun.

  49. @RTBones
    That one may be an exception, but pretty much every Thistle I’ve stayed in was depressing and sad, exemplifying all that was most “couldn’t-care-less” about British service culture.

    London hotels are like New York’s: wildly expensive for generally tiny rooms which have mostly seen better days. If Lucky’s not staying at the airport, I think he has the right idea about trying somewhere unusual in the countryside.

  50. @The nice Paul
    Dont know about an exception. I’ve stayed in a handful of Thistles over the years so I do understand what you mean, but I know this one has been updated in various stages over the last 10 years or so. Personally, I’ve always had good service here. In fact, I think the only complaint I’ve ever had was that one particular day a few years ago towards the end of a very busy breakfast service, the staff didnt/couldnt keep the breakfast bar stocked fast/efficiently enough to keep up with demand. Dont know why and it didnt happen to me again. Might be proximity to Hyde Park.

  51. Great Fosters is steeped in genuine history with fabulous suites, and wonderful gardens. Try the Tapestry Room, which we stayed in for our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Also held our wedding at Great Fosters in the stunning Tithe Barn. Look no further!

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