Photograph courtesy the Athenaeum
The most authentic and unique hotels in England, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List
A Charles Dickens hangout opposite Abbey Gardens and cathedral in an old brewery town. (Dickens wrote part of his first novel here.) Contemporary or four-poster rooms; best views are those overlooking city's Abbey Gate. Open fire in lobby and restaurant, where 80 percent of menu comes locally. Take in performance at one of England's oldest working Georgian theaters. Follow with a pint at nearby Nut Shell, one of the country's smallest pubs. 75 rooms; from $146, incl. breakfast.
A Georgian post office converted into a residential hotel four miles from Guildford's High Street. Focus is on sustainability. Simple rooms feature sturdy handcrafted furnishings, baths with organic toiletries. Cotton sheets and goose-down duvets make for sound sleep, especially in quieter rooms facing garden and koi pond. Food hits all the right marks: local, seasonal, organic, fresh. Honesty bar stocks only organic wines and spirits. 15 rooms; from $146, incl. breakfast.
A family-owned Piccadilly classic as green as the park it faces. Eight-story-high vertical garden (260 plant species) on facade attracts birds and bees. Floor-to-ceiling windows in rooms capture the drama, motion sensors take care of lights when you leave. Undeniably British: steak-and-ale pie in restaurant, 270 varieties of whiskey in bar. Cruise Green and Hyde Parks on hotel's free bikes. 157 rooms, from $260, incl. snacks.
Senses feast at this 1835 Gothic house hidden behind garden walls one mile west of this World Heritage city. Four-poster beds, Romeo & Juliet balconies, Italian marble baths. Spa is a modern take on ancient Roman baths: indoor pool, fitness room, elliptical steam pod. Seasonal, freshest-ingredients menus; traditional roast with all the trimmings on Sunday. 31 rooms, from $298.
Likely London's first (1837) upscale hotel, opened by Lord Byron's maid and her husband in a chic part of town, close to West End theaters. Rooms stylish instead of staid—pistachio-toned walls, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations—while British customs thrive: the carving trolley (try the hay-baked leg of Corwen lamb), London's best afternoon tea (complete with dedicated tea sommeliers), and unflappable concierge service. 117 rooms, from $386.
Fad-free Old English manor house a-glow in honeyed Costwold stone. Jacobean propriety preserved with Axminster rugs, stone-mullioned windows, and no-kids-under-10 policy. Natural spring water piped to tradition-bound rooms (no keys); organic garden supplies formal restaurant (ties required, no excuses.) Croquet and tennis. Break loose on walking tours along the Cotswold Way—guided or not. 14 rooms, from $464, incl. breakfast.
Experience Elizabethan life (minus the hardships) on 3,500-acre estate. Log fire blazes in paneled Jacobean Great Hall. Dine in candlelit Georgian kitchen amid antique kitchen appliances. Contemporary rooms in former servants' wing; more traditional suites face front (better views). Most unique: Linen Suite, with Thomas Crapper lavatory, six-foot round copper tub. Reserve time for Victorian-style bathhouse (rainwater heated by log fire). Ramble to nearby Gittisham, a hamlet Prince Charles calls the "ideal English village." 15 rooms, from $287, incl. breakfast.
High-tech meets High Street at this Regency-style hotel. Inside it's mood lighting, Bang & Olufsen TVs, and remote-control coal-effect fireplaces. Artisan food is the draw in restaurant and brasserie facing 17th-century market square: crusty breads, home-reared meats, farmhouse cheeseboard sourced within 30 mile radius. Loaf in the garden or new spa with hydrotherapy pool, peruse antiques stores, hike Cotswold Way to Dover's Hill. 30 rooms, from $394.
An 1850 residential redbrick and stone house facing largest medieval Gothic cathedral north of the Alps. Surprising modern streak inside: restaurant with photomontage mural, trim rooms with crisp Egyptian linens. Plaudits due for using liquid soap (70 percent of soap bars are wasted in hotels.) Choose rooms facing floodlit cathedral; double-glazing muffles constantly ringing bells. Nightly ghost walks. Lose yourself in Snickelways, a Harry Potter-like maze of ancient lanes. 37 rooms, from $177, incl. breakfast.
Far from the madding crowd, this 350-year-old coaching inn is owned by Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Ingredients for haute Yorkshire cuisine culled from their 30,000-acre estate. Old House rooms with four-poster beds crafted by local Chatsworth carpenters; smaller, more contemporary rooms in Wharfedale wing. Hike or mountain bike on 80 miles of trails, then contemplate ruins of nearby Bolton Abbey, a mecca for 19th-century Romantic poets and painters. 40 rooms, from $386, incl. breakfast.
A Park Lane honeypot for heads of state and celebrities. Expect art deco flair, heel-clicking service. (Three staff members per guest room.) English country house rooms feature Italian marble baths with London's deepest tubs. Country's first hotel constructed of reinforced concrete (1931), which made it safer during the war as well as more energy efficient than older stone-built ones. Check out the specially commissioned Limoges china in gift shop. (It's the same porcelain used at not-to-missed afternoon tea at the Promenade.) 250 rooms, from $426.
Victorian verve on a quiet cul-de-sac close to West End and Green Park. Redbrick house may look staid, but inside, well-chosen modern paintings and furnishings put the antique look into fashionable context. Queen Anne furnishings, granite baths in rooms. (Request view of fountain courtyard.) Restaurant for classic British dining eclipsed by celebrity martini bar, said to have inspired Ian Fleming's catchphrase: "shaken, not stirred." Book a seat at the bar for close-ups of sacred ritual. Better yet, take a martini master class from head bartender. 90 rooms, from $314.
Country cottage designed for a duchess, enveloped in wooded seclusion. The Tamar River, jumping with salmon, borders a garden full of big old trees and rhododendrons. Sitting rooms with hand-painted wallpaper; family crests in restaurant serving traditional English fare; rooms with chamber pots, now deactivated. (Chaise lounge in Queen Victoria's Room once supported her derriere.) At night, candles light most of the house. Plan a picnic hike across hotel's 108 acres. 16 rooms, from $322, incl. breakfast.
Haute cuisine's the draw at this 1928 mock-Tudor house within Dartmoor National Park. Seasonal tasting menu, prodigious wine list. Contemporary rooms—Italian marble baths, HDTV, designer lamps—countrified with antiques look out on enduring legacy: North Teign River and rolling Devon countryside. Grab boots and brollies (umbrellas) from entrance hall for hotel-mapped hike through what may be southern England's last remaining wilderness. 24 rooms, from $499, incl. breakfast, newspaper, and morning tea.
Eccentric and lovable, just like the Royal Family next door at Buckingham Palace. A fourth-generation Goring still greets arrivals at this 1910 Edwardian. You'll encounter more stuffed sheep (hotel's trademark) than stuffed shirts in refreshingly casual public areas. Concierge knows streets better than any London taxicab driver. Best rooms look out on city's largest hotel garden. There's a reason jogging maps are placed in all rooms: belly-busting quantities of food, from city's best full English breakfast to traditional British comfort food. Now celebrating centenary. 71 rooms, from $529.
A residential Regency-era townhouse ten-minute's stroll from York Minster and the medieval Shambles (a centuries-old street mentioned in the Domesdsay Book). Wake-me-up flowers brighten Morning Room. Chef focuses on Yorkshire produce, sourcing 50 percent of ingredients within 50 miles. Rooms vary in style, six with splashproof TVs at foot of double-ended tubs. Detail-oriented staff sweats the small stuff. 36 rooms, from $155. incl. breakfast.
Writers' retreat built of recycled castle stone along medieval market town's most photogenic street. Window seat in Conrad Aiken suite—he lived and wrote here—looks over a jumble of ancient rooftops to Romney Marsh. Breakfast in galleried chapel amid soft chamber music. Book-lined honesty bar, piano in fireside parlor. Take the self-guided tour offered at Rye Tourist Centre: antiques shops, art galleries, Ypres and Camber castles. 11 rooms, from $167, incl. breakfast.
Hiking shoes are de riguer at unfussy country house in Beatrix Potter heartland. Explore the fells, cast for brownies in hotel tarn (lake), then sun-soak in conservatory overlooking Lake Windermere. New green policy nixes traditional bonfires; hearths only burn wood grown on hotel's 14 acres. Snug traditional lounges counterbalance contemporary chintz-free rooms. Locally sourced modern British cuisine impresses even persnickety Londoners. 31 rooms, from $176, incl. breakfast.
Home on the range, English-style. Family-friendly 17th-century Cotswold farm on 1,800 acres of grassland. Your kids feed the chickens, collect their eggs for wholesome farmhouse breakfast (handmade sausage, home-baked bread). Honesty bar, fireplace lounge. Custom rooms might include limed oak chairs, a sleigh bed, windows opening to garden and barn. Launch point for touring Cotswold's lesser-known villages. 7 rooms, from $97, incl. breakfast.
Perfection on a plate. Chef-owner Raymond Blanc's inimitable dining experience remains a study in sustainability. (Now making waves as England's first high-end restaurant to serve only certified non-endangered fish.) Two-acre organic garden and Japanese tea garden cast calm over 15th-century manor. Rooms brim with tricolor savoir faire in manor house or garden wing amid arbors and walled gardens. A most worthy splurge. Popular one-day cooking class for lifetime skills. 32 rooms, from $743, incl. breakfast.
The Horatio Hornblower of hotels, barracked in a row of 1720-ish cottages overlooking an estuary. Yachtsmen muster in bar, ship models decorate lounge, grassy lawn rolls down to moored boats. Eight designer rooms in original Master Builder's House, each named for a ship built here, offer saltier character than annex ones. Landlubbers stroll river path two miles to ruined abbey and National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, while sailors set sail for the Solent shipping route. 25 rooms, from $141, incl. breakfast.
Five-star Victorian townhouse with personable Jeeves-like service anticipating guests' every move. Designer rooms uniquely themed, classic English to art deco. Tradition reigns—Park Lounge for English cream tea, Cheneston's for pot roast and Dover sole—but not at expense of innovation: indoor resistance pool, in-room iPods with preloaded walking tours. Across from Kensington Palace and Gardens, the city's most pedestrian-friendly location for tourists. 63 rooms, from $378.
Frock coat geniality reigns at this foursquare Georgian house overlooking River Wye. Banter with owners over pre-dinner drinks in leather-bound library, then dine with guests house-party style around circular table. Pink oval hall, curving staircase, Capability Brown-designed gardens. Nearby booklover mecca of Hay-on-Wye, Wales (over 25 bookstores) draws literary types like author Martin Amis, who writes in guest book, "the only hotel where you don't lock your room." 5 rooms, from $223, incl. breakfast.
Eco-spirited luxury hotel with minimalist furnishings, modernist art, feng shui-oriented rooms—underpinned by green policy: smart sensors, chlorine-free pool so clean you could drink the water (don't). Chef's dictum: "Keep it British, keep it simple." Waste food composted, unused REN toiletries donated to homeless. Do-good reading (Change the World 9 to 5) placed bedside. 105 rooms, from $360.
This Victorian warehouse conversion helped flip a dilapidated waterfront into city's trendiest district. Original exposed bricks and cast-iron beams provide minimalist backdrop for modern paintings and sculpture. Dine al fresco facing waterfront; 80 percent of produce sourced from morning markets. Newest rooms feature two-person copper tubs positioned for views of marina and Orwell estuary. It's a 10-minute stroll to Old Ipswich's medieval flint churches. 70 rooms, from $145.
London's ages-old (1889) luxury hotel reopens later in 2010 as city's most environmentally responsible five-star hotel. Green technology—converted biodegradable food waste alone will generate 20 percent of guest room electricity—justifies refurbished art deco and Edwardian opulence. Tradition remains: braised oxtail at The Savoy Grill (Churchill's haunt: table four), dry martinis at American Bar, afternoon tea in Thames Foyer. Best of revamped guest rooms overlook the Thames. 268 rooms, from $563.
Reconnect to nature (and each other) at this adults-only eco-resort. High-tech ergonomic design—curving walls, roof planted in sea thrift (a butterfly habitat)—blends right into cliff-edge setting. (Hotel's carbon dioxide output is considerably lower than that of a traditional building.) Log-fired hot tubs, natural reed-filtered pool, sci-fi-like pods for relaxing. Rooms in natural colors open to terraces or walled gardens. Views of wild windswept beach, which hotel protects with quarterly clean-ups. 37 rooms, from $290, incl. breakfast.
An Anglo-American fraternity for business leaders in quiet cul-de-sac near Jermyn St.'s gentlemen's stores. Flowering courtyard, 350-year-old wine cellar (20,000 bottles), American Bar chock-a-block with historic transatlantic memorabilia donated by guests over the years. Classic English rooms, no two alike, in townhouses, converted stables, old Mews. London's top concierge (Mr. Fix-It) helps you look the part, arranging for private shirt fittings, handmade hats, custom shoes in St. James's most exclusive shops. 105 rooms, from $513.
Room to roam at ancestral 17th-century castle in the Yorkshire Dales. 200-acre estate provides bulk of seasonal market menu: venison, rabbit, trout (some of it smoked). Produce plucked from four-acre walled garden. British pastimes prevail: snooker, falconry, cookery school in converted Georgian stables. Regency- and Victorian-era lounges. Locally themed guest rooms provided with bedtime reading (a regional history book authored by owners). 30 rooms, from $282.
Nautical flair on the Cornish coast, in a former yacht club overlooking authentic fishing village. Trim whitewashed houses with terraces face St. Anthony's lighthouse (emblazoned throughout as hotel logo). Menu offered in mosaic-floor restaurant pulled largely from the sea (neatly framed by windows). Snappy uncluttered rooms face sail-flecked St. Mawes Bay. Take the helm of hotel's 48-foot classic wood sloop, or explore via boat, ferry, or foot (miles of coastal paths). 29 rooms, from $305, incl. breakfast.
2015 Traveler Photo Contest
Do you have what it takes to win? Submit your best shots today and find out.