British Bed and Breakfasts ★★★

The Randolph Rooms B&B is in a classic Georgian crescent in Edinburgh's chic Princes Garden neighborhood, from £108 (Photo courtesy of the property)
The Randolph Rooms B&B is in a classic Georgian crescent in Edinburgh's chic Princes Garden neighborhood, from £108

Bed and Breakfasts aren't just great big Victorian British cottages run by kindly but nosy little old widows anymore

The U.K. has raised the B&B concept—a handful of rooms run as an inn by a family in their own home—to an art form. Nothing says "British vacation" like afternoon tea at your cozy bed and breakfast.

There are two types of Bed & Breakfasts in Britain these days: the old pension-type inn—cheap, worn about the edges, and pretty hit or miss, but cheap—and the upscale private home upscale B&Bs that burgeoned in the 1990s. 

How much does a B&B in the U.K. cost?

B&Bs are usually anywhere from 5% to 40% cheaper than hotels.

Expect to pay anywhere from about $50 to $170 for a double room at a typical B&B (perhaps up to $250 for historic properties in popular destinations).

Breakfast is, of course, included.

What a British B&B is like

A bed and breakfast—sometimes called a guesthouse or inn—essentially works something like a small hotel, one which provides breakfast and is located in the owner's home (or at least an a converted apartment in their building).

The size is usually limited, by varying regional laws, to no more than 3–15 rooms (typically more on the order of 3–7 rooms).

In practice, this means a cozy, welcoming, friendly place and plenty of interaction with your hosts.

There's no guarantee you'll get that prototypical kindly older couple and mansion of huge rooms loaded with chintz and doilies, charmingly creaky wooden floors, and a sumptuous breakfast spread at a communal table that will leave you needing to crawl back into your canopy bed for a nap before you head out for the day.

These days as many B&Bs are installed in modern city apartments or isolated farmhouses as in grand old homes in town, and many no longer even feature the resident-owner. Usually, however, a friendly, family, home-like atmosphere prevails.

There are sometimes drawbacks to the B&B, however. With a hotel, you are guaranteed a certain degree of anonymity: you just ask for your key at the desk and then are left alone. This is often the opposite of a B&B, where chitchat is considered part of le charme—but sometimes, you just don't want to make small-talk with the owners and other guests. On the other hand, a B&B can be a great opportunity to meet some local folks and really get an inside scoop on the culture.

Also, at a B&B there's sometimes a curfew, either stated or implied—after all, you wouldn't want to wake that kindly older couple up at 2am when you stagger back to your room, now would you?

They sometimes require half or full board, private baths are rare (but getting less so), but the service is almost usually friendly and personable.

Incidentally, never take board (meal) requirements unless you cannot avoid them, as is often the case in resorty places like spas and beaches (especially in season). Eating in a local restaurant is usually a better bet and offers more variety night-to-night.

For a certain kind of trip, I enjoy B&Bs immensely.

Finding the perfect B&B

As usual, the best resource is usually the local tourist office, which almost always keeps a complete list of all bed and breakfast outfits in town and, in the best cases, includes that list on its Web site...with links.

That said, below are links and resources to help you find B&Bs across the U.K.

Note that there's a thin line (often just which set of local standards, requirements, and legal complications the owner wants to deal with) between a B&B and rental rooms.

Top B&Bs in the U.K.

B&Bs links