British Bed and Breakfasts ★★★
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.
- Booking.com - One of the best general booking sites out there, and one of the few that includes B&Bs (filed variously under the categories of "Bed and Breakfasts," "Guesthouses," and "Inns"). By the numbers: 282 B&Bs in London, 151 in Edinburgh, 76 in Bath.Partner
- Bedandbreakfast.com - B&B specialist listing more than 5,500 bed and breakfasts across the U.K., with more than 300 in London alone, 153 in Edinbugh, and 23 in Bath, starting at £19 ($30). User reviews help you make informed decisions.Partner
- Hotels.com - Another generalist lodging booking site with a huge representation of B&Bs: 135 in central London, 130 in Edinburgh, and 37 in Bath.Partner
- Airbnb.com - Famous network of both official and unofficial B&Bs, homestays, room rentals, and apartment and house rentals. So many I can't even post total numbers here, but for an idea: There are more than 300 private room offerings in Central London for under £35 ($54) alone. The idea of someone inflating the old air mattress for you is just a metaphor. Usually, you stay in a guest bedroom, futon, or fold-out couch. Its rates are among the lowest around, averaging £59 ($91), though charging anywhere from £15 to £160 ($24 to $247) per night, with a handful charging more. Airbnb.com is less regulated than most official or online resources, and many of the places to stay are not registered with the local authorities—which helps make them cheaper, but they are not inspected, or subject to official compaints, and certainly do not pay taxes. Buyer beware.
- Bedandbreakfastsguide.com - Online catalog that, depsite its name, lists hotels, self-catering (apartments), and pubs/inns as well. In the striclty B&B category: 118 in London, 206 in Edinburgh, 84 in Bath.
- Wolseylodges.com - A collection of 155 premier B&Bs installed in manor houses, Georgian mansions, Victorian country rectories, and the like across England, Scotland, and Wales (with a smattering in France). Just a handful in any given destination—3 each in London and Edinburgh, 2 in Bath—but all stunning. Even at this level of luxury, prices still range around £95–£140 ($146–$216) for a double (though rates on the site are presented, annoyingly, per person).
- Visitus.co.uk - A mind-boggling array of B&Bs in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland: 210 in central London, 224 in Edinburgh, 86 in Bath. No grouped mapping feature, however, and it is annoyingly database driven, with London sliced into eight geographic sections (for Central London, you'll have to sift through each of London NW, London SE, London SW, and London W; the other four sections are all way outside the center).
- Hostelz.com - Aggregator bringing together from many hostel and cheap hotel booking engines. If you select "Guesthouses" as the Accommodation Type you will find plenty of B&Bs in there.Partner
- Welcomehomes.co.uk - This London B&B agency lists about three dozen budget and value lodgings in London, with per-person rates from £18–£60 per night.
- Uptownres.co.uk - Uptown Reservations is a long-standing agency devoted to, as its name implies, upscale B&Bs in London, about 65 of them, rated at least four stars, and largely in the tonier neighborhoods (Kinghtsbridge, Kensington, South Kensington, Sloan Square, Chelsea, etc.). Frustratingly in the Internet wera, they don't actually give you a selection of B&Bs from which to choose, but rather have you contact them with your requirements. Still, the lodgings are lovely, and charge a flat £125 for a double, which isn't bad.
- Bedandbreakfastnationwide.com - Network of about 550 B&Bs across Brtiain and Ireland, including 43 in London (via a sister agency), 3 in Edinburgh (and another 9 nearby), and 6 in Bath (well, one atually in Bath and five nearby).
- Bedandbreakfast.eu - Massive database of 1.8 million places to stay around the world (more than 1,400 in London alone), but it is more of a classifieds site, with each property submitting and writing its own listing, and many are not, actually, B&Bs in the traditional sense. Still, a good resource for the room hunt.
Also in Lodging options:
- Apartments (rental flats)★★★
- Farm stays and agritourism★★★
- Aparthotels in Britain★★☆
- Castle hotels★★☆
- Cottages & villa rentals★★☆
- Hostels in the U.K.★☆☆
- University dorms in the U.K.★☆☆
- Stay for free| Free
- Couchsurfing| Free