If you're traveling to London on a budget, where do you start to look for good value hotel accommodation. Which districts are unsafe or best avoided? How much should I be paying?
I would suggest if you are looking for the best value in London you use as your benchmark the area just north of Hyde Park. This area is a strip about one kilometer long and half a kilometer wide that borders Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, Central London's largest park. The local sub-districts within this area are called Paddington, Lancaster Gate and Bayswater. On Priceline this area is Bayswater / Notting Hill.
There are 4 underground stations in the area, you are never more than 700m from London's favorite way of getting around the city. There is also a dense network of local buses that provide a 24 hour service. During the day it's only a 10 minute ride to Oxford Street, about 20 minutes to Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square.
Paddington Station is one of London's major railways stations, apart from serving much of the west of England and South Wales it is the terminus for the Heathrow Express train to London's Heathrow Airport. Immediately around the station are about 30 budget hotels, mostly relatively small and independently owned. The only really upmarket hotel is the Hilton in the station complex itself. Many people flying into Heathrow find it convenient to use one of these hotels as Paddington is so central. There is a left luggage office at Paddington Station too which stores luggage or you can send things home if you need to.
Paddington Station is a bustling place with activity from very early to very late, many of the shops and services are in cramped streets and are nearly all small and family owned, apart from the fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King.
About 5 minutes walk south from Paddington Station is Lancaster Gate, adjoining Hyde Park. The streets here are much wider, tree lined avenue affairs, very pleasant. Bording the park and Lancaster Gate itself are a number of larger, more upmarket hotels, many of which are owned by chains.
Lastly west of both Lancaster Gate and Paddington is Bayswater, for the budget traveler, sometimes the place to start looking for your accommodation. The center of Bayswater is Queensway, a classic High Street with two underground stations, an ice rink and a shopping center. Along Queensway you will find probably the best choice of places to eat in London with just about every cuisine and price covered. There are also a good choice of things the budget traveler finds convenient, launderettes, convenience stores, supermarkets open until very late, pharmacies and 24 hour public transport.
In the streets around Bayswater resides about every grade of Hotel. Whilst there is a Hilton, a Ramada and a few other large 4 star hotels there is a definite bias towards budget accommodation. Apart from several hostels offering dormitory accommodation there are many so called 'bed and breakfast' hotels. These are not comfortable homestay accommodations with attentive hosts, but very simple hotels staffed in the main by cheap immigrant labor. There is a great variation in quality for about US US 50-80 for a double room with breakfast, ranging from the almost unacceptable to very pleasant. The cheapest rooms are not ensuite.
Perhaps the best value hotels are the poorly discounted 3 star hotels. Many of these are self proclaimed 3 star hotels. This term generally means all rooms are ensuite, there are lifts to rooms, a 24 hour front desk and probably a bar and often a restaurant. Room rates at these are highly volatile and rates tend to be higher at weekends. A good deal is a double room from about US $ 80-120, often but not always with breakfast.
If you are using Priceline this is not a good area to bid on hotels below 4 stars. The strength in the quality standards is such that you'll probably be allocated a cheap dud. At 4 star level, like so much of the London bidding districts, if you get a good low successful bid there is a good chance it'll be one of the Thistle chain. If you read reviews of customers to Thistle Hotels, there is a constant theme of very large, grand old hotels not being effectively maintained with a comment like 'It was acceptable given that I only paid $ US100, but if I paid the full amount I'd be very angry '
A good starting point for your research on the Bayswater and Paddington area is the web site, the London Hotel Toolkit. This has an accurate hotel map, pictures of the district, full transfer information from airport and rail stations in addition to online discounted room rates. Critically you'll have access to reviews on each hotel so you can work out the ones to avoid.