A RELUCTANT OVERNIGHTER
Although my daily commute from home to our offices in the City takes just over an hour, there are occasions, due to pressing work commitments, when it makes more sense to stay in London than to go home. Recently, this has happened more frequently than I would like - to the extent that I now keep an overnight bag handy.
I work on the fringes of the City, around Liverpool Street, so there are no shortage of hotel rooms available in the area. However, as a Priority Club member, I prefer to stay at Intercontinental Hotel Group properties (Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn & Express by Holiday Inn), especially when my employer is footing the bill.
As such, the Express London City - which is a five minute walk from the office - is usually my first choice. Unfortunately, I usually end up booking quite late in the day, which is hardly conducive to getting the best rates, so the prices I usually pay are not representative of what is normally on offer to those who can plan further ahead.
The Express London City is very close to the busy road intersection at Old Street Underground (Northern Line - Bank Branch) and train station (served by First Capital Connect) and is on a number of major bus routes (to Paddington, London Bridge, Waterloo, & Oxford Circus amongst others) so it is best accessed by public transport.
It is handily placed for access into the City and points North, and can be used as a convenient base from which to explore London. The property is within walking distance of the City's financial district, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Brick Lane, and is also convenient for the Eurostar at St Pancras, Kings Cross and Liverpool Street stations.
Arriving by car is not a good idea. The hotel is within London's Congestion Charge zone and has very little parking on-site (nine spaces for its 224 rooms, available on a first come first served basis and charged at £25 per day). There is a public NCP car park close by at Finsbury Square (a five to seven minute walk from the hotel), but like all London car parks, it is eye-wateringly expensive at £36 a day.
This part of London - on the Hackney and Islington borders - is not going to win any prizes for aesthetic appeal, and sadly, the exterior of this hotel does nothing to improve the neighbourhood. The front of this five floor property has a small, shallow "in/out" driveway that's serves as a drop off area for cabs, and shelters the entrance a bit from the proximity of the street. The immediate area around the hotel is home to the usual eclectic mix of dubious takeaway establishments, off licences, small food shops (convenient given lack of room service), vacant lots, cab offices and the occasional "character" bars and pubs that only a local could love. Being a confirmed and lifelong suburbanite, I tend to find it all a bit grubby, daunting and uncomfortable.
Fortunately, the clean and bright interior belies this initially negative impression, and leaves the visitor feeling like they have stepped into an oasis of civility and relative calm. On my last visit, I arrived at 10pm to find reception fully staffed, and was seen to immediately. The downstairs area is open plan, featuring the reception desk, a bar area, and a lounge with an extra large flat screen TV. The breakfast area is screened off at night with a set of accordion type full length floor to ceiling doors, creating a smaller space in the evenings, but given the austerity and contemporary feel of the décor, it is not particularly welcoming and feels a bit like a transit lounge.
Given its noisy city centre location, it's best to try and bag a bedroom at the back of the property (even numbered rooms last I checked). I have stayed on the Old Street side and the exterior noise is definitely more noticeable than on the other side of the hall. The key card is a completely white with no markings other than a strip on one side and it took me a minute or two to figure out which way to swipe it to open the door.
Once inside, I was pleased to find a relatively large room with a generously proportioned double bed, a small couch, an open "wardrobe", and a combined desk and TV stand which also houses the basic tea-making facilities (which featured an impressively scale-free kettle). A full length mirror is mounted on the wall opposite the bed, with a hairdryer fixed in a holder on the wall next to it.
A fold-out luggage rack is provided, but, otherwise, the room is not blessed with an abundance of storage space. There is a fan and a wall-mounted radiator, but no central heating or air conditioning. At the time of writing, the hotel is undergoing a floor by floor refurbishment and will be completed (and fully air conditioned) by July 2011.
The TV is the old CRT type - a bulky black presence squatting obtrusively and noticeably in the corner of the room. Around twenty channels are provided (most of the free to air stuff you normally find on Freeview) but the picture and sound quality is average at best. The hotel entertainment package also offers pay-per-view blockbuster movies (Toy Story 3 was the advertised feature) as well as "adult" channels for those requiring a different kind of entertainment, both priced at a rip-off £9.95 per film. These channels need to be activated at reception before you can tune in.
The desk offers a hard broadband connection, but WiFi is also provided throughout the building at a charge of £12.95 per day. The bedding was clean and smelled very pleasant and fresh and the bed itself was very comfortable to sleep in. The room lighting was a little harsh and bright for my taste, but the halogen bedside lamps make a refreshing change from the dim, power-saving lamps I am now used to having in similar hotels (a shame then, that one of them wasn't working). The room and side lights can be turned off from the bed. I wasn't sure what to make of the complimentary ear-plugs, but in any event, I had no reason to test how effective they were. There wasn't much ambient noise and I slept quite soundly.
Oddly, but surprisingly efficiently, the door to the bathroom also doubles as the door to the toilet, allowing one occupant to use the facilities without bothering someone else using the bathroom. The shower enclosure is quite large, but suffers from a lack of downlighting, so that it gets quite gloomy when the curtain is drawn. Water pressure is fantastic, providing a powerful showering experience guaranteed to blast you awake in the morning. All-in-one hand soap, shampoo and shower gel is provided wall-mounted dispensers (one in the shower and the other next to the sink).
Lighting above the one-piece Formica sink unit is very good and the three mirrors, arranged around the sink both increase the lighting and sense of space and make shaving a doddle. The towels provided were a little stiff and scratchy, but were more than adequate for one guest. There are no toiletries provided, but basic things like a toothbrush, disposable razor and soap can be obtained from reception for free.
Breakfast was included in the room rate and is served from 6:30am onwards in the main restaurant on the ground floor. It is a self-service affair - you just turn up, grab a tray and avail yourself of the limited facilities. The room has a distinct cafeteria feel to it, seating is first come first served and you will find yourself eating with various service staff disconcertingly and enthusiastically buzzing about, picking up and clearing trays and wiping down tables. I am usually by myself, and its common to find your breakfast has disappeared after coming back from topping up your juice.
The "hot" part of the offering (usually lukewarm at best) is sausages and scrambled eggs. The sausages are cheap, taste bland and have a mealy texture - best avoided. The eggs are not much better - a bright yellow, crumbly, watery mush that would have most laying hens weeping into their bird feed. However, the croissants are passable, as is the fresh bread for toast, and, along with yoghurt, fresh fruit and an array of popular cereals, it is possible to put together a passable and satisfying breakfast. Coffee is the machine-dispensed kind and, given the proximity of EAT, Pret and a host of independent coffee shops in spitting distance, its not worth stripping your stomach lining for the sake of a couple of quid.
PRICE & PAYMENT
As my company picks up the bill for my overnight stays, I am not normally particularly fussed about the room rate. However, I do like to keep an eye on expenses and was a little peeved to have to pay £169 for my overnight stay in what is, basically, a three star City "budget" hotel. The Crowne Plaza in Shoreditch - a chain two rungs up the IHG ladder - was advertising a rate of £209 a night, which, in my view, showed up the Express as being particularly bad value. My mood was not improved when I found out the price, as of 1st October 2010 is quoted ex-VAT, which made my ten-hour stay (10pm to 8am) a whopping £198 all in. That's £20 an hour.
To be fair, their rates are normally much more competitive, but having booked on-line at 2pm the same day, I would have expected better room rate than a "walk-in". Express accept most major credit cards and check-out (the bill notwithstanding) was otherwise quick and relatively painless. An express check-out facility is available in your room, but I needed an invoice for my expenses claim, so opted to do it in person. I also wanted to hand in a maintenance form (provided in room) so that the bedside lamp and a minor leak in the shower hose could be fixed for the next guest.
On the plus side, the property is conveniently placed, the staff are courteous, efficient and friendly, and the rooms are clean, comfortable and, on the whole, usually well maintained. However, as a hotel supposedly aimed at the budget end of the market, the rate I paid was ludicrously expensive. It remains to be seen what value, if any, is added by the refurbishment programme, but I doubt very much that it will justify a rate of nearly £200 a night.
I would venture that half that price is about the right value given its amenities and location in London. Breakfast was mediocre at best, there are no on-site facilities to speak of (a "Guest Pass" is offered at a nearby gym for a discounted £7), and the immediate area around the property is less than salubrious. This is not a place I would chose to stay if I was paying myself, but the proximity to work makes it a viable solution.
Express by Holiday Inn
275 Old Street
London EC1V 9LN
Front Desk: 0207 300 4300
© Hishyeness 2010
Me, my husband and two stepchildren (aged 17 and 6) stayed at this hotel for two nights in between Christmas and New Year 2007. We booked on-line at the (very) last minute and were drawn to the hotel by the cheap price....59 pounds per night for all 4 of us including breakfast which was at least half the price of anything else that we could get within a reasonable distance of the centre of London.
The hotel is situated in the Docklands area of London (5 minutes walk from Canning Town Tube Station, on the Jubilee Line) within spitting distance of ExCel, Canary Wharf and London City Airport. It would be fair to say that it is not in the most selubrious part of London I've ever seen but I never felt unsafe and lets face it you don't usually go to London to spend time in the hotel.
We arrived by car and it took a little finding (but we did have an out-of-date map which probaby didn't help!) and parking was easy and FREE within a 'secure carpark', complete with carpark type barriers that you can get through by pressing the button but you had to provide your registration number at check-in so I presume they have a security guard. Another point of note is that you can get to the hotel by car without having to go into the congestion charge zone.
We arrived a little too early for our room but the attendant at check-in was more than helpful and took our luggage into the luggage room and said that we could come back whenever we wished and check in so we went off and spent the rest of the day in London.
Upon returning back the check-in staff had changed and they seemed to be a little less clued up and a bit stressed out. Apparently there had been a system failure. The result of this was that they had the four of us staying in a twin room with two single beds (she seemed not to be in the slightest bit phased about giving us this room making me think that you could probably squeeze more people into your room than you originally booked for). Then there weren't any non-smoking rooms left despite us booking one but we didn't complain too much since we had only booked 36 hours earlier. But we did get a room for the four of us (a double bed and a double sofa bed).
The hotel has lifts and stairs and on arrival at our floor (the smoking floor) it was evident that it was the smoking floor as the corridor was quite ripe but the room didn't smell at all so it was no problem. The room was very reasonable. A double bed and a double sofa-bed (which was very easy to make) and plenty of bedding and towels. It was ensuite with toilet, basin and shower. We were only there for a couple of days but there appeared to be adequate storage (hanging space and drawers) for four people which was good as there wasn't an awful lot of floor space left by the time the sofa-bed was out. There was of course a TV complete with Sky, curiously BBC seemed somewhat absent but we didn't spend too much time flicking through the channels so we could have missed it.
The only gripe about the room was the heat (a problem I often find with these hotels). It was almost impossible to be comfortable. There was an air-conditioning unit which was electriconically controlled but you couldn't really have it on all night as it was quite noisy.
The complimentary breakfast was continental style and served for a reasonable time (3 hours or so, 6-9am or 7-10, can't remember now). There was a good selection although it was quite hectic and little system to it all. There was tea, coffee, water, orange and apple juice. A good selection of cereals, cheeses, yoghurts, grapefruits, bread etc etc. A good way to set you up for the day and possible to make sandwiches for lunch if you were so inclined. There was also a small independent supermarket next door which sold all kinds of things.
In the breakfast area, after about midday, I presume, there was a bar serving a limited selection but the usual favourites of most drinks.
In terms of travelling into the centre of London to see the sights, the hotel is ideally situated for the price. As I said earlier its five minutes walk from Canning Town Tube Station which is on the new part of the Jubilee Line that takes you straight to Westminster and from there you can get anywhere. It does take time as you are quite far out ~1/2 hour from Canning Town to Westminster. A travel card from Canning Town for an adult cost 5 pounds 70. For 11-16 year olds there is a child rate (sorry, not sure what this is) and under 11s go free.
The only other thing to note is the second episode of seemingly staff ineptness, when we returned back the second night our electronic keycard wouldn't open our door, so when I went back to see why she asked me if we were supposed to be checking out today I said no and there was no problem and she re-coded it.