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Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Trafalgar – Hilton’s Trafalgar Square Hotel

We really struggled over our decision to stay at “The Trafalgar” – a highly modernized Hilton hotel in Trafalgar Square that does not highly publicize its Hilton Brand. The reviews were somewhat mixed and there were several other more traditional Hiltons just a couple miles away. In the end, we selected it for the price / value ratio (we were staying free on HHonors points) and the centralized location that it enjoys to many of the major sites of London.

Our room faced towards Trafalgar Square in London from the Hilton HotelOur room is in the picture above pointed out with the red arrow.

The welcome was just as we expected per the reviews that we read on TripAdvisor (link). The hotel was hard to recognize (although I driver knew it well) and the only marking on the building showed “The Trafalgar” in small black letters over the door. Other than that marking, you could not tell it was a hotel.
Once entering, it is similarly confusing. As you come up stairs you enter a bar, with a concierge desk (although not identified as such). In the bar, there are a couple of turntables where the DJ spins tracks during the evening. Off in the corned to the left, there are four workstations facing each other where the hotel staff is at. It is not a front desk experience per say, but if you know what you are looking for – it is easy.

I believe that the modern design and layout actually significantly takes away from the charm of this hotel and believe it would be more successful in a traditional format and offerings. But, who am I to say such things – it is not like I own a hotel chain or anything.

At check-in, we received a complimentary upgrade to room #203, which has to be one of the best of the hotel. The view to Trafalgar Square is hard to beat. The only frustrating part is that when I arrived in my room, I realized I did not receive free complimentary breakfast coupons. I called down to the desk and they advised me that Diamond members are entitled to an upgraded room, complimentary breakfast, or complimentary drinks. The only rub here is that I was not asked which I preferred at check-in. Our preference is clearly for the room and the view, so I did not ask to be moved. It would have been nice to be asked or know that the others were an option.

The view from our room into Trafalfar Square in London, England at the Hilton Trafalgar
The point above is contrary to many reviews I have read. Other reviews have stated that no complimentary breakfast is available, which is not true for Hilton HHonors Diamond members. You can avoid the ₤15.50 ($30 US) per person breakfast charge if that is your choice. Just make sure to declare that at the check-in time to receive your preference. If not, as with us – there are several relatively reasonable cafés in the area, including the ever preset Pret A Manger, a chain where you can get bread items, fruit, and an assortment of coffees for under ₤10 for two in the morning.

The location of the Trafalgar Hotel is tough to beat. We were able to access Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, the Theatre District / TKTS, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Westminster Abbey with very little walking effort. If you enjoy walking about, plus being located in the same square as the British National Gallery, you will love the centralized location. Plus “The Original Tour” office for the bus tour is right around the corner.

In terms of the staff, they were generally excellent for us. Courteous, helpful, and quick to respond to needs or questions that we have. We even received a nice plate of fruit and sparkling water on our first evening in the hotel. On the night we realized we missed our Eurostar train from London to Paris, we got great attention from both staff and the concierge to get us back on track again. They went out of their way to help solve our problem and that was greatly appreciated and rewarded with tips.

The other notion that I would like to dispel from the reviews that I have read is that the drinks offered are overly expensive. While they are definitely not cheap, they are not out of line with other offerings in London. While by United States standards, $10-12 drinks may look expensive, you would be hard pressed to find a much better value in London outside of the pub scene.

The only real problem that we experienced was the noise level in our room. Trafalgar Square is definitely one of the busiest intersections in all of London. There are multiple bus stops, many of them right outside of the hotel. It’s a happening place, and it should be expected. In our first room #203, which may perhaps be the room with the best view in the hotel – had two windows, both facing towards the square that let a lot of the noise in.

While I am usually a sound sleeper, the frequent sounds of buses, traffic, and police sirens woke me up on several occasions over the three nights we stayed there. I used earplugs successfully on our last night in #203 and slept the best during that stay. On our fourth and unexpected night we were in room #403, which only had one window. The noise was greatly reduced, and with just the fan running in the room – I had no problems sleeping.

With being said, if you are a light sleeper and even a moderate to heavy sleeper – and you value your rest more than the view, then I recommend avoiding rooms #103, #203, and #303. They would be the rooms with the highest noise exposure to Trafalgar Square given the noise levels.

The other item worth mentioning is that Internet price is outrageous here ₤15/day ($30 US) or ₤75/week ($150). More on Internet access in London here