These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Our writers visited these hotels pre-pandemic.
It’s no secret that London is surrounded by incredible beauty. The rolling hills and quaint country villages are the perfect antidote to frenetic city life and, thankfully, the glorious English countryside is alive with character all the year round. It’s also dotted with an array of top-notch hotels. From boutique inns and restaurants-with-rooms to country house hotels and castles, here’s our pick of the best hotels near London – within an hour’s train or car journey.
Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead
The gardens define this country house. Guests can amble amongst the heaving rhododendron bushes and popping pink magnolia trees, or explore the apple orchard and fruit’n’veg garden. Gravetye Manor itself – an eight-minute drive from East Grinstead station – is an authentic Elizabethan edifice, all mullioned windows and red-brick chimney stacks. Inside, the past doesn’t echo; it booms. Instead of chairs expect 16th-century-style oak thrones; instead of radiators, gigantic fireplaces, engraved with Tudor flowers and coats of arms. The restaurant, overseen by George Blogg, has a Michelin star and is one of the most pleasurable places to dine in the country.
The House at Beaverbrook, Leatherhead
This luxurious country house hotel, located in 400 acres of grounds and woodlands between Leatherhead and Dorking (both a 13-minute taxi), is a picture of original artworks and antiques. It’s where press baron Lord Beaverbrook entertained world leaders and literary greats. Grandeur and opulence ooze from every room in the house, beautifully designed by Susie Atkinson and service is impeccable. Bicycles, walking maps, iPod touches and iPads with Netflix accounts are available and there’s a choice of films to watch in the cinema and buggies to take you around the estate. There are also two tennis courts.
Trains from London Waterloo to Leatherhead; 47 minutes
Read the full review: The House at Beaverbrook
A palace fit for royalty? Meghan Markle did indeed stay here the night before the Royal wedding – and it surely is one of the loveliest spots for a hotel, overlooking a spectacular 19th-century parterre and surrounded by acres of ancient woodland running down to the Thames. Yet for all its rural setting, Cliveden is also very accessible, located just outside the Buckinghamshire village of Taplow and less than an hour from London (10 minutes’ drive to the station). The house has witnessed much intrigue over the years – it was the setting for the infamous Profumo affair – and a hint of naughtiness remains.
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River Arts Club, Maidenhead
The River Arts Club, in a blissfully bucolic spot on the River Thames, feels more like an exclusive gallery-turned-guesthouse than a ‘normal’ hotel – it’s like stepping into the home of an eclectic art collector with an eye for bombastic interiors (and very deep pockets). The mix of Middle Eastern antiques, multi-coloured chandeliers and vibrant Venezuelan artwork might not sound appealing but somehow it all works. The pretty garden runs right down to the waterfront, from which Ophelia – the hotel’s private boat – whisks guests to the best riverside restaurants. It’s a six-minute taxi from Maidenhead station.
From London Paddington to Maidenhead; 39 minutes
Read the full review: River Arts Club
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Coworth Park, Windsor
Just down the road from Ascot, this 18th-century manor house is located on the edge of Windsor Great Park, among 240 acres of wild meadows which, in summer, offer up a hazy carpet of yellow, lavender and pink wild flowers. The house was built in 1776 and its many incarnations throughout history have included an all-girls school and the home of Lords and Ladies. Today its look is modern-day country house – it’s beige but not boring: tones of butter, caramel, bronze and gold feature in public spaces and rooms. Ascot, Virginia Water and Sunningdale are the closest railway stations, while London is just a 45-minute journey by car. There is also a helipad, should you want to arrive by air.
Gilbey’s Eton, Eton
Gilbey’s Bar and Restaurant has occupied this venerable spot on Eton High Street – a five-minute stroll from the famous Eton College and Windsor Castle – for decades, but few people realise that there’s a comfy studio apartment tucked away in its rafters. From this lofty position, you can even spy the castle turrets peeking over Eton’s rooftops. It’s a home away from home in many senses: the self-contained apartment is like staying in the home of a rich, well-travelled and impeccably stylish friend, it’s also only eight minutes’ walk from Eton Central railway station where trains serve central London.
Trains from London Waterloo to Eton Central; 46 minutes
Read the full review: Gilbey’s Eton
Heckfield Place, Hook
Perfect for Londoners who don’t want to travel a great distance, Billionaire Gerald Chan’s luxury country house feels far-flung, extremely rural and peaceful. It’s set between the M4 and the M3 (only an hour from London) and commands far-reaching views across its 400-acre estate (woodland, gardens, lakes, biodynamic farm) and open countryside beyond; on a clear day you can just make out Windsor Castle in the distance. The overall feel is earthy, homely and stylish, Skye Gyngell is on-hand as culinary director and guests can swim in the lake, indulge in the spa or sit back in the glamorous film screening room.
Stoke Park, Stoke Poges
Quintessential English charm runs in Stoke Park‘s DNA, from The Great Hall’s sweeping staircase to its oak-panelled function rooms. The Grade II-listed estate, designed by James Wyatt in 1788 with landscaping by Capability Brown and Humphry Renton, feels straight out of a movie. No wonder it was chosen for Bridget Jones, Layer Cake, Goldfinger and Tomorrow Never Dies (scout out the Bond corridor for this history). The hotel resides in the heart of Buckinghamshire’s green belt, among 300 acres of grounds. The hotel is a 10-minute drive from Gerrards Cross where trains can be caught to and from London.
Trains from London Marylebone to Gerrards Cross; 34 minutes
Read the full review: Stoke Park
The Crown, Amersham
The Crown is in the middle of it all: a handy base to explore Amersham’s old town as well as the nearby Chiltern Hills, Roald Dahl Museum and Hellfire Caves. It’s an easy 45 minutes from London by car, train or tube, but if you’re not travelling by car, note that the walk from the station to the hotel is about 20 minutes through woods and cornfields. The Tudor coaching inn has been reinvented for the modern age; the heavy wooden furniture, creaking floorboards and cobbled courtyardmixes well with contemporary elements. For what seems like a small inn there are plenty of facilities including a spa.
The Flitch of Bacon, Little Dunmow
Local resident and chef-patron at Midsummer House in Cambridge, Daniel Clifford, took over this defunct old pub (10 minutes from Stansted) and created a fine dining restaurant with three comfy and beautifully decorated rooms. The restaurant at Filtch of Bacon is a much more relaxed affair than at Midsummer House, but the food is of similar quality and aspiration. Just four starters, mains and desserts are on offer with the odd amuse-bouche thrown in, and accompanied by a well-chosen, although relatively expensive, wine list. The garden, with its Big Green Egg BBQs and a bar housed in a funky, vintage Michelin van, completes the picture.
Trains from London Liverpool Street to Stansted Airport; 54 minutes
Read the full review: The Flitch of Bacon
Sopwell House, St Albans
This popular country house spa hotel is situated in 12 acres of grounds just south of St Albans, among the kind of country lanes you expect a vintage car to ‘Poop! Poop!’ along at any minute. The hotel occupies a striking whitewashed Georgian country manor house, which has been added to over the years. The interiors are elegant and sympathetic to the period, while feeling fresh and contemporary. The spa is most exciting. Newly refurbished, it offers an array of facilities and a beautiful spa garden with water features inspired by the River Ver.
Eastwell Manor, Boughton Lees
Eastwell Manor sits amid 62 acres of private grounds, which lie within the 3,000-acre Eastwell Estate in the lush Kent Downs. The rural setting – under an hour away from central London by train and an eight-minute taxi to Wye – certainly offers a sense of blissful isolation. The original Manor, a former home of Prince Alfred, was built in neo-Elizabethan style in the 18th century before it was devastated by fire in the 1920s but rebuilt in its original style. The spa is one of the best in Kent, with an extensive range of treatments, a 20-metre pool, sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy pool.
Trains from London St Pancras International to Wye; 48 minutes
Read the full review: Eastwell Manor
Hever Castle, Edenbridge
The double-moated Hever Castle, best known as Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, dates back to the 13th century. Inside, the castle’s rooms contain priceless furniture, tapestries, antiques, one of the country’s best Tudor painting collections, and two prayer books inscribed and signed by Anne Boleyn. In addition to the attractions of Hever Castle and its gardens (entrance to both is included in the room rate), guests can relax in the Astor Wing lounge and Billiards Room, and use the tennis courts. Trains from central London to Hever railway station (a five-minute taxi ride from the castle) take just under an hour.
Rocksalt appears like a clam lying sideways on the harbour, its back to the wharves and its glass front opening to the water. A sun-bleached timber terrace runs the length of the restaurant, with minimalist interiors keeping the focus on the ocean and cuisine. A light-filled bar above the restaurant follows the sleek style while The Smokehouse and rooms achieve a more industrial chic look. Folkestone’s long pebble beach, which runs alongside the Lower Leas Coastal Park, is five minutes’ walk away. It’s a 53-minute train ride from St Pancras to Folkestone Central plus a six-minute taxi.
Trains from St Pancras International to Folkestone Central; 53 minutes
Read the full review: Rocksalt
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
If you’re planning to visit the Cathedral this is without doubt one of the best-located hotels, a 10-minute walk from both Canterbury West and East train stations. The distinctly contemporary Lodge, owned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, is set in a peaceful walled garden within the Precincts, literally in the shadow of the Cathedral of which its architecture mimics. The city’s other attractions, such as the Marlowe Theatre, Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, river tours and restaurants, cafés and shops are all under 10 minutes’ walk away.
Trains from St Pancras International to Canterbury West; 48 minutes
Read the full review: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
Wife of Bath, Wye
Set in the picturesque village of Wye, Wife of Bath is an attractive Grade II-listed building with exposed timber beams, wonky floors, bay windows and fireplaces in the restaurant and bedrooms. Mid-century modern furniture and a subtle white-and-grey colour palette dominate interiors – yet a subtle Spanish theme permeates with dashes of burned orange, Moorish lanterns, contemporary paintings of matadors and the bustling bar. The latter was a brave move but one that’s won over locals and Londoners, who travel down just for dinner. It’s an eight-minute stroll from Wye station for trains to London.
Trains from St Pancras International to Wye; 48 minutes
Read the full review: Wife of Bath
Contributions by Jade Conroy, Rachel Cranshaw, Martin Dunford, Shilpa Ganatra, Charlotte Johnstone, Gabriella Le Breton, Kathryn Liston, Hazel Plush, Debbie Ward & Antonia Windsor