Don't get star-struck

Official star ratings mostly have to do with services, not style (Photo graphic by Reid Bramblett, with images courtesy of VisitEngland, the Scottish Tourist Board, and Visit Wales)
Official star ratings mostly have to do with services, not style

Hotels' official star ratings have nothing to do with how clean, central, comfortable, or charming a hotel is—just how many (often pointless) amenities it offers

Don't book more hotel than you need. Don't get star-struck.

British hotels are rated from one star (simple) to five stars (deluxe) by Visit England, Visit Wales, the Scottish Tourist Board, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

The star ratings have nothing to do with how good—comfortable, clean, central, charming—a hotel is, and everything to do with the kinds of amenities they offer (minibars, room service, formal reception, etc.)

In other words, a crummy, bland hotel on the outskirts of town can add minibars and satellite TV channels and bump up to three– or four-star status (and prices), while a charming little inn—simple (no minibars, no satellite channels...heck, no TV), but clean and comfy, with friendly owners and a central location—might rate only one star.

As hotels get more expensive (four- and five-star), they get more similar to standard hotels in the U.S.—where hotels are renowned for their absolute lack of character and cookie-cutter sameness.

There's rarely a good reason to book anything fancier than a three-star hotel in the U.K., where you'll still get most of the amenities you'd expect at home, just perhaps not as standardized.

Me? I'll book the two-star or one-star hotel every time. I mean, do you really need the minibar? And you came to see Britain, not sit around watching TV, right?

The four Cs

When I want to book a hotel, I look for the four Cs, in this order:

  • Clean
  • Comfortable
  • Central
  • Cheap

"Charming" is also a nice touch, but only after the first four "C" needs have been met.

Useful rating distinctions

There are two official categories of designation that are worth considering.

The first is if a hotel has been awarded the VisitEngland Gold or Silver Award. or the Scottish Tourist Board's Scottish Thistle Award (or a Scottish hotel whose stars are gold rather that white). Any of those awards single out a property that—regardless of star rating, facilities, or services—"excels in hospitality and service and has top scores for bedrooms, bathrooms, food and cleanliness." 

Then there are the hotels and guest accommodations that hold the coveted VisitEngland Breakfast Award (Scotland's version is called "Taste Our Best"), recognizing breakfasts which "exceed guest expectations... by rewarding excellent range, presentation, quality of ingredients and service."

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A note on the star ratings

You will notice that all hotels (and sights and restaurants) on this site have a star designation from [none] to ★★★.

This merely indicate that I feel these hotels offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official British hotel ratings—which, again, have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier hotel has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just ★★.