Ask the average person in the street to name the oldest hotel in London and the chances are they wouldn’t know the answer. Not that this is particularly surprising or strange. After all, how many would know the oldest theatre, cinema or pub?

But it has got me thinking about the nature of hotels and the role they play on the urban landscape. Most London commuters will probably walk past at least one hotel on their way to work every day. Yet it is a strange quirk of city life that such ubiquitous landmarks go largely unnoticed by most of its inhabitants.

The obvious explanation is that those who live in London don’t NEED hotels in London (post-work drinks and extra-marital affairs notwithstanding). Consequently most of the city’s hotels exist somewhere in the back of our consciousness, like a distant memory of a childhood class mate. We know they’re around somewhere, we just don’t quite know where, or what they look like.

But there’s another reason too. Despite the competitiveness of the hotel industry, most hotels remain delightfully understated in appearance. Instead of shouting from the rooftops, they gently co-exist in perfect aesthetic harmony with the landscape around them, distinctive from offices and apartments only by a fluttering flag or bold lettering on their facades depicting their name.

So what ARE the oldest hotels in London? Well I’ve done some digging and found out for you. And now you know of their historical importance, perhaps you’ll want to visit them yourself. But a word of warning – they’ve probably changed quite a bit over the years.

Listed in the time-honoured tradition of third to first, here they are for your perusal:

The Great Western Hotel (now the Hilton Paddington)

Established: 1854

Architect: Philip Charles Hardwick

Situated next door to Paddington Station – which opened the same year as the hotel – and nearby to London’s famous Hyde Park, the original Great Western boasted Victorian architecture, an Art Deco-inspired lobby and white and sand coloured marble floors. The hotel underwent major refurbishment during the 1930s, before being entirely rebranded at the turn of the next century in 2002 when it was renamed the Hilton Paddington.

The Grosvenor Hotel
Established: 1861

Architect: J. T. Knowles

The Grosvenor hotel is located just a few yards from Victoria train station and has retained several of its original features, including its French Renaissance roof. The hotel has undergone several changes in ownership over the years, and even had the word ‘Grosvenor’ removed from its title under the stewardship of Thistle Hotels in the 1980s. Its original moniker was restored in 2008. The hotel also boasts the distinction of being the first in London to feature elevators, which at that time were powered by the city’s water pressure.

And the winner is…Brown’s Hotel

Established: 1837

Located in Albemarle Street, just off Piccadilly, Brown’s is officially the oldest hotel in London. Opened by 1837 by Mr & Mrs Brown who were servants to the famous poet Lord Byron, Brown quickly gathered a reputation for hosting the great and the good from every cultural sphere imaginable. Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call from the hotel, both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were regular guests and stayed here on their honeymoons and it was while residing at the hotel that Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book”.  Today Brown’s remains one of the most popular boutique hotels in London, both for its contemporary appeal and its enduring heritage. For a more comprehensive history of the hotel, plus photos in its modern guise, check out this website.