Low-cost Dorm Stays in Central London
Virtually unknown to most tourists are these university residence halls in central locations
A friend from Arizona--who at 75 still flits annually from European capital to European capital with the energy of a 40-year-old--is one of budget travel's shoestring supremos. Her entire life's been dedicated to the pursuit of travel happiness, but only on the tightest of budgets, with planning and skill. So when she told me that on her last vacation she stayed in central London at the height of the summer season for a rock-bottom £22 ($35.70) a night, with breakfast, and in a single room to boot, I knew I was on the brink of a momentous information breakthrough. I subsequently discovered my friend's secret weapon in her war against sky-high London hotel rates: university accommodations when students are on summer break. Hundreds of these academic bargains often go begging right in the heart of summer London, some in brand new buildings, others in charming period town houses, many including superb English breakfasts right down to sausages and kippers, some even offering valuable self-catering facilities for visitors preferring to eat in. For reasons puzzling if not inexplicable, they are absent from many travel guidebooks and usually booked only by groups using academic contacts, even though they are fully available to individuals of all ages.
The exact name for these digs, in British parlance, is "halls of residence"--and they are attached to the 30-or-so colleges and schools of two giant English institutions: London University and City University. Instead of lying empty during long summer vacations, they're available to tourists from approximately mid- to late June until mid- to late September. Exact dates vary from hall to hall. (There are also rooms available during the long Easter holiday.)
Big savings, superb locations, and wonderful choice are the attractions of staying in "halls." Obviously, they do not supply a hotel-style experience. They provide no frills. You won't find room service or fancy decor. The bedrooms, however, are certainly adequately furnished, or "kitted out" as the British say. And while you might not have your own bathroom (although many "halls" do now offer private facilities at a slightly higher rate--more about that later), walking a few paces down the corridor to shared facilities is a small price to pay for rock-bottom rates slap-bang in the middle of one of the world's most exciting capitals.
A typical hall bedroom is small--but hey!--small can be beautiful, especially if the price is right. It's usually very basically furnished with a bed (linen supplied), closet, bedside table, desk and chair, easy chair, curtains and carpet. Private bathrooms, where available, are also compact and functional, usually with a stall shower, toilet, and sink. Older-style residences--such as Wellington Hall (built 1913) at King's College or the Edwardian Pembridge Gardens (Imperial College)--have larger, unusually shaped rooms with high ceilings. In these halls, private bathrooms vary in size too. One, at Pembridge Gardens, contains a bath big enough to soak a small army in!
Between London and City Universities, there are actually thousands of budget beds on offer during summer. But beds this cheap in central London don't stay empty for long, and most of these halls take groups. It's imperative for individual travelers to reserve as soon as possible from the rest of the halls' stock. Also, because these are university residences, there are many more single rooms than twins available. So for shared accommodation, book early or be prepared to accept two single rooms instead.
Here's what's available to you:
Ramsay Hall, University College London, 20 Maple Street, London W1P 5GB; tel. 011-44/20-7387-4537; fax 20-7383-0843; e-mail email@example.com.
The 462-room Ramsay Hall comprises four buildings-aptly named "Paris," "New York," "Rome," and "London." This modern residence is ideally situated for the West End and London's theaterland. Oxford and Regent Streets are a short walk away, as is the British Museum. Guests stay at Ramsay on a room-and-breakfast (mostly singles) or half-board basis. All rooms have sinks; baths and toilets are down the corridor. Bed linen and hand towels are provided.
Prices: Room and breakfast for less than seven nights: £24.10. More than seven nights: £22. Individual rates on half-board basis under seven nights: £30. Over seven nights: £27.90. Summer availability in 2000: June 19 to mid-September. Nearest Underground stops: Goodge Street, Warren Street, Euston, Euston Square, Great Portland Street.
Campbell House, University College London, Residence Manager, 5-10 Taviton Street, London WC1H OBX; tel. 011-44-20-7391-1479; fax 7388-0060.