Low-cost Dorm Stays in Central London

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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 ramsay.hall@ucl.ac.uk.

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.

On an elegant, tree-lined street in the heart of Bloomsbury, this is a residence comprising 11 early Victorian, converted town houses. Accommodation is self-catering. Guests use the large, well-equipped kitchens. As at Ramsay, bathrooms are down the hall. Towels are not provided, but bed linen is.

Prices: Single room under seven nights: £18.25. Over seven nights: £16.75. Twin room under seven nights: £34.50. Over seven nights: £32.50. Summer availability in 2000: June 19 to mid-September. Nearest Underground stops: Russell Square, Euston, Euston Square. Incidentally, Campbell House operates a useful "hospitality desk" in summer, manned by knowledgeable students and staff who'll point out some of the area's best bargain eateries. Campbell House has a good selection of twin rooms but no elevators.

London School of Economics (LSE) Halls, Marketing Office, Bankside House, 24A Sumner Street, London SE1 9JA; tel. 011-44-20-7955-7575; fax 7955-7676; e-mail vacations@lse.ac.uk; Web site lse.ac.uk/vacations.

Bargain accommodation is available in six buildings belonging to LSE. Bankside House is LSE's flagship residence, with significantly larger rooms than you'd expect in most halls and indeed some London hotels. Besides being modern and spacious, the vast majority of accommodations (singles, twins, triples) have private bathrooms. Walking down the mauve-carpeted hallways, you could be forgiven for thinking you're actually in a hotel. The contemporary bedroom furniture, attractive quilt covers, and cheerful curtains also wouldn't be out of place in a modern hotel. But it's Bankside's location that's really stunning. You're opposite the site of the breathtaking new "Tate Modern" art gallery. You're a two-minute walk from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. You're near some of London's best Thames-side treasures such as the Royal Festival Hall, Southwark Cathedral, and the HMS Belfast. Waterloo International Terminal, with Eurostar trains direct to Paris, Lille, and Brussels, is a fifteen-minute walk away.

LSE's second major residence, Passfield Hall, is a row of late Georgian houses in Bloomsbury, especially popular with backpackers and young people. The standard bedrooms (singles, twins, or triples) are bathless - these are down the hall - but there are sinks in each room. Elsewhere, Carr-Saunders Hall is off Tottenham Court Road and minutes from the theater district and West End attractions. This 1960s/1970s building offers singles and twins (bathrooms down the corridor). Next, Rosebery Avenue Hall--near Sadler's Wells Theatre and bustling Camden Passage antiques market--is in Islington, one of London's most distinctive areas. It offers singles, twins, and triples, most with shared bathrooms but some twins with private facilities. The Myddleton Wing at Rosebery has units of four bedrooms sharing a bathroom, shower, and kitchenette. English breakfast is included, eaten in the dining room or on the garden patio.

LSE's remaining two halls are Butlers Wharf and High Holborn Residence, offering self-catering flats with mostly single bedrooms for four to seven people. Butlers Wharf is near Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, and the Tower of London. The brand-new High Holborn Residence is sited in a prime location at the top of Drury Lane, opposite the Shaftesbury Theatre in the heart of the West End.

Prices: Prices vary across the LSE range of halls. A bathless single at Carr-Saunders Hall, for example, is between £22 and £27 per night, while a single with private bathroom at Bankside costs £41 per night. Both include English breakfast. Summer availability in 2000: July 8 to the end of September. Nearest Underground stops: Waterloo, London Bridge, Blackfriars (Bankside); Euston, Euston Square, Russell Square (Passfield); Warren Street, Goodge Street (Carr-Saunders); Angel, Farringdon (Rosebery Avenue); Tower Hill, London Bridge (Butlers Wharf) and Holborn, Tottenham Court Road (High Holborn). And another thing-all rooms have card-operated telephones (£2 phone cards available from the front desk).

King's College, Vacation Bureau, King's College London, 127 Stamford Street, London SE1 9NQ; tel. 011-44-20-7928- 3777; fax 011-44-20-7928-5777; e-mail vac.bureau@kcl.ac.uk.

King's offers good-quality, inexpensive accommodation for individuals at four halls. You can stay, first, on a room-only basis in the modern Great Dover Street Apartments on the Thames's South Bank, 15 minutes' walk from London Bridge Station. Here, self-contained corridors have four to nine compact, functionally furnished (mostly single) bedrooms, each with an equally compact bathroom. There are kitchens in every corridor but over the summer, they're not equipped with utensils, cutlery, or crockery, although you may use the microwave, stove, toaster, and kettle. Each bedroom has a small refrigerator. Or, opt for the similarly organized Stamford Street Apartments two minutes from Waterloo Station. Those who enjoy a more traditional environment (at even cheaper rates) choose the Edwardian Wellington Hall, which has bathless but generously sized singles and twins with sinks (bathrooms on each floor), and is a short walk from Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Houses of Parliament. For even more of a bargain but a bit further afield in north London, try the Hampstead Campus. This is the only hall in our selection outside London's Travel Zone 1. Even though it's in Travel Zone 2, we couldn't fail to mention it-because a sink-equipped single room here (breakfast not included, bathrooms down the hall) is an astounding o17 per night! Twins are £29.

Prices: Ranging from £17 for a single (Hampstead Campus, room only) to £26/single and £40/twin at Wellington Hall (with English breakfast) to £30/£33 (single room only) at Great Dover Street/Stamford Street Apartments. Twins at Great Dover Street (a very limited number) are £47. Summer availability in 2000: June 19 to September 15 (Wellington Hall and Hampstead Campus); July 5 to September 15 (Great Dover and Stamford Streets Apartments). Nearest Undergrounds: London Bridge (Great Dover Street); Waterloo (Stamford Street); Westminster (Wellington); Hampstead (Hampstead). And another thing-Wellington Hall's oak-paneled dining room boasts a lofty ceiling and a wall of stunning stained-glass windows that you can admire over breakfast.

Imperial College, Rooms Division, Conference Office, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, Watts Way, Prince's Gardens, London SW7 1LU; tel. 011-44-20-7594-9507 or 7594-9511; fax 7594-9504 or 7594-9505; e-mail reservations@ic.ac.uk.

Imperial College's excellent-value halls are in two of London's most popular areas. Tumble out of bed at Southside, Linstead, or Weeks Halls in Prince's Gardens, South Kensington, and within a few minutes' walk you're at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History and Science Museums, or the Royal Albert Hall. Add another ten minutes and you're at Knightsbridge's world-famous Harrods department store. If you fell in love with the movie Notting Hill, you'll be head-over-heels with the location of Imperial's other residence: Pembridge Gardens, Notting Hill. It's only two minutes from the colorful Portobello Road market and a stroll away from some of London's liveliest eateries and bars. For two weeks this September, and from Easter 2001, over 200 new superior bedrooms, most with private bathrooms, will be available at the refurbished Beit Hall adjacent to the Royal Albert Hall, venue for the world-famous summer concert series, the "Proms."

Prices: At Southside, Linstead, and Weeks, rates are £35 (including English breakfast) for a standard bathless single with wash basin (£55 for a twin). At Pembridge Gardens, a standard single with sink is £35; a standard twin £55; a single with private bathroom £45.50, a twin with private bathroom £65--all including a continental breakfast in a basket in your room. Bed and English breakfast at Beit Hall in September will be £42 for a bathless single, £58 for a single with bathroom, and £76 for a twin with bathroom. Summer availability in 2000: July 3 to September 24 (Prince's Gardens and Pembridge Gardens); September 14-25 (Beit). Nearest Undergrounds: South Kensington (Prince's Gardens and Beit); Notting Hill Gate (Pembridge Gardens). And another thing-visitors at Imperial's halls may use the college sports center in Prince's Gardens. For a nominal "activity fee," the 25-meter swimming pool, Jacuzzi, squash courts, sauna, steam room, and fitness center beckon.

Walter Sickert Hall, City University, Graham Street, London N1 8LA; tel 011- 44-20-7477-8822; fax 7477 8825; e-mail i.gibbard@city.ac.uk; Web site city.ac.uk/ems.

Near the City of London and trendy Islington, with easy access to West End attractions, you'll find City University's recently opened Walter Sickert Hall. Carpeted corridors and marble-walled staircases (there's also an elevator) lead to 220 compact but immaculately clean, functional bedrooms, with private bathrooms, tea/coffee-making facilities and telephones. Rooms here are serviced daily. There are mainly single rooms with a very limited number of twins. Nine "executive" guest rooms are available throughout the year and even have televisions. You're five minutes' walk to the world-renowned Sadler's Wells Theatre and Camden Passage Saturday antiques market.

Prices: Single £30, executive single £35; executive twin £50 (all-inclusive, with continental basket-breakfast in your room). Summer availability in 2000: June 22 to mid-September. Nearest Underground stop: Angel at Islington.

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