Hostels often have a bad reputation for being dirty, smelly and attracting undesirable customers; but when it comes to highly-rated hostels in London, these statements couldn't be further from the truth.
Many hostels in London offer clean, spacious dorms and/or private rooms with free Wifi, comfortable beds, and a friendly environment to meet new people from all over the world. And although sometimes the most budget hostels in London tend to lack character, they certainly make up for it once you calculate the amount you save on accommodation. As a matter of fact, with budget hotels in London costing as “low” as £60 per night (during off-peak season of course), you could easily find an excellent hostel in London for a fraction of the cost...if you know what you're doing.
If you're travelling to London alone and you're hoping to meet interesting people from all over the world, or even if you're travelling with a group and/or family and you're hoping to save money on accommodation, here are some tips on staying in a London hostel:
A rough guide to staying in hostels in London
When it comes to booking a hostel in London, always keep in mind that you get what you pay for. And although it may be tempting to choose the cheapest hostel, bed or dorm room possible, there are usually several negatives that go along with it.
Normally the cheapest dorm rooms have a lot people staying in them, which means that you'll not only have very little privacy, but also have to deal with people walking in and out of the room at odd hours of the night and early morning. Furthermore, sometimes the cheapest dorm rooms are the dirtiest, and may not have windows or even lockers (which means you'll have to carry around your expensive belongings with you during a day of sightseeing in London).
Some budget hostels offer 18-bed dorm rooms, which may be a good option if you want to save some money, but they aren't necessarily the most comfortable. Normally these rooms have three-tiered beds, so if you're checking in later in the night or even the day, you may end up having a top bunk which means you'll have to climb past two people in order to get to it.
It's also important to be aware that sometimes the cheapest hostels in London tend to have the most hidden charges (like for internet, bedsheets and towels, just to list a few) so you may find yourself saving more money by booking a hostel that is slightly more expensive. Some hostels also have 24/7 reception, a common area with a TV and a kitchen for customer use, but only the more expensive ones that are far out of the city centre.
If you plan on booking a private room with friends, most hostels offer two, four or six bed private rooms. Often times private rooms tend to be cleaner, (due to the fact they're more expensive) and they may even have their own ensuite bathroom (though this isn't always guaranteed), as opposed to dorms which normally have shared bathrooms for both men and women.
And, most importantly, before booking a hostel make sure you always read the fine print and reviews on not just one, but three or four different travel websites (like TripAdvisor, Hostelworld and HostelBookers). Some hostels tailor to specific ages or genders, while others tailor to customers who are looking to party it up in London. So if you're hoping to meet new people to go out for a drink with, you may not want to choose a hostel that has a curfew as they tend to tailor more to small children and families (and sometimes these hostels lock their doors as early as 10 p.m.!). On the other hand, if you're looking for a quiet place to rest your head in London, you may not want to choose a hostel that has a bar or restaurant underneath the rooms, as these tend to get quite noisy at night.
Where to find the best hostels in London
The majority of the best hostels in London tend to be centered around the city's most popular tourist attractions and museums. This is because hostels tailor to tourists coming to London for a few days who are looking for a place close to London's most famous landmarks.
The Smart Hostel chain has locations in Hyde Park and Camden, and Astor has locations in Bayswater, Bloomsbury, Kensington, and Hyde Park. Party hostel chain St. Christopher's has locations in Hammersmith, Camden, Greenwich, Shepherd's Bush and London Bridge, as well as a female-only location (St. Christopher's Oasis). Safestay is another great option as it has locations in Elephant and Castle and Holland Park, while the Clink hostel chain has two locations near King's Cross (Clink78 and Clink 261), and PubLove has locations in both Paddington and Greenwich.
YHA also has locations in St. Pancras, near St. Paul's and on Oxford Street, however you will need to sign up and pay for a YHA membership before you check-in to your room (you can do so either online beforehand, or once you arrive at the hostel)
There are clusters of hostels located around Hyde Park, Westminster and Soho, however these tend to be the most expensive. You can also find hostels outside of central London, for instance northwest of The Regent's Park or in south London, but you will have to pay for transportation in order to get from your hostel to the majority of London's attractions
How to book hostels in London
If you have a specific London hostel in mind, it may be a good idea to go directly to their official website and reserve a bed and/or room using your credit card. However, if you're still unsure as to which hostel you want, then you can always using a search engine on a hostel comparison website.
By using a search engine on a travel website, you can narrow down the hostel results by selecting your dates of travel, which facilities you're looking for, as well as how much you're hoping to pay. (For example, you can narrow your search results down by selecting which hostels have 24/7 reception or a complimentary breakfast). You can also use a website's search engine to sort each hostel according to rating, and distance, and most have a mapping tool so you can see where all of the hostels are located,.
Hostelworld.com allows you to search for various hostels in London according to their price, location and facilities, and you can also scroll through past reviews of the hostel as well. When making a booking, you will normally have to pay around a 10% deposit in order to secure your bed, or you can go directly to the hostel's official website and book that way as well. Normally it is cheaper to book through a hostel's official website; however, by booking on Hostelworld you can also leave a review for future customers.
How to save money on hostels in London
Normally hostels offer several different rooms and beds which differ in price. Dorm beds are usually much cheaper than beds in a private room for obvious reasons, so if you're travelling in a group of two or more people but want to save money on accommodation, you may have to bite the bullet and stick to a shared dorm room.
Normally the rule of thumb is that the more beds there are in each room, the lower the cost. (A dorm bed in a 10-bed dorm room, for example, usually costs £1 or £2 less than a bed in a 6-bed room). Dorm beds in female-only rooms also tend to be pricier, but they are usually cleaner and quieter.
And although the majority of hostels in London don't have their own kitchen due to limited space, some offer a cheap or sometimes even free breakfast to their customers so you can save money on food, coffee and tea costs. Some hostels even have an adjoining bar or restaurant and offer great deals on food and alcohol prices for their customers as well.
And perhaps it may go without saying, but normally hostels jack up their prices on the weekends, and especially during any sort of special event or holiday; (during the 2011 Royal Wedding, for example, hostel beds normally costing around £15 were bumped up to as high as £80!).
If you are staying in London over a weekend or holiday, then you may have no other choice than to book a hostel far out of the city centre. If this is the case, try to choose a hostel that has an adjoining restaurant or bar (like the St. Christopher's chains) so you can save money on transportation costs, and even get a few sweet discounts on drinks and food as well!