London has been a center of commerce and culture for hundreds of years. Today sporting events, trade shows, and entertainment draw even larger number of travelers than in the past. The choices for accommodation are plentiful and varied, ranging from low-cost hostels to 5 start hotels. On this, my 5th visit to the city, I opted for something different: a flat with HomeAway.co.uk.
My friend and fellow travel writer, Linda, shared the flat with me, as we were both attending the same travel conference. Having another set of eyes and ears around was handy, as it allowed me to get feedback from someone with a different set of priorities. Although we both need a certain amount of quiet to write, for example, our respective definitions of such vary quite a bit. (You can read her review here.)
There are two aspects to consider when writing a review about a stay of this type. The first is the experience of staying in a flat (apartment) vs. a hotel. The second is the experience of the particular property. I'll start with the former.
As an introvert – who can play the role of extravert reasonably well for a short stint – having a safe little nest to come home to is a an absolute treat. No matter how long your stay in a particular hotel room might be, there is something about the hustle and bustle of neighboring travelers that does not lend itself to tranquility. Likewise, the daily appearance of cleaning staff, often considered part of the appeal of a luxury stay, erodes any sense of privacy. Knowing that my belongings would be exactly as I left them was an intangible benefit I hadn't understood before this stay.
Photo by IslandMomma.
Things I loved about the flat:
- designed to be a real living space, not a transitory spot to dump one's things and catch a quick snooze
- fully equipped kitchen
- proximity to a canal; great for creating a sense of space within the city; also featured a handy walking/running/cycling path
- comfy, warm bed
- close to a station for the London overground
- combination washer/dryer
- the decor – modern, simple, airy feel
There were cheerful wall decorations and cute cushions which really added to the cozy atmosphere. The ability to cook at home was a real boon to travelers on a budget. A nearby market provided everything needed for two people for a week at approximately £20. (We did have a few free meals at the conference.)
Things I did not love about the flat:
- electric heat – it was too dry and led to both myself and Linda waking up congested and coughing throughout the day
- internet access via "dongle"
- adjacent to a busy street; had a hard time sleeping without earplugs
The flat was listed as having wireless broadband. To me, this implies a router with wifi. A dongle (USB device) means only laptops can be used to get online (as in, no smart phone access) and only one at a time. This was a HUGE drawback for two travel writers/bloggers.
I should note that Linda had no trouble sleeping whatsoever. If you are used to the sounds of a bustling metropolis, the nearness of the street could actually help you sleep rather than hinder. I am a light sleeper and cherish quiet, so it was a definite minus.
The property, or at least its description on the website, could use a few improvements. Overall, however, we both enjoyed our time there. The warm feeling and ease of access to public transport really made for a handy stay. And, as mentioned, use of a full kitchen was really great. Getting the sense of living like a local, rather than staying at a hotel, helped me relax more easily after a long day at the conference.
Things to consider when deciding between a hotel and flat or house rental:
- no daily cleaning service – a plus for some (like me!), a minus for others
- if supplies are not provided or run low (laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.), you will need to replace them yourself
- check to see if the location is on a main line of the Underground; if not, trains or buses may not come as frequently, or may require additional connections
- most properties have a total price, not a per-person price like hotels; many properties have extra pull-out or sofa beds, so this is great if you have a last minute visit from a friend – no extra fees
- contact the owner with any specific questions, needs, or concerns before booking (we should have double checked on the internet access)
I definitely recommend a flat over a hotel stay when staying in town for several days. Allow time in advance of your booking to do research and correspond with the owner. Then – enjoy!
The stylish little flat we stayed in near Hackney/Hoxton is listed here.
HomeAway.co.uk has holiday lettings all over the world, including Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. You can book directly on their website: http://www.homeaway.co.uk