“ 8 Kings Cross Road, London, WC1X 9QG Tel: +44 (0)20 7183 9400 „
Although I regularly stay in hostels on the continent, I've never seriously considered staying in one London. On my occasional jaunts to the capital I've usually been able to get something decent at a reasonable rate but for December 2010, I was unable to find anything for a fair price in a location that wasn't so far out that it ate up valuable time in the city, so I started looking a hostel accommodation.
I've always found the London backpacking scene quite cliquey and "over organised"; there's a sense that one must join in, or stick out like a sore thumb if one doesn't wish to. During the time I lived in London myself I shared a house with, at different times, gap year travelers from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, who had stayed in hostels for the first few weeks after their arrival in the UK; for all of them their first exposure to London was through someone else's eyes, doing what the hostel recommended, trailing round in a group doing what was on the itinerary, regardless of whether that held any special interest for the individual. So, you see, I've got something of a "thing" against big hostels that lay on lots of entertainment and activity for their guests.
There were two things about Clink 78 (there are two Clink hostels fairly close to one another, Clink 261 is on the Grays Inn Road) that stood out; one was that the photographs made it look like a really cool place in terms of design, the other was that it is housed in a former courthouse and some of the rooms were formerly the holding cells. I know of two other hostels that used to be prisons, one in Ljubljana and the other in Prague, so I thought it would be fun to carry on the theme.
We booked through a third party hostel booking website, paying a ten per cent deposit in advance and the remainder on arrival at the hostel. When we arrived at the hostel we were relieved to find that they had our details ready. Clink 78 is situated on the Kings Cross Road which is a continuation of Pentonville Road and runs parallel with the Grays Inn Road. The nearest tube station is Kings Cross St Pancras and the hostel is a ten minute walk (at the very most) from the station. Various bus routes stop just outside and provide a quick means of accessing the west end; however, for those who prefer to walk, it's about a fifteen minute walk to Holborn.
It's a handsome building with a fairly grand doorway and steps. Unfortunately, in spite of requests not to do so in the list of rules each guest is issued with, there were usually a few people smoking on the steps which spoiled the initial impression. During the day the door is freely open but in the evenings you need to use your room key swipe to gain access to the hostel. Reception is in the large, high ceilinged lobby; With its wood paneling, elegant ceiling and skylight and parquet floor this stunning room would have made quite a statement were it not for the ugly red moulded plastic reception counter.
As the room was booked in my partner's name he was asked to provide two forms of photo ID; when he was unable to provide even one (and why should he? You don't need a passport to take the train from Newcastle to London - even if some Cockneys would claim its more or less in Scotland - and if you take the train you don't need a driving licence - although he doesn't have one anyway) she eventually - apparently reluctantly - settled for a bank card and a credit card. It seemed a little excessive since we had rolled up with an email and had were paying by credit card.
You can't have access to your room until 2.30pm on the day of check in so we left our bags in the luggage room in the basement. To access the room we were given a swipe card which we had to return immediately; CCTV also covers the room so it seems pretty secure. The room is not tiny but it was crammed with luggage from floor to ceiling, wall to wall and we were concerned that when we got back we might not be able to reach our bags; indeed when we did return later on, there were a couple of trunk like suitcases in front of the shelving where we had left our bags which we had to drag out of the way to get our stuff. It all looked pretty unsafe to be honest with the freestanding metal shelved buckling under the weight of heavy backpacks and cases.
We returned later in the afternoon and collected bed linen and towels from reception. As we were given a pile of items we didn't know what there was until we got into the room. Our room was on the ground floor and was a triple rather than a double as requested. The room was tiny with dark red walls. Although there was a window, covered with frosted plastic, it looked out onto a closed in outside area and so provided minimal natural light. The other issue was that the room was really hot and the window didn't open because it had been sealed around the edges with black tape. It wasn't possible to turn the radiator down.
These rooms are not for the claustrophobic; we knew from reading reviews of the hostel that the room would be small so we were not surprised when we just how small it was. It was only because we knew we'd be out until late, and would leave fairly early the next day that we decided we could manage. There was a set of bunks with a small double at the bottom and a single above. We would have preferred to have slept together in the double but it was really too small and it would have been impractical for the person sleeping beside the wall to climb over the other to get out of bed if necessary. In the end one had to take the double, and one the upper bunk. I went to reception to ask for a sheet for the single bunk as we'd only been given one for the double. The duvet and the pillows already had covers on them which was a bit odd because why would you not just put the sheets on the bed too? At least it meant we had only to put the sheets on and not wrestle with duvet covers in that tiny room.
There was a small simple bedside unit (IKEA aficionados will know the one - four pieces of untreated pine) and an anglepoise type lamp. A few metal coat hooks on the wall were the only concession to clothes hanging. For a one night stay for two people (and remember this room is meant to sleep three) this was just about adequate but we visited during a snow free weekend and I can imagine it would be pretty grim this weekend when your outdoor clothes are wet from the snow and there's not really anywhere to hang them to dry. Bags need to be stashed under the bed, for safety as much as anything else.
One good thing about our room was that it had a small en suite shower room and toilet; admittedly if you are the sort of person who likes a swish hotel bathroom in which to luxuriate and prepare for a night on the town, this will be nowhere near adequate for your requirements. The shower was at one end and the toilet at the other with a small washbasin in between. There was an excellent mirror over the wash basin, a small shelf for toiletries and an excellent light over the mirror. I was pleased to find a couple of hooks on the back of the door as there was no shower tray, just a shower drain on the flush floor. The shower was very good, easy to control, plenty of hot water and good pressure. There was no bathmat so we used a hand towel instead; if we hadn't we'd have trailed water all over the shower room and the sleeping area which could have been risky.
Absolutely exhausted we were back in our room by 11.30pm and had just dropped off when we were woken by noise in the corridor (himself was wearing earplugs so it was VERY loud). A couple of doors down was a communal shower room for those rooms that were not en suite and the constant coming and going, chatting, banging of doors and so on went on for about two hours. After that it fell quiet until the late night revellers returned to the hostel to start the process again. A request to keep the noise down was met with blank stares. I would suggest that there should be notices reminding guests of the need to try to keep the noise down after 11.00pm should be displayed around the hostel and not just on a small print notice on the wall of the rooms.
Breakfast is included in the price of your stay and is served in the basement. There are loads of picnic style tables and benches but they are crammed in too close together requiring constant rearranging of the furniture to allow people to slide themselves in to too small spaces. We rose quite early to try to beat the rush (breakfast is available between 7.00 and 10.00am) but there was still quite a queue. Everything is self service and there are umpteen toasters provided so to do. The cheap white sliced bread was pretty rank but it was the only thing I could it. Due to the way the cereals were presented, my nut allergy meant this option was no good for me. Neither were the cheap, low quality cereal bars. There was tea, coffee and an instant hot chocolate, as well as a very nasty orange drink.
Clink 78 is not that bad if you like quite institutional and organised hostels. It has lots of facilities that short of money backpackers tend to like, some of them I might even have considered myself - such as the free two hour guided walking tour. It has a large bar in the basement and there is entertainment of some kind laid on every evening, though this is mostly geared towards young backpackers and not really to families, many of whom were staying in the hostel.
The old courtroom is protected by English Heritage and is used as a computer/internet zone. There's wi-fi access as well as decent quality PCs for those who haven't brought a computer with them. Apparently Charles Dickens worked as a scribe in this very room and it's also the courtroom in which rock band The Clash were famously tried for the pigeon shooting incident; the basement bar is named the "Clashbar" in honour of the latter.
There's a quite swish, well-equipped communal kitchen and a small television lounge; there's a larger television lounge over at Clink 261. Guests from 261 also tend to use the Clashbar at Clink78.
Just off reception there's a dedicated travel shop where you can buy theatre and event tickets, get maps and guidebooks and book tours. They also sell a small number of toiletry items and travel goods such as adaptors, but you will pay a premium for the convenience.
We paid £80 for a double room which is way more than I would ever want to pay for a hostel room - in fact we paid less than that this summer in Oslo, which makes Clink very costly (although breakfast was not included in Oslo). The room was tiny but OK for just one night. Over all the condition of the room and the facilities was good but you can often find pretty decent hotel rooms for this kind of money if you can book in advance or are prepared to wait until the very last minute. To sleep in a private "cell" costs £50 but these rooms are absolutely teeny. There are different grades of dorm room with a bed in a "deluxe" dorm costing from £10 a night, and in a basic from £9 (the price goes up the fewer beds there are in the dorm - the maximum is 16). One thing that did strike me was that there seemed to be plenty of toilets and shower rooms for the basic accommodation.
For very social young backpackers this place seems pretty good. For me, though, it's just too big, too institutional and too noisy. I'll still consider staying in hostels in Europe but my feelings about London hostels were confirmed. No thanks.
We stayed at the Clink Hostel for 3 nights in May. Rooms are very reasonable priced and you have a choice between
-single/double/triple en suite by room
-dorms from 4 to 16 beds both en suite or not
Booking is possible on www.clinkhostel.com and hostelworld.com - I heard it's also possible to do it via phone. Booking was quick and easy.
The location close to Kings Cross is great. Within Zone 1/2 on the underground it is easily reachable. At King's Cross you can get the following tubes: Northern Line (Black), Metropolitan Line (Dark Red), Circle Line (Yellow) and Hammersmith and City Line (Pink).
From the tube station to the hostel it's a 5min walk. WE found the hostel easy to find and the location quite central. The quick connection between King's Cross and Camden town was a huge plus point.
-free walking tour of the city. Everyday at 10am in English and Spanish
-free breakfast (continental)
-free bed linen - towels have to be paid for
-lockers in room - you have to bring your own padlock
-bar in hostel
-Internet for 50 pence for 30min (also WiFi)
There are however some let-downs.
The staff was not friendly or helpful at all - of course this can be due to a bad day of the receptionist but still, they could at least answer your questions about the city tour provided by the hostel or location of breakfast room/bar etc.
One receptionist couldn't really communicate in English ans we ended up talking in Spanish to him.
The walls are incredibly thin and you could here every word spoken in any room on the corridor. Staff didn't care that there was a big party in one of the rooms at 3am with loud music - although there's a bar in the hostel and alcohol is not allowed in the rooms.
The rooms are really, really small and most have only one tiny window which can only be opened for 5 inch. The rooms were quite stuffy and too warm, thus smelly.
Bathrooms are mixed and there's no space in the shower cabin to keep your stuff dry. Bring plastic bags to avoid soaking everything.
All together a nice place to stay, rooms are reasonable priced and if you bring earplugs you can catch a good nights sleep!
I found this newly opened hostel while conducting a Google search for "cheap London hostels." Not only was it cheap, but it was novel, and upon inspecting its website, I realised this place looks really cool.
Booking online via the site directly is not so easy; if you have a Maestro card, you have to ring up because they only accept Visa or Mastercard on the website. You can also book through travelstay.com but they add a fee. It was easy enough on the phone, and my bed was secured.
One thing I should warn people is that it is mixed sex dorms on offer. However, if you're a family, travelling with children under 16, it is compulsory for you to book an entire dorm (which ranges from 4 beds to 16). I had never been in a mixed dorm before so I went for a 6 bed, at a cost of £25 a night.
It turned out to be only me and a man in there but I felt safe enough. I bought a padlock at reception to secure my possessions in the lockers under the bunks. The rooms are simple enough but also clean and safe, and comfortable.
Although it is centrally located; near Kings Cross, even though I had only moved out of London 5 months ago after living there 22 years, I found it very hard to find, to be honest. So definitely remember to print out a map (I didn't!)
There are 2 old court rooms still intact which as a history buff (and rock and roll fan; the Clash were tried here), I loved. One is a TV room and the other is an internet cafe (I think it's £1 for 30 mins but I took my laptop). There is no Wifi either, but I had my internet dongle so was fine. I loved sitting in the Judges chair and reading the old signs on the wall; eg banning photography, so of course I took a photo of it...
Breakfast was a let down. I am allergic to wheat and dairy and they only offer cereal and bread. No fruit, no fruit juice, no soya milk. So I went without. YHA are cheaper to stay at and have full cooked breakfasts as well as juice, so I was disappointed here.
There is a communal area you can prepare your own so next time I will bring some supplies.
Yes, there will be a next time....I plan to stay again in a private room which used to be a cell...how cool is that!!
Experience the boldness of 21st century design combined with Victorian architecture such as the Courtroom Lounge