Figuring out where to stay on a trip to London can be a major endeavour, especially if you don’t know the city so well and are a quite spontaneous type of traveler (read that as ‘not using a guidebook’). You want to be close by the city’s places of interest – for some that means museums and tourist attractions, for others hip neighbourhoods and street markets are more important; you want your accommodation to be conveniently located within the public transport system and easy to reach from airports or train stations; you want restaurants, bars and pubs close by so that you don’t have to waste all your spending money on taxis or ubers; you want to feel integrated in the local lifestyle as much as possible; and on top of all that you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a place you essentially only go to to sleep. It sounds almost impossible to score accommodation like this in the big city – but luckily there are two boutique hostels in London that offer just that. Let me tell you more about the Safestay Hostels.
If you have followed this blog for some time now, you might have noticed that name before. I was actually invited to visit all four Safestay Hostels in the UK and write about my experience for Travelettes, and have told you about the gorgeous Safestay York in my 24h in York Guide. Just to remind you though, Safestay operates four hostels – two in London, one in York and one in Edinburgh, and specialises in delivering all the things we love about hostels (lots of social areas, spacious dorms and low prices) but throw in a bit of luxury and exclusivity as well.
The two Safestay hostels in London are in such completely different neighbourhoods, each with its own perks, that it seemed like a no-brainer to try them both. Not that I wanted to challenge them in an open competition, but I was intrigued to see in what ways they differ and what kind of traveler might prefer which of the hostels. So, I spent 24 hours in and around the Safestay Holland Park followed by a day and a night at the Safestay Elephant & Castle.
Without giving away too much already, I can only say that the two hostels really showed me two completely different sides of London – have a look at the video before you read on:
Safestay Elephant & Castle
The Safestay Elephant & Castle, located in Southwark south of the Thamse river, is the original Safestay property and opened its doors in 2012. It is also the biggest of their hostels and has 413 beds – good that it actually doesn’t feel that big! On the contrary, the common areas are really cosy and the bar has a little outdoor seating area for even more peace and quiet.
I spent the night in an en suite room with a single-over-double bunkbed and an eastwards facing window that let the sun pour in in the morning. Towels were provided (on complimentary in private rooms) and there were enough plugs right where you need them – next to your bed. I still wonder why hostels seem to manage to place plugs in a useful way, but so many hotels fail at this…
The hostel has a prime location for sightseeing and to and from the King’s Cross station I only had to catch one Tube line without changing – considering that lugging around bags or suitcases in the poorly ventilated tunnels of the London Tube, this really is a winning factor!
The neighbourhood of Elephant & Castle has a lot to offer as well though, so that I spent most of my 24h in the area exploring the markets, cafes and streets around the hostel.
Things to Do
– The only tourism thing I did in this area was a visit to the London Eye, because getting a view from high up is always my favourite thing to do on any city trip! If you book your ticket in advance, you can skip the line – which can save you SO MUCH time!!
– As I had some time left before my room became available for me (Safestay-wide check in is at 2pm!), I checked out East Street Market. The area of Elephant & Castle is home to many people from the African diaspora, and on and around East Street Market you will find a lot of shops selling foods and products from the African continent. The market is a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and veg for a little picknick, or to buy some vintage and second hand towards the other end of the market.
– Finally, hunger hit big time in the afternoon, but luckily the Electric Elephant Cafe serves a delicious all-day breakfast on weekends. I kid you not, Louisa, whose family is from the area, dishes up the best veggie sausage I have ever tried! And a couple of fantastic stories as well, once the cafe calms down a bit in the afternoon.
Stay at the Safestay Elephant & Castle if…
…you want to be conveniently located for all the museums and tourist attractions of Central London
…you want to get to your accommodation straight from King’s Cross without changing Tubes
…you want to explore an off-the-beaten-track area of London
…you want to reach trendy East London or Brixton considerably fast for a night out
Safestay Holland Park
The Safestay Holland Park is a completely different story – it is one of Safety’s newest locations and only opened in summer 2015. It is located in a proper mansion – a listed building inside Holland Park in one London’s poshest areas: Kensington. While it is also rather big (351 beds) it feel even calmer due to the wonderful green surroundings.
Again I spent the night in a room with a bunkbed, but this time with shared bathroom facilities. I was only sharing with a few people though, and everything was kept very clean by the staff. Like the Safestay Elephant & Castle, this hostel has amazing social areas – a sun-flooded reading room, a pool room, a cozy bar and then of course the beautiful garden between the different wings of the hostel.
While the hostel is equipped for large groups (think EF students or school groups) I also met a lot of solo travelers and traveling families in the common areas. Overall the hostel had a very grown-up feeling – far from the stereotypical backpacker-party-paradise you might think of when you hear the word ‘hostel’!
As I mentioned, the hostel is inside Holland Park so exploring this beautiful off-the-beaten-track park of London is an absolute must! The Tube is a little walk away – so the hostel is maybe not the best to explore ALL of the rest of London, but Notting Hill, Hyde Park and the museums of South Kensington are all within easy walking distance. Exploring the neighbourhood at y our doorstep is key!
Things to Do
– Particularly if you are here on a Saturday, a visit to Portobello Road Market is an absolute must! Notting Hill might be touristy and the market can get super-crowded, but I simply love the feel and the colours of this neighbourhood. Coming later in the afternoon can be a good way to avoid the crowds, just make sure you arrive before the vintage fashion stalls towards the end of the market close! Oh, and have a falafel!
– With Holland Park at your doorstep you simply have to go for a sunset stroll around the Japanese garden! So zen – you could almost forget your are in London.
– Finally, the roads of Kensington are perfect to get lost. Every lane holds a surprise, whether it is pastel coloured old-timer cars, hidden vintage hairdressers or cool pubs like the Elephant & Castle pub on Holland Street.
Stay at Safestay Holland Park if…
…you seek some tranquility to get away from the big city buzz
…you want to spend your nights in a breath-taking setting
…you want to see the famous West of London by foot
…you don’t mind walking a little further (~10 min) to the next Tube station
Which one do I prefer?
Can you already tell?
If I had to chose a winner between the two Safestay hostels in London it would be the Safestay Holland Park. The Safestay Elephant & Castle had a great feeling to it and I can see how it is perfect for a first trip to London, when you want to see as much as possible, but the location of the Safestay Holland Park inside the park and surrounded by my favourite London neighbourhoods of Kensington and Notting Hill made it the clear winner.
Show me a place in the middle of a fantastic city where I can sleep with my window open and be woken by the sound of birds, and I’ll move in immediately.
If you are planning a trip to London anytime soon, have a look at the Safestay Hostels website and browse around for some more details. In terms of stylish, but affordable accommodation in great locations and super-friendly staff, I doubt that you will find a better option anywhere else in the city!
And if you wonder what else you could get up to on a weekend trip to London, also check out my 48h city guide for London on a budget!
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