Over my couple of weeks in London I stayed in five AirBnb flats, the last one was with Luke and we’d prebooked it months ago, the rest I booked fairly last-minute. I’ve never had a really bad AirBnb experience and in London it’s a much, much cheaper option than hotels, and more private than hostels. Also you get to see inside a stranger’s house so there’s plenty of opportunities to goggle at weird habits or admire nifty storage solutions and such.
The first place I booked was a room in Lambeth, which is on the south side of the Thames but a very short walk from Big Ben etc. As far as proximity to the big tourist attractions go, this place was probably the best location. I was a bit dubious about booking somewhere with no reviews but it turned out to be pretty great. The guy who lived there was between housemates and his landlord had said he could advertise on AirBnb. He also had a German shepherd puppy, which pretty much sealed the deal for me. I think I put a photo in another post but here’s Cooper again.
Apart from the location and the dog, the best thing about this place was that it was on the ground floor. I kept forgetting to check this when I booked later places – not that I mind stairs but some are really steep and narrow which is awkward with a big backpack. Which was something I learned at my next place, which was…
An attic in Camden! I always visit Camden when I’m in London. Even though it’s a bit of a cesspit in some ways it’s also colourful, interesting and has great alternative clothing stores. Believe it or not I don’t always wear polar fleece and moisture-wicking clothing. I found a fantastic store called Collectiff that sells 50s and 60s-style fashion that is exactly the sort of thing I like.
This AirBnb room was very nicely decorated, had an ensuite, fridge, kettle and microwave. This is very rare! In fact it was the first time I’d stayed in a room with a fridge since I left Australia. I don’t know whether mini fridges are more expensive over here, but it’s so handy to be able to buy milk and make my own breakfast and cups of tea, as well as cooling a bottle of wine. The only downside about this property was the very steep, narrow and curved set of stairs, but it was a small price to pay for a big airy room.
I rewarded the owners of this excellent property by losing their keys when I left my raincoat (my $150-down-from-$500 gortex coat… it pains me to think about it) in a shop changeroom. I called them that evening but it wasn’t there. I used to be quite notorious for losing clothing when I was a kid – hopefully this is the first and last time on this trip. Anyway, my AirBnb host didn’t seem at all upset and didn’t want to take any money for replacing the keys.
Next up I moved to Spitalfields, primarily because I had read about the markets and Brick Lane and hadn’t ever been to that side of the city. The room I booked was in an artist’s apartment that was on the ground floor but I kind of wished hadn’t been – it was a pretty rough area with tall housing estate-type flats all around and several loud arguments happened during each night, as well as people driving like maniacs and revving their engines up and down nearby streets. The flat had two rooms for rent and in the other one was a young woman who talked loudly on her phone for hours each evening. I was very glad I’d brought my headphones. I have a feeling the young artist also liked to cook a lot of stir fries as the kitchen had that patina of oil that comes with spattery cooking – it meant nothing seemed properly clean and I ended up eating out for most meals and avoiding the kitchen.
The street art in the area was pretty amazing though!
After Spitalfields I left London for a night to visit family but then came back for two nights in Camden at an odd little apartment that also had two single rooms for rent and was advertised as women-only. It was in a terrace house that had clearly been hastily divided. The hallway was half the normal width and a few of the doors barely opened wide enough to get through. The whole place was decorated in pink, although not to a crazy level, and the window in my room didn’t open. It wouldn’t have mattered except the weather was in the high 20s each day and the room became rather stuffy. It also had a foam mattress, which didn’t help with cooling down. The young woman who lived there spent a lot of time in her room with the tv playing loudly but the door ajar – as it was directly opposite my room it meant I kept my door shut all the time. The bathroom was also adjacent, which meant every sound came through the walls too. Lucky I’m a heavy sleeper!
On my last day I left all my luggage and caught the tube to Heathrow to meet Luke and then left him at a cafe in Camden while I went to retrieve my bag then we walked to the next place, which was only a few blocks away.
Our last AirBnb was definitely the best, with a super friendly host, a decent sized room with lots of light, and a good quality mattress. It also offered, much to my excitement, a choice of quilts of varying thicknesses. None of the other properties I stayed in offered anything except a winter-weight quilt, all of which were far too hot for summer nights.
Really, AirBnb isn’t far different from staying in hotels – you get what you pay for and it’s always worth booking as early as possible. When travelling alone it is nice to have a friendly host to chat to and ask for advice. Also, if you’re coming to London it doesn’t really matter which part of London you stay in as the public transport is so frequent so picking a nice place close to a train station is really the key thing to do. That being said, as the weather got hotter the Tube became almost unbearably stuffy and I wasn’t sorry to be leaving London for Cambridge!