Accommodation in England ranges from motorway lodges to old-fashioned country retreats, and from budget guesthouses to chic boutique hotels. Characterful old buildings – former coaching inns in towns, converted mansions and manor houses in rural areas – offer heaps of historic atmosphere.
Nearly all tourist offices will reserve rooms for you. In some areas you pay a deposit that’s deducted from your first night’s bill (usually ten percent); in others the office will take a percentage or flat-rate commission – usually around £3. Also useful is the “Book-a-bed-ahead” scheme, which reserves accommodation in your next destination – again for a charge of about £3.
A nationwide grading system awards stars to hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. There’s no hard and fast correlation between rank and price, but the grading system does lay down minimum levels of standards and service.
Hotels vary wildly in size, style, comfort and price. The starting price for a one-star establishment is around £60 per night for a double/twin room, breakfast usually included; two- and three-star hotels can easily cost £100 a night, while four- and five-star properties may charge £200 a night – considerably more in London or in resort or country-house hotels. Many city hotels offer cut-price weekend rates to fill the rooms vacated by the weekday business trade. It’s worth noting, however, that many upper-end urban hotels quote a “room-only” rate only – breakfast can be another whopping £10 or £15 on top.
Budget hotel chains including easyHotel (wwww.easyhotel.com), Tune Hotels (wwww .tunehotels.com), Premier Inn (wwww .premierinn.com), Travelodge (wwww.trave lodge.co.uk), Holiday Inn Express (wwww .hiexpress.com), Jurys Inn (wwww.jurysinn com), Ibis (wwww.ibishotel.com), Campanile (wwww.campanile.com) and Comfort/Quality/Sleep Inn (all wwww.choicehotelsuk.co.uk) have properties usefully located in city centres across the country. Their style is generic, with no frills – breakfast is charged extra – but with special offers bringing en-suite room rates down to £20–30 if booked in advance, they’re a bargain.
B&Bs and guesthouses
At its most basic, a B&B (bed-and- breakfast) is an ordinary private house with a couple of bedrooms set aside for paying guests. Larger establishments with more rooms, particularly in resorts, style themselves guesthouses, but they are pretty much the same thing. Either way, these are a great option for travellers looking for character and a local experience: the best – with fresh, house-proud rooms, hearty home-cooked food and a wealth of local knowledge – can match or beat a hotel stay at any price.
Don’t assume that a B&B is no good if it is ungraded in official listings: many places simply choose not to enter into a grading scheme. In countryside locations some of the best accommodation is to be found in farmhouses and other properties whose facilities may technically fall short of official standards.
Many village pubs also offer B&B, again often not graded. Standards vary wildly – some are great, others truly awful – but at best you’ll be staying in a friendly spot with a sociable bar on hand, and you’ll rarely pay more than £70 a room.
However, single travellers should be aware that many B&Bs and guesthouses don’t have single rooms, and sole occupancy of a double/twin room may be charged at seventy or eighty percent of the standard rate.
Hostels and student halls
The Youth Hostel Association (YHA; t01629/592700, wwww.yha.org.uk) has over 220 properties across England (and Wales), offering bunk-bed accommodation in single-sex dormitories and smaller rooms of two, four or six beds. Some hostels also offer tipi accommodation, some have pitches for camping, and most offer kitchens, laundry facilities, lounges, cycle stores and bike rental. In cities, resorts and national park areas the facilities can be as good as some budget hotels. Depending on the season, most hostels charge around £15–22 for a bed – less in quieter places, more in popular locations. Many also offer private twin/double and family rooms (roughly £30–65). Meals – breakfast, packed lunch or dinner – are good value (around £5).
The YHA is affiliated to the global network of Hostelling International (wwww .hihostels.com). If you’re already an HI member, you qualify for the YHA’s standard rates. Otherwise, you must pay a membership supplement of £3 a night (£1.50 for under-18s) – or you can join HI in person at any hostel, or online, for £16 a year (£10 for under-26s). Family deals are available. Members qualify for perks and discounts on various UK travel providers, detailed on the website.
A comparable network of independent hostels (wwww.independenthostelsuk.co.uk) offers similar facilities in a more youthful, backpacker-oriented ambience, generally at lower prices and with fewer restrictions. Their Independent Hostel Guide, linked on the website, has full details.
In university towns over the summer (July–Sept), plus at Easter and Christmas, student halls can offer great value, generally in single rooms or self-catering apartments. Check wwww.budgetstayuk.com and www .universityrooms.co.uk for details.
Camping and camping barns
Camping in England has undergone some-thing of a renaissance in recent years, and there are hundreds of campsites, ranging from rustic, family-run places to large sites with laundries, shops and sports facilities. Costs vary from around £5 per adult in the simplest sites up to around £20 per tent (including two adults) in the most sought-after places. Many campsites also offer accommodation in permanently fixed caravans, mostly large, fully equipped units. The Rough Guide to Camping in Britain has detailed reviews of the best campsites, and wwww.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk, http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk and http://www.theaa .com are useful resources as well. You can also camp in the grounds (and use the facilities) of several YHA hostels: details at wwww.yha.org.uk. Farmers may offer pitches for as little as £5 per night, but setting up a tent without asking first will not be well received. Camping rough is illegal in national parks and nature reserves, with the exception of Dartmoor.
The wilder parts of England offer accommodation in camping barns and bunk-houses, often administered by the YHA. Conditions are very basic, but they are weatherproof and cheap (from £5 a night). Check wwww .campingbarns.net for listings.
Holiday self-catering properties range from city penthouses to secluded cottages. The minimum rental period is usually a week: depending on the season, expect to pay around £300 a week for a small cottage in an out-of-the-way location, maybe three or four times that for a larger property in a popular spot. We’ve given some agencies below; otherwise, every tourist board has details of self-catering rentals in its area. Serviced apartments, available by the night in many English cities, offer an attractive alternative to hotel stays, with prices from around £100 (more in London).