During vacation periods - which include Easter and Christmas breaks as well as summer vacations (mid June to September)- you might choose to stay in a medieval residence hall, a 12th century castle or an architecturally stunning building on a brand new campus.
Accommodations usually include big English breakfasts - plus cereals, breads, fruits and juices - taken in magnificent dining halls 17th, 18th and 19th century dining halls (Hogwarts comes to mind). Inexpensive lunches and dinners may also be available.
Here and there you may also find suites with multiple bedrooms and shared kitchen facilities - suitable for traveling with a family, perhaps.
And, it's all available for about the same price as a reasonable quality hostel.
Dorms Ain't What They Used to BeExpect daily cleaning services, ensuite showers or bathrooms in many dorms, internet broadband, linens and towels and sometimes coffee and tea making facilities as well as telephones activated by phone cards you can purchase.
Of course there's an up and downside to everything. So here's what you can expect:
- Private rooms. Shut the door and you are on your own, unlike hostels where you may have to share with strangers.
- Brilliant locations. Dorms are often in city centers or in the heart of lively student districts, with all the pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, theater and cinemas you could want.
- Access to hallowed precincts. At the UK's most historic and prestigious universities there are fascinating areas - private quads and courtyards, chapels, ancient dining halls - not open to the public. When you book a room, you get a brief insider's look at places like Oxford and Cambridge.
- Some single-sex facilities. In 2009, one of the Cambridge colleges offered women only dorms for as little as £20 per night.
- Lie down where the great and good as well as the rich and famous has been before you. In their day, these rooms were occupied by presidents, princes and prime ministers; scientists and philosophers; artists, musicians, writers and actors. And, if you're lucky enough to find a chatty hall porter, he'll probably tell you all about who lived in your room before you.
- Seasonal availability. Rooms are only available outside of term time, when students are away. The exact dates vary from one university to another.
- Rooms can't be booked too far in advance. Available rooms are usually listed two to three months ahead of time. If you are a nervous type who liked to have all the details pinned down a year ahead of time, these may not be for you.
- Most rooms are singles, obviously awkward for couples traveling together. But there are some twin rooms and (for a price) Durham Castle, part of Durham University, has some spectacular state rooms, furnished with four-posters and elegant furnishings which can be had for some special celebration or event.
- Simple furnishings. These are student rooms, so with the exception of a handful of special accommodations, like the state rooms at Durham Castle, don't expect boutique hotel surroundings. Furniture tends to be good, institutional quality basics with generous storage space.
- You could find yourself in the middle of a conference crowd. Booking college dorm rooms for individual travelers is relatively new at UK universities but they've been hiring out their dorm rooms to conferences and seminars for years. Don't be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of one.
- The cheapest rooms may have shared bathroom facilities.
How to Book a College Dorm Room in the UKThere are several ways to find and book college dorm rooms at UK universities:
- University Rooms.co.uk can help you locate and book rooms at Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leicester and Newcastle Universities. The website has pictures of the campuses, the rooms and the hall facililties as well as up to date availability information and prices. Before you opt for historic Oxbridge, check out Beaumont Hall at Leicester's riverside location in the Midlands and Nottingham's knockout Jubilee campus.
- Search the University websites. Durham, for example offers 1,500 ensuite and 3,000 standard rooms but you have to hunt around a bit to find them. For some reason, the University's Individual Traveler website occasionally delivers you to a Google page. But persist. The rooms are very nice and very good value. Find information about The Castle, part of University College at Durham, on its own dedicated Durham Castle accommodation website. Then book by phoning +44 (0)191 334 4106.