Have you ever stayed in a mansion before? Call me Sherlock Holmes, but the fact that you’re reading a hostel review hints that you’re likely a backpacker, so I’m going to hazard a guess at no. And look, as a backpacker myself, I’ll throw up the hand and declare that neither have I. Or should I say neither had I.
Swiss Cottage is a delightful piece of London that sits just a few tube stops north of the city centre. It’s a beautiful and well connected part of the city, and has more than a few bits to do in its own right. Despite that fact, in the two years that I’d previously lived in London I’d never thought to drop in for a visit. Thus, having returned, I jumped at the chance.
Palmers Lodge has quite the reputation on the London hostel scene. Having been voted London’s most popular hostel in 2011, 2012 and 2014, and continuing to earn TripAdvisor’s coveted Certificate of Excellence to this day, it’s loomed large for just over a decade. And when I say loomed large, I mean loomed large.
Nearing the end of the short walk from the nearby Swiss Cottage tube station a building began to rise before me. Those who know London will know that EVERY building is terraced to within an inch of its life, so to see a big, three-story piece of brickwork sitting in its own plot was a surprise. What was more of a surprise was when I found out that this wasn’t just any old mansion, it was my mansion.
With room for around 300 people Palmers Lodge makes amazing use of its ample space. Walking through the rustic entrance you’ll enter the cavernous reception area, all woodgrain, brass and grand fireplaces. The most English of sitting rooms adjoins the reception, with free tea, coffee and (if you’re quick enough) doughnuts on offer all day. It feels like the sort of space that the gentlemen might once have retired to to suck on cigars, but in a real inclusive, non-misogynistic way.
There are three above-ground levels and a basement, all of which house guests. The shared rooms are awesome, and have all the bells and whistles that a modern day backpacker could ask for; bed curtains, a personal safe locker, comfortable bedding, and a private power socket, light and shelf. From what I’ve seen of the privates you might as well be in Buckingham Palace. A budget backpacking version at least.
It’s downstairs, however, where the fun really is. This is where you’ll find the restaurant and bar, which quickly proved itself to be an awesome place to meet and greet other travellers. And when I say ‘basement’ I’m probably being a little harsh – Palmers sits on a slope, which allows the bar to jut out the back of the building into the open air to form a beer garden. To find a pint for less than £3 in London these days is a mission. But at Palmers it is not.
For those less inclined to a tipple, there’s no need to fret – the bar closes up by midnight, and all of the rooms appeared to be very capable of vetting sound. In fact I was sleeping in what was perhaps the closest bed to the bar in the whole hostel, and I didn’t hear a peep.
Honestly, Palmers just does everything right. The place is fastidiously clean, the showers are awesome, the food is delicious, and the staff are uber-friendly. Big hostels often seem to lose their personability and warmth, but during my stay at Swiss Cottage I felt as though I was part of a big old sharehouse. One without dickhead housemates.
Despite the city’s size, quality hostels in London aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. But what with the cool vibe, the comfort, the location and the fact that it’s a fucking mansion, Palmers Lodge is the only London hostel you need to know about.