Central London hostels were some of the first hostels available in the twentieth century. Although they date to the early days of the city’s medieval history when travelers on horseback and in carriages often stopped for the night at roadhouses and bunked together in dormitory settings, the modern cheap Central London hostel became a fixture in the 1960s and 1970s. This was when it became popular for college students and hippies to backpack, cycle, and hitchhike throughout the UK and Continental Europe during the good summer weather.
Because there were many student charter flights between New York City and Stansted or Gatwick Airport during this time, many of these holidays began and ended in London. Getting the best deal on Central London hostels was possible through the Youth Hostel Association (YHA), which maintained an affiliated group of supervised, cheap lodging that included everything from YMCA type dorms in London to villas in Florence, Italy, and castles in Austria.
Today, the iconic cheap Central London hostel is still the YHA property (pictured) on Bolsover Street a few blocks north of the British Museum and Covent Garden. It is now a new and modernized building, and a few things have changed since anxious American parents sent their bell-bottomed young people on what was often their first trip abroad. There is a 24-hour reception, a store, Internet access, and no stern room monitors and curfew. Instead of large dormitories, small rooms sleep four, five, six, or eight people. There are still shared toilets and showers, though most rooms have their own washbasin.
For even more freedom, look for Central London hostels just to the north of Hyde Park and the area of Knightsbridge just south of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The best deal on Central London hostels in these areas will be had had at modest two- and three-star hotels that offer bedrooms for as few as two people with private en suite bathrooms. Many of these can also be considered bed and breakfasts located in converted townhomes, and they are often family run. These can give you a terrific location and inexpensive vacation accommodation, as well as interaction and cultural exchange with the local people.
For good Westminster hostels look just south of the Victoria Place Shopping Center. Here is the London Hostels Association property that caters mainly to students living for extended periods in the city. This facility offers a number of kitchens shared by a small number of guests and are self catering.