With demand and prices for hotel rooms on the rise, Trinity’s student accommodation provides a basic alternative in a breathtaking location
I’ve just woken up in one of the most central rooms in Dublin. I’ve opened the curtains to reveal a view taking in a rose garden, centuries-old maple trees and a Victorian museum building.
Popping across the hallway, I take a seat in a quaint little dining room, where I’m served a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and soda bread by a chatty hostess who tips a secret lunch spot in the city (“Don’t put that in the paper!”). When I pick up a guest book, the last entry is by a visitor from California. She has signed her name, and left a neat little note: “Peaceful amidst the raw energy of Dublin.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know demand for hotel rooms is high (and prices higher) this summer. Blame inflation, market forces or good old-fashioned gouging, but accommodation rates were up over 20pc this May on the same month in 2019, according to the CSO’s Consumer Price Index, with particular squeezes for late bookings on concert, event or GAA weekends.
But here’s a novel solution. Bang in the middle of Dublin lie several hundred rooms that have remained off-radar.
Student accommodation in Trinity College Dublin is freed up over the summer holidays, with more than 500 rooms in singles, doubles and apartments available for anyone to book. You’d think they’d be snapped up like Ed Sheeran tickets, but no. It’s the equivalent of The Burlington’s room stock located within a stone’s throw of Grafton Street.
My own stay starts with check-in at the campus accommodation office in Front Square. Stepping through those massive wooden doors, past lawns popping with wildflowers, I am given a key card, Wi-Fi codes and walked across the cobbles to my room in the 19th-century House 40.
A black-and-white portrait of Samuel Beckett is taped to a window nearby, reminding me of the starry alumni that have graced rooms like these. Above it is a quote from his play, Endgame: “Why this farce, day after day?”
Inside, my guest room feels a little fusty, like a time capsule. I could imagine Michael Caine here in a scene from Educating Rita. Around the dark, wood-framed double bed is a filled-in marble fireplace, a wardrobe, old-fashioned fabric lamps and a sash window looking onto a square. Paint is threatening to peel in places between the wallpaper and high ceiling, and the bathroom is basic.
‘Heritage’ is a word used to describe guest rooms like these, but most other rooms and apartments are more contemporary-styled student accommodation — with beds, desks and hard-wearing, ribbed-style carpets I’d imagine come in useful during term time. There are kitchenettes for shared use, breakfast is served in the Buttery Café, check out is very early at 10am, and there’s a two-night minimum stay in August.
All told, I’d rate the various rooms somewhere between two- and three-star, but the pricing is relatively affordable, and that’s not taking into account facilities you can book like tennis (€16pp) or gym and pool access (€12pp), or the stunning location.
Other universities, including UCD and DCU, offer up student residences at comparatively affordable rates in summer, and Trinity has another accommodation site in Dartry. But this 430-year-old campus is special.
The next morning, I explore that heritage by taking one of the Trinity Trails, a new series of guided and self-guided campus tours. I join an international mix of visitors at the bell tower, where geoscience student Conor Kelly takes us on a 45-minute walk through this “city within a city”.
We learn that a monastery once occupied a swampy site here, of the college’s architecture and quirks (“every single clock tells a different time... it’s not deliberate; it’s a dysfunction”), and get insights into the lives of its 18,000 students, as well as alumni like Ernest Walton, Bram Stoker, Susan Denham, Oscar Wilde and Sally Rooney
The tour content has been developed together with 14 schools and departments. The idea is to welcome visitors, alumni and students “to enjoy the Trinity campus in a way they may never have seen before”, according to Chief Operating Officer Orla Cunningham.
It’s smart thinking. Trinity can feel a bit posh and off-limits — a fact not helped by its high walls and small entrance portals.
As well as taking tours, visitors can walk around at their leisure, eat at several cafés and restaurants (including The 1592, bookable for lunch at firstname.lastname@example.org), browse contemporary art at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, or visit the old-school Zoological Museum — a tiny space that itself should be in a museum (exhibits include the skeleton of an Asian elephant known as Prince Tom).
The Museum Building is another historic space open to visitors (weekdays, 9am-5pm). Inside are two giant Irish elk skeletons, and one highlight of the Venetian-Byzantine design is its domed, mosaic ceiling. Sadly, however, the brilliant Science Gallery and café remain closed.
Best-known are the Book of Kells and Old Library. If you haven’t seen these in a while, do so soon — the historic building is set to close in autumn 2023 for a reported €90m renovation lasting three years. As the fire in Paris’s Notre-Dame reminded us, conserving treasures like these is critical — the cramped shop and visitor experience highlight the need for improvements in that area, too.
The ninth-century Book of Kells is iconic, but I’m always more moved by the Long Room. This 65m-long space, with its vaulted ceiling and soaring shelves stacked with 200,000 tomes, feels like being inside some kind of gigantic, magical oak barrel.
It’s said to have inspired the Jedi Archive in Star Wars, but comparisons just fall away when you step inside. It’s a breathtaking analogue pleasure in a digital age, right down to the ladders on rails and lettering on the bookcases. Plus, those imposing rows of white busts celebrating dead patriarchs are now at least somewhat balanced by displays on women graduates.
Outside, a long line of tourists waits for entry, colourful umbrellas contrasting with the granite building. I wonder do they know they can check into this campus, too?
Student rooms are available from May to late August from €89 per night for a single to €161 for an en-suite twin (B&B). Apartments are also available. Guest rooms are €130 B&B. tcd.ie/summer accommodation
Trinity’s walking tours include a self-guided tour (€3) and a 45-minute guided tour (€15). A guided tour combined with access to the Old Library and Book of Kells costs €27, or €65 for a family. tcd/visitors/trinitytrails
NB: Pól was a guest of Trinity College