I have done it both ways. In each instance I have rented a flat it has gone extremely well. Hotels are necessary if we are staying only a few nights in a city, but if the stay is longer, a flat may well be preferable.
The main advantages of renting a self-catering flat are:
It costs less on a per-night basis than a hotel room.
You often have more space than in a hotel room.
You have the ability to store and cook food-useful even if used only for breakfast, snacks, and tea. And you have a table for eating meals.
It is more private than a hotel room, with no maids coming around until after your stay is over.
You can feel more “at home” in a flat than in a hotel room.
In summary, it offers the prospect of more space and more privacy for less money per night! This is a winning formula.
To further illustrate the advantages of renting a holiday flat, below are case studies from my own experience.
My Three Stays in Rented Flats
London Summer 1981
It was the summer of Charles and Diana’s wedding and my first trip across the pond. Back in those primitive pre-internet days, I arranged for my husband and me to stay in a “service flat” in Knightsbridge for one week in late May-early June. I found this flat though an advertisement in a magazine and corresponded with the owner/agent by snail mail. I know that is hard to believe, but it was the state of the art at the time. I mailed a deposit somehow; I have forgotten how I came up with pounds sterling.
Our flat was tiny, up on the third floor (walk-up, the lift was broken) of a formerly elegant townhouse. It was drably furnished, but it had two beds, a tiny kitchen, and bathroom, and really interesting views over the city. By having our own tiny kitchen with cooker (stove) and refrigerator, we were able to purchase some breakfast-like items and fruit and save the cost of breakfast out every day. We could heat water for tea.
It was a bit of a hike to the underground – Kensington South Station I think, but the scenery on the way to and fro was interesting. Being young and healthy, we were able to make the hike and climb the stairs to our flat.
Rome March 2008
I flew to Rome from Baltimore and stayed for a week in a flat I found on the internet through RomeSweetHome. In Florence we stayed in a small hotel near the train station, which was fine for two nights.
The flat was located on a street near the Vatican and just a few blocks from a subway station. I picked it largely based on its location in the general area where my daughter was staying in housing for students studying through the Temple University in Rome program. Based on the photos and description on the Rome Sweet Home website, it looked just fine for me-actually more space than I needed. However, it cost considerably less than a hotel room, if there had been any hotels in the area. I wired funds for a deposit to a bank account in Rome.
When we arrived, we met the agent on the street who escorted us up to the apartment, showed us how to work the appliances, and collected our money. I was even able to pay with a credit card, which was fantastic and unexpected. The lobby and stairwell were not terribly well lighted or maintained, but there was a working lift, which we used. I believe the apartment was on the fourth floor. This flat was in a large urban apartment building.
The apartment was fabulous and way beyond my expectations based on the website photos. It had stylish modern furniture, parquet wood floors, art glass insets in the interior doors, and a modern kitchen with every convenience. The bedroom had a huge modern wardrobe and a king-sized bed. I loved that apartment and I would stay there again some day.
Edinburgh September 2009
My daughter and I went to London (where we stayed in a hotel) for a few days and then came to Edinburgh where she was registering for graduate school and then settling in to her student flat. We stayed in a short term holiday rental flat just a few blocks from her student flat. We found the flat on the internet on a site that advertised just a few flats owned by one individual in Edinburgh. It looked very nice in the photographs on line and turned out to be nice in person.
The flat was on the second floor (no lift available, not that we needed it). There were two bedrooms, which was more than we needed, but it was a luxury to have that much space. It had a nice living room with dining table, and a full kitchen and bathroom. It was in a modernish garden apartment complex not far from the Haymarket train station. The owner’s daughter met us promptly when we arrived and gave a full briefing on the appliances, etc. We had prepaid this one so there was no balance due.
The neighborhood was quiet and our stay very pleasant. We watched a fair amount of Scottish television and noticed that the Scots have quite a few U.S. TV shows to watch along with their BBC. The décor was pleasant, the rooms bright, and it was all in all a great place to stay and considerably less costly than a hotel. The owner gave us two sets of keys so each of us could come and go.
My own experience with renting holiday flats in Europe has been very positive. One does have to pay a substantial deposit in advance, so you have to hope that when you arrive the flat is as satisfactory as it appeared in its photos. You also have to have faith that the agent will show up to give you the keys and instructions. And, you have to hope that if something breaks or needs attention in the apartment during your stay that the owner or agent will be reachable and responsive. These small risks seem well worth the considerable advantages of a self-catering flat-less expensive per night, more space, a kitchen, and a great deal of privacy.