I stayed in the cheapest hotel in Cardiff but I was miserable

There is little more depressing than a beside McDonald's takeaway at the ZIP Hotel
There is little more depressing than a beside McDonald's takeaway at the ZIP Hotel -Credit:WalesOnline

Three weeks ago I needed to move out of my house for a week. Long story short, I had the builders in fixing the seemingly never-ending list of issues that seem to start plaguing all homes once you buy them.

I have mates who would happily put me up (I do, honest!) but they have all succumbed to the overwhelming need that everyone seems to have developed these days and bought a dog. Thankfully, most of them have managed to resist the urge of many dog owners to make dog ownership their overwhelming personality trait.

They don’t use words like “puppo” or “dog mum” and they also don’t labour under the illusion that it is endearing to bring their mutt to pubs. However, the mere fact that they own the dogs precludes me from staying with them because I have a severe dog allergy.

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I also have family who would put me up but they live miles away and I wouldn’t be able to go to work. So it seemed a hotel was the best option, reports WalesOnline.

Given that I just needed somewhere to sleep it made sense to try and go for a cheap option. So I went on a few price comparison sites, shopped around a bit and discovered the cheapest option for me in Cardiff at the time was the Zip hotel on Ipswich Road, hidden behind the David Lloyd Club on a patch of land between Newport Road and the A48.

Needing somewhere quick and affordable, I booked and packed my bags. The price varied by night. Midweek I was paying £25 a night while Saturday was £35. Not too shabby right? Prices of everything have soared, particularly since Liz Truss lost a durability contest to a lettuce, but this seemed like a really affordable option so off I went to the Zip.

On this industrial estate just off Newport Road, the hotel is behind a barrier next to the posh David Lloyd Club so you need to drive past all the Land Rovers and BMWs on your way in. The outside is pleasant enough and you are actually surrounded by a real hidden Cardiff gem: the Howardian Nature Reserve. If you haven’t been there it is an absolute treat. Sandwiched between main roads it has ponds, woodland and I have seen more slowworms there than people. It is lush.

The ZIP Hotel in Cardiff
The ZIP Hotel in Cardiff -Credit:Premier Inn

As you walk into the Zip you may do a double-take. You automatically look around for reception but all you can see is a bar. Turns out the bar and the reception are the same thing. Obviously other people have had this issue as there is a giant sign on the wall behind saying CHECK IN HERE. This is where you begin to realise why the hotel is able to make money when it is selling rooms for just £25. Let me run through some of the extra charges you can incur during your stay:

The Zip is basically the Ryanair of hotels. I half expected to be asked to put my bag into a metal frame to check that it wasn’t too big. Luckily I managed to avoid extra changes because I am one of those losers who brings their own pillow with them when they go to a hotel. When I walked into my room I almost wished they had checked to see if my bag was too big because the rooms are tiny. Luckily I was staying on my own and could leave my stuff on the other single bed without having to take advantage of the “overhead” storage that they advertise on their website.

I have to say that the rooms themselves were the most depressing I have ever stayed in. Despite the fact that there was literally a nature reserve right outside, there were no windows. Instead, there was a window shaped light on the wall which had several colour settings. While I am sure there are people out there who will be delighted that they can make their room blue, red or green I can’t help but feel that a better option would be to have an actual window.

I was quite perplexed by this decision. From the outside of the hotel you can see that there are windows there. I also have mates who have stayed at the hotel before it was a Zip and they said they had windows! I think what they have done is halve the size of all the rooms meaning that the windows would actually straddle across two rooms so they have therefore decided to cover the windows and allow people to have their own misery disco instead.

At the end of one bed there is an alcove with a toilet and at the end of the other bed there is one with a wetroom and shower. To be fair, “wet room” may be a bit generous as there wasn’t room to swing an ant. However, it was massive compared to the toilet on the other side. I am not the most vertically gifted man you will find but my knees risked being against the sink when I sat on the loo meaning I needed to adopt a sort of side saddle position like an Arthurian maiden.

The list of extra costs posted on Tripadvisor
The list of extra costs posted on Tripadvisor -Credit:Jennifer R

I have been trying in my mind to sum up what it was like staying in the Zip and I think it's best described as being in a submarine: long, grey corridors, no natural light and every single piece of space utilised. The bar downstairs is an experience. Open until 3am, it is actually pretty reasonable when it comes to drinks. You can get four bottles of beer for £12 and a large screen surrounded by sofas shows sports. There is even table football. But the food is pretty depressing. You can have pizza or curry. The curry is clearly microwaved and the pizzas are like the ones you would get in your local corner shop.

The light pretending to be a window at the ZIP Hotel
The light pretending to be a window at the ZIP Hotel -Credit:Premier Inn

I actually arrived back one night at 2.30am after a night out and walked in expecting it to be dead but to my surprise there were still about a dozen people drinking. I had decided by this point I would be writing about my experience for work so I was tempted to join them for a pint (anything to delay the moment where I had to go upstairs to my pod). But in the end I opted not to. There are a lot of things I will do for my job but drink with strangers at 2.30am in the Zip bar is not one of them.

So overall what did I think of it? It is tough. On the one hand it was an overwhelmingly bleak experience. Paying extra for your room to be cleaned or an extra pillow seems to run against the principle of “hospitality”. The fact that the room had no light was also incredibly depressing (I think this is the case in about 50% of the rooms).

But ultimately it was very, very cheap. The staff were friendly and polite and providing you only want the basics you won’t be disappointed. Would I ever want to stay there again? No. Does it probably fill a gap in the market for people who want to visit the city on a tight budget? Almost certainly.