GUIDE TO HOSTELS IN EUROPE | TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE PERFECT HOSTELS
Everything you should know about staying in hostels while traveling through Europe.
Hostels are probably the best choice for backpackers and budget travelers in Europe.
- They are very affordable.
- They are located throughout most of Europe.
- They are filled with other young travelers.
- They are not just for young travelers.
- Many are good for families.
- They make it very easy to meet other travelers.
- There are a lot of great hostels since competition between hostels has been increasing steadily over the last ten or fifteen years.
Unfortunately, hostels aren’t as common in the US, so many Americans are totally unaware of them and have many misconceptions about them (I was once one of them). The guide to hostels in Europe covers everything from hostel basics to tips for choosing a great hostel.
Hostels 101: Learn everything you need to know about hostels.
WHAT IS A HOSTEL?
Hostels, also known as youth hostels, are the refuge of budget travelers. They operate similarly to hotels except that the dormitories are filled with bunk beds to house between 4 and 40 students. In a hostel, you only pay for a bed, so you share the room with other travelers. The privacy is clearly limited, but the low cost and vibrant social scene make up for those limitations. There are some exceptions to this as some hostels have private rooms of family rooms. Many hostels provide women-only rooms as well, but most rooms are unisex.
Hostels are a type of lodging that appeals to backpackers traveling on a budget, looking for a good way to meet other travelers.
HOW MUCH DOES STAYING IN A HOSTEL COST?
A dorm bed in a hostel can cost from $10+ per night (in Eastern Europe) to $40+ per night (big cities in Western Europe). The cost varies based on the size of the room (the cheapest beds are usually in the rooms with the most people), the location of the hostel, the amenities, the competition of other hostels, the inventory left, and a few other factors. Private rooms, Rooms with enSuite bathrooms, and Family rooms go for a premium.
I generally paid about $60/night in Western Europe ($25/night in Eastern Europe). In general, I opted for private rooms when available.
For reference, a dorm room in Western Europe starts at about $40 a night and in Eastern Europe about $15/night.
BEST REASONS TO STAY IN A HOSTEL
Hostel stays provide opportunities to meet many interesting people from around the world. You are surrounded by like-minded travelers that share a love of adventure and fun. It is also an easy way to meet other travelers — which is great for solo travelers.
Hostels are also normally located in the center of the city, so they are close to all the action.
Hostelling is extremely affordable — so you can travel even longer.
WHO CHOOSES TO STAY IN HOSTELS?
Hostels are used by a wide range of people.
The majority of hostel travelers are young travelers aged 18-30 (some hostels only accept guests of any age.
Naturally, hostels attract a large international crowd, so you will be surrounded by people from all over the world.
It is my experience that there are always lots of Australians and New Zealanders traveling for a long period of time. There are quite a few Americans who come over for 2 or 3 weeks, or who are studying abroad somewhere in Europe.
In addition, there are usually a few people who stay in the hostel for a couple months — these individuals are usually students doing short-term studies or working.
Also, hostels are very popular for European bachelor/bachelorette parties — which can be a bit annoying since they usually get obnoxiously drunk. Also, Hostels are popular with school groups. One thing that you don’t see in the States but is common in Europe is for school classes to make field trips to different cities and hostels offer them a cheap way to do it.
TOP FEATURES OF GOOD EUROPEAN HOSTELS
There are a lot of excellent hostels in Europe, and there are just as many awful ones as well. I have put together a list of characteristics you should look for when searching for a hostel.
24 HOUR CHECK-IN/RECEPTION
Each hostel has a reception area. Here you can pay, pick up your key, and be informed about everything related to the hostel. Be sure to request a map. Some hostels do not have 24-hour reception, and it is not a problem… unless your flight/train arrives late and you need to check-in after reception closes. Then you’re faced with finding a new hostel.
If a 24-hour check-in is not possible make note of check-in times. Some Hostels close down during the middle of the day so the staff can focus on other things such as cleaning.
TIP: The staff at the front desk usually have the most up-to-date information regarding events in the city. They will be able to suggest some of the best things to see and do around town. It is a good idea to let them know what you would like to do. Questions such as “What cheap restaurants are there?” or “I’m looking for a fun night club, any recommendations?” is much better than “So… what can I do here? The point is to never expect them to organize your stay for you.
DORM ROOMS & PRIVATE ROOMS
Hostel Dorm Rooms
In hostels, there are generally two types of rooms to choose from: private rooms and standard dormitories. A family room is essentially a private room.
Hostel dorm rooms are almost always filled with multiple bunk beds. I’ve seen bunk beds with three levels. Dormitories can range in size from two bunk beds to large dormitories with 20 bunks or more. From my experience, the most common rooms usually contain four to six bunk beds.
In general, cheaper rooms normally have more guests, so you should expect to pay more for a room with fewer strangers (and snorers-which is important if you are with a bunch of partiers).
Most dorm rooms are open to both sexes, but many hostels offer women’s-only dormitories.
Private Hostel Room
Many hostels offer private rooms to guests who prefer privacy but want the hostel experience. Private rooms usually accommodate one or two people. However, we have seen that many hostels offer private rooms for groups of 3-4 people (these are usually used by families or friends staying together).
This is the option I usually choose.
SECURITY AND LOCKERS
Each hostel has its own security system. Some require a key or buzzer to enter the building. In most hostels, keys are required to enter the dormitories.
Most dormitories offer lockers. Many rooms have under-bed lockers, but some rooms also have cabinets-style lockers. You are normally required to supply your own lock. I lock up any valuable items and leave my backpack on the bed but I also hide a Tile in it should anyone happen to steal it so I have a better chance of tracking it down. I’ve never been bothered by theft — besides, no one wants a bunch of dirty clothes. However, some hostels in certain cities such as Amsterdam have a really bad reputation for theft so it is always good to ask at the desk if theft is a problem or not.
Typically, the hostel will have a place for storing your luggage when you check-in and when you check out. These rooms can range from a locked storage room monitored by CCTV to an open area with a collection of bags.
Bathroom facilities at hostels can be either very good or very bad. Every hostel is different in regards to the showers and toilets. Most of the time, each room is equipped with its own bathroom. This means the eight people in that room will share one small bathroom.
Some have communal bathrooms with a few sinks and many showers.
Some showers operate by pushing a stupid button every 30 seconds and others by pulling a chain.
I have even stayed at a hostel where you have to enter through the kitchen and the courtyard to get to the shower (not recommended in the winter). The absolute worst is the shower/bathroom combination. I would like to dance over the grave of the person who thought this was a good idea. Essentially, there is no separation between the shower, toilet, and sink. The entire room gets wet, and it is difficult to get dressed when everything is soaked and zero privacy.
The better hostels offer comfortable lounge areas where travelers can relax or meet other travelers. Many of these rooms will come with a large television (usually with satellite channels), DVD player with a bunch of DVDs, books, board games, and comfortable couches (often filled with hungover Australians). This is an excellent place to meet other travelers and exchange travel stories. This is also the area where all the people with laptops/smartphones will be checking Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Almost all offer alcohol-generally beer and wine. Some hostels even offer cool rooftop bars or terraces, which are great places to meet other travelers.
KITCHEN & DINING ROOM
A hostel with a nice kitchen is a blessing from heaven. I prefer to book hostels with kitchens, even though it costs more because cooking your own meals can save a lot of money or many offer a really cheap meal plan. Hostels which have a kitchen area are also very social, as it gives people an opportunity to interact with each other.
The best kitchens are the ones equipped with all of the necessary appliances to prepare a meal; stoves, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, sinks, utensils, cups, plates, and so on. Don’t expect the hostel kitchen to be exactly spotless since it is frequently occupied, and hostel staff generally dislikes cleaning kitchens.
A number of hostels offer a free breakfast. Don’t get too excited – it’s usually really meager. However, it’s free! Frequently breakfast consists of generic corn flakes, white or wheat bread (with jam, peanut butter, some yummy chocolate spread, & butter), orange juice, room temperature milk, tea, and coffee. You might get a croissant if you’re lucky. I have visited a few hostels where the breakfast isn’t complimentary and costs quite a bit for what you get.
Bar plus people = instant friends.
If you prefer a hostel with a lively social scene, look for one with a bar. Hostel beer prices are usually pretty affordable and sometimes a great deal in the city. And drinking in the hostel is safer than walking the streets drunk after a night out. Some Hostels also have curfews so partying in the bar is a way to keep the party going without getting locked out all night.
The bars can be a bit noisy, so you may want to stay in another hostel if you are a light sleeper or don’t enjoy being around drunk people.
THE HOSTEL’S VIBE
Every hostel will have its own personality so it is important that you read the reviews before making your decision.
For example, some hostels have a party atmosphere (complete with a bar), making it great for meeting people, although it probably isn’t the best place for light sleepers.
Other hostels have a hotel feel to them and don’t often offer a lot of community, making it difficult to meet other travelers.
Some hostels are lively yet do not turn into parties.
In hostels, free WiFi is pretty much standard, but you should read the reviews as not every hostel has free WiFi, especially in the dormitories.
Many hostels offer computers with internet access, which they usually charge for.
If you are on an extended trip, a washing machine is a nice luxury. Wearing stinky socks all the time isn’t pleasant, so allowing a machine to do the work for you is a blessing.
However, most hostels do not have washing machines, so this is not expected.
Staying in a fun neighborhood enhances the experience. The hostel’s location can greatly influence your experience at the hostel. It will be much more convenient to be located near sites, bars, clubs, supermarkets, public transportation, or McDonald’s.
That said, you can often save money by staying at a hostel that is located outside the city or at least far from the city center.
Lots to do. Hostels go to great lengths to ensure guests have a memorable visit. I witnessed free group dinners, welcome drinks, walking tours, happy hours, yoga, and more.
The latest development in a budget accommodation is boutique hostels, which feel more like a funky boutique hotel than a hostel. These hostels generally cost a little more than traditional hostels, but they usually feature better amenities, such as more elaborate kitchens, exercise rooms, better beds, and so on.
You can even find hostels located in castles or in wine cellars.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD HOSTEL IN EUROPE
The Internet has made booking a hostel incredibly easy. Sites like HostelWorld.com offer travelers the opportunity to read previous hotel reviews prior to making a reservation.
I book most hostels through Hostelworld or booking.com because they are the largest sites and they have the most hostel reviews/community base — and the sites are super easy to use. Enter your travel information on the site, and the site will provide results for your search. All hostels have been reviewed by fellow travelers, so you can make an informed decision regarding whether the hostel is worth booking. Videos, pictures, amenities, and directions can also be found there.
Booking.Com and Hostelworld allow a user to filter results by price or star rating. I usually look at the highest-rated hostels first and then find one in my price range. If you are on a tight budget, you can simply filter based on price.
If you do a little homework you’ll be able to find some truly amazing hostels.
MORE HOSTEL TIPS
- Please write detailed directions on how to get to the hostel from the train station/airport/whatever point in time you are coming from. Getting lost can be frustrating and not all hostels are easily accessible. ProTip-Be sure your phone works in Europe.
- During the busy season, especially during the summer, hostels can sell out very quickly.
- Bring your earplugs and a sleeping mask. In any room of 12 people, there is bound to be one person who snores loudly. He is probably the same clown who turns the lights on at 4 a.m. He will most likely brush his teeth and leave the water running the entire time as well. Moreover, I bet he hates puppies.
- Renting a towel from a hostel is much more convenient than carrying your own stinky wet towel in your backpack. However, not every hostel offers these services, so I recommend buying a special quick-drying travel towel just in case.
- Whenever possible, I prefer to stay in hostels that only accept people over the age of 18. Large school groups frequently stay in hostels on their school trips. 50 middle schoolers running around is not particularly enjoyable.
- Read the hostel’s rules. Some only accept cash, some have a lockout period between 11am and 4pm for cleaning, and others have a curfew.
- Some hostels charge for bed linens. I have never encountered this, however, I have had to pay a refundable deposit on sheets.
- I have never met a front desk worker who did not speak English fairly well.
- Many hostels organize pub crawls and the guides know where to find the cheapest drinks. This is a great way of meeting other travelers.
- If you want to meet other travelers, then you might want to make an effort to speak to other travelers.
Our Top Hostel Recommendations
Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Venice, Washington D.C., Miami
Generator Hostels offer affordable luxury and social experience, with several properties boasting chill-out areas and onsite bars, cafes, and restaurants. They also offer both shared and private rooms, from luxury to budget.
This is a hostel-hotel hybrid experience, best suited to solo travelers, couples, and small groups.
Additionally, Generator knows how to party. Newly opened hostels usually hold an opening party, and many hostels also hold regular themed events. You will certainly have a good time here.
a&o Hotels and Hostels
Berlin, Dortmund, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Graz, Hamburg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Cologne, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Prague, Vienna, Aachen, Weimar, Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, Stuttgart
Primarily a German chain, a&o Hostels are an affordable option for travelers on a tight budget. Additionally, they are all located well in each location. As a hostel-hotel hybrid, there are a wide variety of rooms to choose from. Not only is it a good option for backpackers and solo travelers, but it is also a good option for families, schools, business people, and associations. However, be sure and see if the hostel has age restrictions, many in Bavaria do.
Rooms and facilities are up to hotel standards, with minimal frills. All of the hostels have a bar available 24 hours a day.
We recommend this hostel chain to anyone looking for a relaxed and comfortable place to stay while exploring the area independently.
Looking for a big hostel? It’s possibly the biggest chain in the world with +28,500 beds!
Our favorite a&o Hostel? The excellent selection of rooms to suit every kind of traveler makes a&o Frankfurt Ostend an excellent choice for us. It even has workspaces for digital nomads. It’s also located in a central area very close to the main areas and sights.
U.K, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Slovakia, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, and Belgium
Safestay hostels are focused on being well connected to the city and offering fun social events and tours to keep guests entertained.
The company provides excellent CoLive packages for digital nomads as well, with both private and shared rooms. You can choose to stay for short or long periods at affordable rates. CoWorking spaces and WiFi are included!
Our favorite Safestay hostel? Safestay Warsaw is one of our favorite hostels because of the relaxed atmosphere and great location nearby historical monuments and bars.
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands and the United Kingdom
MEININGER Hotels is one of the world’s leading chains with +14,700 beds spread across their hostels. It’s easy to travel all over Europe, staying exclusively in MEININGER Hotels, if you really love them.
This accommodation blends the advantages of hostels and hotels to create a pleasant atmosphere for families, groups, backpackers, and school classes.
Our favorite MEININGER Hostel? MEININGER Hostel Salzburg City Center offers a great panorama from the hostel terrace, a stylish design, and an array of room types. There are a lot of games to keep you entertained.
London, Budapest, Munich, and Vienna
More than 300.000 travelers stay in Wombat’s hostels every year! This is an affordable accommodation also operating as a travel community.
The most common facilities found in every hostel are an on-site WomBar, free WiFi, breakfast, and a shared kitchen.
The WomBar and unique dorms with a maximum of eight beds provide a perfect environment for solo travelers.
Our favorite Wombat’s hostel? Without a doubt, Wombat’s CITY Hostel Munich! The hostel is just a few yards away from the main train station and the Oktoberfest venue is a ten-minute walk from the hotel, and all guests receive a complimentary welcome drink upon arrival. The hotel features a bar, a lovely glass-roofed courtyard, and hammocks. Don’t let the outside appearance fool you.
Please leave any comments below if you would like to suggest any of your favorite hostels to others.
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