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Guide To Hostels in Europe: Bunk Beds, Beer, and Breakfast

Everything you need to know about staying in hostels.

Hostels & Lodging

[Updated March 19, 2017. Originally Posted: April 2012.]

Hostels are possibly the best type of accommodation for backpacking/budget travelers in Europe. They’re inexpensive, they’re located in every European city, and they’re full of other young travelers. Competition between hostels has grown over the past 10-15 years, so the quality has risen considerably.

Unfortunately, hostels are pretty uncommon in the US, so many Americans are totally clueless about them and have a lot of misconceptions (I know I did). This complete guide to hostels in Europe will cover everything from hostel basics to tips for choosing a great hostel.

The Basics :: Features of Most Good European Hostels :: How to Find Great Hostels :: Helpful Hostel Tips 

Hostel Basics

Curious about hostels? Keep reading.

What Is A Hostel

Hostels — sometimes called “youth hostels” — are the bastions of budget travelers. They are similar to hotels except for the rooms (dorms) are filled with enough bunk beds to house anywhere between 4-40 people. In a hostel, you only rent the bed, so you share the room with a bunch of fellow travelers. Obviously, privacy is limited, but the low cost and thriving social scene more than make up for the negatives.

Most hostels have multiple options when it comes to the type of dorm rooms available. Nearly every hostel will have a couple of private rooms (one bed/one bunk bed), but all will have dorms of various sizes. For example, a hostel could have 4 rooms that hold 8 people, 5 rooms that hold 12 people, and 8 rooms that hold 18 people. From my experience, the biggest dorms usually hold about 10 guests.

Many hostels also have female-only rooms but most rooms are unisex.

Cost

A bed in a hostel will cost anywhere from $10+/night (in Eastern Europe) to $30+/night (big cities in Western Europe). The price depends on the size of the room (the cheapest beds are in the rooms with the most people), the location of the hostel, the amenities, the competition from other hostels in town, and a few other factors.

I think I usually paid about $30/night on average in Western Europe ($15/night in Eastern Europe). Keep in mind that I usually opted for the cheapest room available.

A private room with 2 beds can cost up to $120+/night (so you might as well get a hotel or Airbnb for that price).

Reasons To Stay In A Hostel

Hosteling is the best way to meet tons of interesting people from all over the world. You’re surrounded by like-minded travelers who all share the love of adventure and a love for having fun. It also makes meeting other travelers super easy — which is extra great for solo travelers.

Hostels are also usually located in the heart of the city, so you’re close to all the action.

And hostels are cheap — so you can travel even longer.

Who Stays In Hostels

There is a wide range of people who stay at hostels. Most are young travelers between 18-30 (some hostels only allow guests between 18-35 years old). But I once meet this really cool 70-year-old Australian who was traveling for 6 months.

From my experience, there are always lots of Australians and Kiwis who are traveling for 9+ months at a time. There are quite a few Americans who come over for 2-3 weeks, or who are studying abroad somewhere in Europe. I’ve met a handful of South Africans and a few French. I’m sure there are plenty of other nationalities, but people who speak the same language tend to stick together. Some people live in hostels for a month or more, but most only stay for a few days.

Features Of Good European Hostels

There are a lot of great hostels in Europe, and there are just as many terrible ones. I’ve compiled a list of features that you should keep in mind when searching for a hostel.

24/7 Checkin/Reception

Every hostel has a check-in desk. This is where you pay, get your key, and receive all the important information about the hostel. Be sure to ask for a map. Some hostels don’t have 24/7 reception, and it usually isn’t a big deal… until your train/flight is late and you try to check in after reception closes. Then you’re stuck looking for a new hostel.

wombats hostel

TIP: The people at the front desk usually have the best idea about what is going on in the city. They’ll be able to recommend the best things to do/see around town. It is helpful to give them an idea what you’re interested in doing. Questions like “what are some cheap restaurants?” or “I’m looking for a fun nightclub, any recommendations?” are a lot better than “So… what things should I do here?” The point is: don’t expect them to plan your stay for you.

Bedroom/Dorm Rooms

Hostel dorm rooms are almost universally filled with multiple squeaky bunk beds (I’ve even seen three-level bunks). Dorms can range from small rooms with two bunk beds to large rooms with 20+ bunks. From my experience, the most common rooms usually have 4-6 bunks (that’s 8-12 people for all you who failed math). Some hostels offer private rooms with only two beds (you must book each bed, so the price can get really high).

The cheapest rooms have the most people, so expect to pay more if you want a room with fewer strangers/snorers. Most rooms are unisex, but plenty of hostels offer female-only rooms.

Security and Lockers

Each hostel has its own version of security. Some require a key/buzzer/secret knock to enter the building. Most hostels at least require a key to enter the dorm rooms.

Most dorm rooms have lockers. These are usually located under the bed but some rooms have cabinet-style lockers. You normally have to supply your own lock. I just lock up any valuables and leave my backpack on the bed.  I’ve never had any problems with theft — besides, no one wants a bunch of dirty clothes.

The hostel will probably have a room for storing your luggage for when you first arrive (if your room isn’t ready) and when you’re checking out. These rooms can range from a locked storage room monitored by CCTV to an open area on the floor with a pile of bags.

Showers/Toilets

Hostel bathrooms can be super nice or really terrible. Each hostel has a different setup when it comes to the showers and toilets. Most of the time each room has its own bathroom. This means the room of 8 people could be sharing one small bathroom.

Some have large community-style bathrooms with a few sinks and multiple private shower stalls.

hostel showerSome showers require you to push a stupid button every 30 seconds for the water to work and some are operated by pulling on a chain.

I’ve even stayed in a hostel where you had to walk through the kitchen and through the outdoor courtyard (not fun in the winter) to get to the shower.

The absolute worst are the shower/bathroom combo. I want to dance on the grave of the person who thought this was a good idea. Basically, there is no separation between the shower, toilet, and sink. The entire room gets wet and this is a pain in the ass trying to get dressed when every inch of the room is covered in water.

Lounge/Chill Out Room

The better hostels have comfy lounge rooms where people can go chill out and meet other travelers. A lot of these rooms will have a big TV (usually with satellite channels), DVD player with a bunch of DVDs, books, board games, and big couches (often adorned with hungover Australians). This is a great place to meet other people and exchange travel stories. This is also where you’ll find all the people with laptops/smartphones checking their twitterbook and facepage.

Kitchen & Dining Room

A hostel with a nice kitchen is a godsend. I try to exclusively book hostels with kitchens — even if it costs a little more — because you can save so much money by cooking your own meals. Hostels with nice kitchens are also much more social, as it gives people a chance to really interact with each other.

TIP: A great way to make friends is to organize a meal and have everyone chip in a few euros. I think I met all my best travel friends in the kitchen. hostel kitchen

The best kitchens have everything you’ll need to cook a meal; stoves, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, sinks, utensils, cups, plates, and pretty much anything else you might need. Don’t expect any kitchen to be super clean because they get a lot of use, and the hostel staff usually don’t enjoy cleaning kitchens.

Breakfast (free)

A lot of hostels have free breakfast. Don’t get too excited because it’s usually pretty meager — but it’s free, so whatever. Just about every breakfast consists of generic corn flakes, white or wheat bread (w/ jam, peanut butter, some yummy chocolate spread, & butter), orange juice, milk (room temperature), tea, and coffee. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a croissant. I’ve been to a few hostels where the breakfast isn’t free and it usually costs a lot for what you get.

hostel barHostel Bar

If you want a hostel with a lively social scene, then you’ll want to find one with a bar. The beer prices at hostel bars are usually pretty affordable and sometimes it’s the best deal in town. And drinking in the hostel is safer than wandering the streets drunk after a big night out.

The bars do get a bit noisy, so you might want to book a hostel without a bar if you’re a light sleeper — or don’t enjoy drunk people.

Free WiFi/Computers

Free WiFi is becoming standard in hostels. Most hostels have computers with internet access, but they usually charge you to use these computers. Some hostels have free computers with free internet and that is really nice. However, free computers can be a little annoying because they’re always occupied with people checking Facebook.

Washing Machines

If you’re a long-term traveler, a washing machine is a great luxury. Hand washing your stinky socks (and trust me, your socks will stink) is never fun, so having a machine do all the work is a miracle.

However, most hostels don’t have washing machines so don’t expect this.

Good Location

The hostel’s location can have a huge impact on your hostel experience. It is much more convenient if you’re located near the sights/bars/clubs/grocery stores/public transportation/McDonald’s.

How To Find A Good Hostel In Europe

Thanks to the Internet, booking a hostel is incredibly easy. Sites like HostelWorld.com allow you to read past reviews of other travelers so you can judge the quality of the hostel before you book it.

I only really book with Hostelworld because they are the largest site and they have the most hostel reviews/community base — and the site is super easy to use. Simply enter your travel information and the site will give you a list of results. Each hostel is rated by fellow travelers, so you’ll get a pretty good idea if the hostel is worth booking. You can also see videos, pictures, amenities, and directions. You book your reservation by paying 10% of the total payment (by credit/debit card), and then you pay the remainder of the payment directly to the hostel when you arrive. It’s super easy.

Hostel booking sites are also nice because they allow you to filter your search results based on price or rating. I usually look at the highest rated hostels first and then find one in my price range. But you can always filter based on price alone if you’re on a strict budget.

By doing a little homework, you can find some truly amazing hostels.

Recommended Hostel Booking Sites:

More Helpful Hostel Tips

  • Write detailed instructions for how to get to the hostel from the train station/airport/wherever you’re coming from. Getting lost sucks and some hostels can be tough to find.
  • Book hostels ahead of time during the busy season — especially in the summer.
  • Bring ear plugs and a sleeping mask. There is bound to be one person who snores super loud when you’re in a room of 12 people. He is probably the same jerk who turns the lights on when returning to the room at 4am. He’ll probably brush his teeth and leave the water running the entire time too. And I bet he hates puppies.
  • Renting a towel from a hostel is a lot better than carrying your own stinky wet towel around in your backpack. Not all hostels offer towels for rent, so I suggest buying a special quick drying travel towel.
  • I always like to book hostels that only allow people 18+. Large school groups often rent hostels for school trips. 50 middle schoolers running around isn’t remotely enjoyable. I also like hostels that don’t rent to bachelor/stag parties as these groups often get belligerently drunk.
  • Read the hostel’s policies. Some only accept cash, some have a lockout period (usually between 11am-4pm) for cleaning, and some even have a curfew.
  • Some hostels charge for linens. I’ve never encountered this but I have had to pay a refundable deposit on sheets.
  • I’ve never met a front desk worker who didn’t speak pretty good English.
  • Many hostels have pub-crawls and the guides know where to get the cheapest drinks. This is a great way to meet other travelers.
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Hostels & Lodging

  • Jack S

    Ha! Some pictures in this article are from Wombat’s Hostel, and the bar is the one in Berlin if I’m not mistaken. Fantastic place, bar on the roof and great views of the city. Good article man, thanks.

  • Kieran M

    Do most hostels provide (free of charge or not) blankets? I really don’t feel like bringing a sleeping bag.. Thanks for the tips, love this site

    • TSB

      All of the hostels I stayed at supplied blankets and sheets. Most were free but a few charged a small amount. I don’t see any reason to bring a sleeping bag.

  • hostels in europe

    Very interesting topic, thanks for posting.

  • hostels in europe

    Very interesting topic, thanks for posting.

  • Hey!!! I’ve been in Spain in Home Youth Hostel Valencia (modern, no bunkbeds, fashionable, warm, familiar and cheap!), you can find the best hostels in europe in the web of “Europe Famous Hostels” find them they are great and a good help!

  • Py Bada

    Hey!!! I’ve been in Spain in Home Youth Hostel Valencia (modern, no bunkbeds, fashionable, warm, familiar and cheap!), you can find the best hostels in europe in the web of “Europe Famous Hostels” find them they are great and a good help!

  • Jamie

    This website is absolutely fantastic! Everything that I have found on this website has helped me to prepare for my trip to London next summer in one way or another! I am very glad that I found this site 🙂

    • savvybackpacker

      Thanks for the kind words. Be sure to tell your friend or post of Facebook or whatever if popular these days 🙂

  • Jamie

    This website is absolutely fantastic! Everything that I have found on this website has helped me to prepare for my trip to London next summer in one way or another! I am very glad that I found this site 🙂

    • savvybackpacker

      Thanks for the kind words. Be sure to tell your friend or post of Facebook or whatever if popular these days 🙂

  • Great post! I recommend hostels to a lot of people and have friends and acquaintances who prefer hostels to hotels or b & b’s due to the fact that they prefer to connect with other travellers as well as engaging with staff who both love the city they live in and are able to make such fabulous recommendations in regard to activities, restaurants and things to see! More and more boutique hostels are opening around the world that range from gorgeous private rooms with balconies and / or exquisite decor for $50-80/night to tree houses in Asia and Canada or floating hostels in Oceania! Such a great resource!

  • Great post! I recommend hostels to a lot of people and have friends and acquaintances who prefer hostels to hotels or b & b’s due to the fact that they prefer to connect with other travellers as well as engaging with staff who both love the city they live in and are able to make such fabulous recommendations in regard to activities, restaurants and things to see! More and more boutique hostels are opening around the world that range from gorgeous private rooms with balconies and / or exquisite decor for $50-80/night to tree houses in Asia and Canada or floating hostels in Oceania! Such a great resource!

  • Amazing hotels tips. great..

  • Amazing hotels tips. great..

  • john

    Isn’t that 8-12 people? not 13 -_-

    • savvybackpacker

      that’s the joke.

  • john

    Isn’t that 8-12 people? not 13 -_-

    • savvybackpacker

      that’s the joke.

  • riley

    Hey you ever tried Helpx or any other work exchange?
    it’s easire than you think to ask around at hostels and get free room and board or sign up with helpx or other sites like that, you work reception, help clean, or help with activities like pubcrawls bike tours, in exchange for staying for free, it’s the ultimate budget travelers trick.
    WWOOFING is another option, Europe has 10s of thousands of opportunities in this regard, especially France,
    I’ve been traveling since I was 18, this is by far the cheapest for Europe, and best way to meet long term friends, even build a traveling resume or CV. I jump from Asia to UK, to the EU all the time rarely having to get visas as its considered volunterring. And all with money I make working in Alaska during the short summer.

    • kaylawalters

      Carefully of this in the UK. I WWOOFed in Scotland for a month and we were expecting a new girl one day only to find out that she was sent home at the airport because she told the passport folks that she was working and didn’t have a VISA. Even though it’s considered “volunteering”, they consider any exchange of manual labour for food and board to be “work”. You’ll definitely want a work visa for the UK.

      • savvybackpacker

        good point. always say you are there to visit. never say anything remotely related to work.

    • Jose Alfredo Lopez

      What type of work do you do in Alaska? I wanna do just that. Work part time travel full time

  • riley

    Hey you ever tried Helpx or any other work exchange?
    it’s easire than you think to ask around at hostels and get free room and board or sign up with helpx or other sites like that, you work reception, help clean, or help with activities like pubcrawls bike tours, in exchange for staying for free, it’s the ultimate budget travelers trick.
    WWOOFING is another option, Europe has 10s of thousands of opportunities in this regard, especially France,
    I’ve been traveling since I was 18, this is by far the cheapest for Europe, and best way to meet long term friends, even build a traveling resume or CV. I jump from Asia to UK, to the EU all the time rarely having to get visas as its considered volunterring. And all with money I make working in Alaska during the short summer.

    • kayla

      Carefully of this in the UK. I WWOOFed in Scotland for a month and we were expecting a new girl one day only to find out that she was sent home at the airport because she told the passport folks that she was working and didn’t have a VISA. Even though it’s considered “volunteering”, they consider any exchange of manual labour for food and board to be “work”. You’ll definitely want a work visa for the UK.

      • savvybackpacker

        good point. always say you are there to visit. never say anything remotely related to work.

    • Jose Alfredo Lopez

      What type of work do you do in Alaska? I wanna do just that. Work part time travel full time

  • tiki

    my boyfriend and i travel alot and we either stay with friends or at a hostel. our only problem is that my boyfriend is just under two meters tall and the european hostel beds we’ve slept in are too short or have a foot board 🙁 anyhow last year we went to amusic festival in novi sad and found a hostel called varad inn with extra long beds and no foot board!!! my point is, if you re tall goodluck 🙂 peaceand luv

  • tiki

    my boyfriend and i travel alot and we either stay with friends or at a hostel. our only problem is that my boyfriend is just under two meters tall and the european hostel beds we’ve slept in are too short or have a foot board 🙁 anyhow last year we went to amusic festival in novi sad and found a hostel called varad inn with extra long beds and no foot board!!! my point is, if you re tall goodluck 🙂 peaceand luv

  • Belén Cabrera Soto

    Thanks for your post! 🙂
    Do you think that booking is necessary when traveling during december?

  • Belén Cabrera Soto

    Thanks for your post! 🙂
    Do you think that booking is necessary when traveling during december?

  • Melina

    This website is awsone! Thanks for all the usefull information, the best I’ve read for my first backpacking holidays!

  • Melina

    This website is awsone! Thanks for all the usefull information, the best I’ve read for my first backpacking holidays!

  • Betsy Dickason Hadden

    What do you know about service dogs, travel, hostiles in Europe?

    • savvybackpacker

      I don’t really know much about service dogs. However, most of Europe is animal friendly and I’m sure there are plenty of laws (much like the US) that allow people to bring service dogs wherever they need. I’d google it and I’m sure you’ll find the info needed. However, I know that the UK is very strict about dogs so you might not be able to go there.

  • Betsy Dickason Hadden

    What do you know about service dogs, travel, hostiles in Europe?

    • savvybackpacker

      I don’t really know much about service dogs. However, most of Europe is animal friendly and I’m sure there are plenty of laws (much like the US) that allow people to bring service dogs wherever they need. I’d google it and I’m sure you’ll find the info needed. However, I know that the UK is very strict about dogs so you might not be able to go there.

  • Amy

    How ahead of time should I be booking hostels? Ill be backpacking for about two months from the end of May until the end of July

    • kaylawalters

      I’m travelling May 9- June 5th and I just booked all my hostels and train tickets yesterday. It was pretty slim pickings for Amsterdam and Florence during the times I was going. Also, any hostel that you stay at over a weekend night (Friday/Saturday) will be more expensive and will also have lower availability as these are the peak times for weekend excursions. I’d definitely start booking for the late May dates at least 🙂

  • Amy

    How ahead of time should I be booking hostels? Ill be backpacking for about two months from the end of May until the end of July

    • kayla

      I’m travelling May 9- June 5th and I just booked all my hostels and train tickets yesterday. It was pretty slim pickings for Amsterdam and Florence during the times I was going. Also, any hostel that you stay at over a weekend night (Friday/Saturday) will be more expensive and will also have lower availability as these are the peak times for weekend excursions. I’d definitely start booking for the late May dates at least 🙂

  • Paula

    this might be a stupid question, I want to travel with my husband and we were thinking about staying in a hostel now can you share a bed? and do you each pay the night fee? if that is the case wouldn’t be cheaper to stay in a hotel?

    • savvybackpacker

      I’m not sure hostels will let you share a bed. The beds are pretty small anyways. I suppose you could try it but I’ve never seen anyone share a bed.

  • Paula

    this might be a stupid question, I want to travel with my husband and we were thinking about staying in a hostel now can you share a bed? and do you each pay the night fee? if that is the case wouldn’t be cheaper to stay in a hotel?

    • savvybackpacker

      I’m not sure hostels will let you share a bed. The beds are pretty small anyways. I suppose you could try it but I’ve never seen anyone share a bed.

  • Meantaek Hwang

    So I saw that there is a membership card for Youth Hostels on Hostels International.

    Is that membership needed for staying at hostels and if it isn’t, is it worth it?

    • savvybackpacker

      I believe it depends on the country. From what I’ve experienced, you don’t need to be a member. But you’ll pay an extra fee if you’re not.

      I don’t personally think it is worth it. There are tons of hostels out there and nearly all of them aren’t part of Hostels International

  • Meantaek Hwang

    So I saw that there is a membership card for Youth Hostels on Hostels International.

    Is that membership needed for staying at hostels and if it isn’t, is it worth it?

    • savvybackpacker

      I believe it depends on the country. From what I’ve experienced, you don’t need to be a member. But you’ll pay an extra fee if you’re not.

      I don’t personally think it is worth it. There are tons of hostels out there and nearly all of them aren’t part of Hostels International

  • Dana

    How far in advance do I need to book a hostel? When it is busy do I need to plan more than a couple weeks in advance?

  • Dana

    How far in advance do I need to book a hostel? When it is busy do I need to plan more than a couple weeks in advance?

  • This webpage is really excellent and have a fantastic information about how to find well known Hostels in Europe. This webpage fully guide how to find and select which one hostel is good, Every point of this blog post has unique details.Thanks for share unique information.

  • Danny

    What if you snore? Very loudly… like chainsaw loud?

    • james

      Either get your own room or prepare for people to hate you.

  • Tanya

    I am 41 years of age but I very young at heart so I thought staying in a hostel I would be ok in. I must say to my surprise I was so impressed with STAYOKHOSTEL in Maastricht Netherlands . The view is priceless right on the river and I felt like it was more a hotel feeling. So clean and friendly I dealt with Armand, Carolien and Mieke at front desk who are more than your usual backpacker hostel check in workers as me personally working in hotels as a guest service agent I was very impressed how they were so professional and have a down to earth personality. Their English was great and when you go for a drink at the bar Tom is very informative of the Dutch culture and good places to eat. Myself I am Australian we love friendliness and good laughs this place provided that with me wanting to come back and stay next year. Great experience and great I mean perfect location .

  • Hey Susan and James,

    this is a super handy guide for Hostels you put together, really useful for travelers looking for some expert advise here!

    Keep up the great work, will subscribe now to your social channels 🙂

    Cheers, Matt

  • Adam

    Planning a trip to backpack Europe in the Spring of 2016 into the summer. How far in advance should I book a stay at a hostel?

    • savvybackpacker

      In the spring you probably won’t have to book too far in advance. Maybe a few days.

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