Picking The Right Hostel in Europe: What Matters? What Doesn’t?
There are a LOT of hostels in Europe. It’s hard to pick the “best” one because everyone has different qualifications for what’s “best.”
A lot of the time, the best experiences I had in hostels were not because of the amenities but because of the experiences they offered and the people I met.
Here are some important things to consider when choosing a hostel:
The location is the MOST important. It’s necessary to look at the location in the hostel in the “grand scheme of things.” If you’re staying in a small city where you CAN walk everywhere, the location isn’t going to be as important because most hostels aim to be centrally located. It’s really important to check where it is, though. If you’re trying to save money in London or Paris and book a place on the outskirts or nowhere near anything you’d want to be around, you’re going to end up paying for it in transportation costs.
In Paris, I had to book a last-minute hostel a week before and chose a place that had a lot of amenities and had good reviews. Little did I know was that it was a 45-minute metro-ride basically anywhere. The location really wasn’t great. I didn’t really “feel” like I was in Paris – and that isn’t what I wanted from the experience in Paris. I ended up canceling my accommodation after two nights and stayed in an AirBnb instead.
If you take a look at some of the reviews on hostelworld or wherever else, see what people have to say about the staff. The moment I walked into Yes! Hostel Lisbon I was greeted and the woman behind the counter introduced herself. She gave me a run down of everything that went on: dinner, tours, pub crawls, breakfast, etc.. When I walked back downstairs later on, she greeted me by name. That hostel made my stay in Lisbon awesome and when I return, I will definitely stay at that hostel. Same goes for Sant Jordi Alberg in Barcelona, Gallery Hostel in Porto, and Sungate One Hostel in Madrid. The staff alone will determine whether or not I return somewhere.
Alternatively, I stayed at a hostel in Marseille, France, and had the opposite experience. The woman checking me in seemed almost bothered that I was there and that she had to do her job. She gave me my key and sent me away. She offered me no information about the city or what the hostel offers. I don’t know if I’ll return to Marseille, but if I do, I definitely will never return to that hostel.
- Social activities
If you want to meet people, find a hostel that has good reviews for its social environment. A lot of hostels offer hostel dinners every night or certain days of the week, pub crawls, walking tours and paid-tours, and these are all great ways to meet people. It was hard for me to meet anyone during breakfast because I’m not a morning person, so all of what the hostel offered was important for me to meet people.
Some hostels are safer than others. I stayed in somewhere you can walk right in but you can’t access any upstairs area without a keycard. Some hostels, you have to be buzzed in from the get-go. Especially because I was traveling by myself, hostel safety was really important. I avoided any place that had reviews for an unsafe environment.
Something I liked best were places that had their own lockers and gave you their own keys. It might cost a few euros as a deposit but you get it back if you don’t lose the keys.
- Room Type
Communal bathrooms? Ensuite bathroom (bathroom inside the dorm)? 4 bed? 6 bed? 8 bed? 10? All female? Mixed-dorm? The more people, the more noise. Pick what’s best for you if you can afford it. When sleeping in a mixed-dorm, you’re more likely to be with men, and men who snore, so if that bothers you, pick an all-female.
I never stayed in a dorm with more than 12 people. In general, it wasn’t a problem with that many people because I had earplugs and an eye mask.
There was a time I was in a 6-bed mixed dorm with 5 guys. It just happened that way and I had no problems. Hostel life is what it is – I think you would have to be really unlucky to have a weird hostel mate that makes you uncomfortable. That’s why staff and safety are big: if there are problems, they will take care of it.
The downside to my booking everything so early was that I had no idea what I really wanted from a hostel. I definitely prefer all-female but I spent a lot of money on dorms with 4-6 people when I could have been saving money on 8-12 bed dorms because for me, it didn’t matter that much with a few extra people. I never stayed in a 20 bed dorm because they just looked way too cluttered, especially all female dorms.
- Amenities & Services
Some hostels offer more than others. Some of the most common amenities/services I see in hostels are
- Free breakfast: usually really minimal but is a great way to save money
- Reading light: I wasn’t really ever reading anything but these are nice because you don’t have to turn on the main lights to see what you’re doing
- Personal plug next to bed: great extra and made things easier, but not totally necessary if you’re only there for a day or two
- Laundry: it’s a lot easier doing laundry at a hostel than it is in a laundromat where everything is in a different language.
- 24 hour reception: really important if you’re checking in late. If you can’t check in past 4pm and you get there at 6, you’re SOL. Make arrangements beforehand.
- Air conditioning: some places simply don’t have it. Some places have really weak air conditioning. Some places only need it for 2 weeks out of the year so they never invest in it. If you’re staying in the south of Spain in July, you want a place that has air conditioning when it’s over 100 degrees F!
- Low-cost dinners: great way to meet people and really add to the social environment of the hostel
My main purpose of traveling was to eat. For me, I didn’t necessarily need a kitchen. However, some people actually made a hostel their home for more than just a day or two and prepared their own meals to save money. I only did this if the hostel didn’t offer breakfast; I’d buy eggs and bread and work with it. If you plan to do this for every meal or most meals, you’re going to want a hostel with a kitchen. It was weird when huge hostels didn’t have kitchens and had a “no food” policy in the dorms. It wasn’t enforced but it causes a lot of travelers to keep their food in their bunk or with the rest of their stuff.
- Common area
I’m pretty sure every hostel I stayed at had a common area. Most youth hostels are going to offer more social experiences in general. One hostel I stayed at had a downstairs bar area with a lounge; it wasn’t exactly a typical common area but it wasn’t the worst environment, either. I could definitely meet people there.
What do you look for most in a hostel?