Travelling in Europe can be costly. Due to high tourist demand, hotel prices in Europe’s most popular cities are increasing. When factoring in flights, food, and activities, let alone hotels, a European vacation can be out of reach for many people.
One of the most cost-effective and popular ways to vacation in Europe is through hostels. Abundant throughout Europe, hostels are a go-to option for budget-minded travellers who don’t mind sacrificing the luxuries of a hotel. They are especially popular among backpackers who are visiting multiple cities.
In addition to lower costs, hostels provide myriad other benefits, such as central locations, kitchens, and a sense of community. Those interested in European hostels should continue reading for a comprehensive guide.
What are hostels?
Hostels are essentially low-cost hotels. The primary way in which hostels keep their prices down is by offering dorm rooms. Often outfitted with bunk beds, hostel dorm rooms accommodate between four and 16 sleepers. That said, most hostels also offer private rooms for a higher cost.
Privacy is the most significant sacrifice travellers make while sleeping in a hostel. In addition to shared bedrooms, travellers will also have to put up with shared bathrooms. That said, hostels still maintain sanitary environments on par with most hotels.
How much do hostels cost?
The cost of a hostel depends on the city, season, and dorm size. The more beds in the dorm, the less expensive the hostel will be. Hostels will often offer dorms of varying sizes.
In a major city, such as London or Berlin, a hostel can cost anywhere between $50 and $100 per night during the summer. These prices will drop during the shoulder and winter months. Hostels can be less than $20 per night in a more Eastern city like Budapest.
On top of the per-night cost, travellers should also be aware of extra costs that may be incurred:
- Alcohol and snacks
- Booking Fees
- Key deposit
- Lockers and padlocks
- Tours and other activities
Are hostels safe?
While hostels provide a far more exposed environment than hotels, most make a great effort to cultivate a safe environment. Regarding property, hostels often provide lockers so travellers can safely leave their valuables behind. Additionally, most hostels are usually locked, so only key-holders can enter.
Female travellers also appreciate female-only dorms. Most dorms provide both female-only and coed dorms. Before booking a hostel, it is important to do adequate research and read reviews from former guests.
Why should I stay in a hostel?
Besides significantly lower prices, there are several other benefits to staying in a hostel. Budget-minded travellers often prefer hostels as most of them have kitchens. This allows travellers to avoid going out and save money by cooking their own food.
Another reason travellers, especially young ones, prefer hostels is the sense of community. Unlike hotels, hostels are communal environments where travellers can easily meet and connect with others. Hostels often foster this environment by having on-site bars, group dinners, and organised events such as tours and pub crawls.
Are there drawbacks to staying in a hostel?
The greatest drawback to staying in a hostel is, of course, the lack of privacy. Travellers will have to share a dorm with as many as 15 other guests. They will also have to share bathroom facilities with at least their dorm members. Additionally, such hotel luxuries as room service, concierges, and transportation will not be available.
People will want to avoid hostels include:
- Those who value or need privacy
- Travellers who want a luxury experience
- Families with children
- People who are staying for multiple weeks (rentals are usually less expensive for prolonged stays)
What makes for a good European hostel?
Because hostels are so popular in Europe, every city has tons of options. You can find great hostels in popular destinations like Munich, Vienna, Lisbon, Rome, Copenhagen, Madrid, and even Florence.
That said, they are not all created equal. Many skip the basic necessities to cut costs and take advantage of tourists. Travellers should keep these criteria in mind when booking a hostel:
This is a basic feature that most hostels should offer. While some may feel this is unnecessary, their minds change when their flights are delayed or cancelled. A good hostel should be able to check anyone in regardless of arrival time.
Receptionists should also be experts in the area. They not only provide recommendations to travellers but also assist in emergencies.
Dorm and Private Rooms
A good hostel should also have adequate options when it comes to dorms. Common dorm sizes go from private up to 16, usually by increments of two or four. Most hostels offer multiple options at multiple price ranges.
While the biggest dorms are the cheapest, private rooms can be almost as expensive as hotels. Many prefer this, though, for hostels' sense of community among fellow travellers.
Security and Lockers
Because hostels offer communal living, they should provide lockers and padlocks to their guests. While many will provide this for free, some may incur an additional cost.
Even though hostels are communal, hostel staff should maintain clean facilities, especially bathrooms. Nonetheless, it is always wise for travellers to bring a pair of sandals to wear in the shower.
Lounges and Bars
One of the cornerstones of European hostels is the sense of community they provide. Many travellers, especially solo travellers, stay in hostels so they can make friends. Hostels cultivate this environment by having on-site lounges, bars, and common areas. Additionally, hostel bars often sell drinks at subsidised prices.
Kitchen and Dining Rooms
Kitchens are a must for many travellers, as dining can be one of the most expensive parts of travelling. Most hostels have kitchens and cookware free to use, although guests must clean up after themselves. Hostels often use dining rooms to host group dinners and activities, further bolstering the communal value.
Almost all hostels provide some form of breakfast. While some provide free breakfast, others charge a small fee. Regardless, a good hostel should provide a breakfast cheaper than going out.
Free WiFi is a must in the digital age, as many hostel-goers are digital nomads who work while travelling. Thus, fast and free internet is necessary.
Laundry is a must for backpackers as they cannot carry enough clean clothes to last their trip. Even non-backers may want to do laundry, whether they’re light parkers or staying for a long period. For the most part, hostels will charge for both the machines and detergent, but they’re a necessity nonetheless.
It's important to book a hostel in a central location, especially in a walkable city like Amsterdam. This will cut down transportation costs. Hostels often maintain affordable prices in even the most desirable areas where hotels are the most expensive.
A sense of community is one of the most important aspects of a hostel, especially for solo travellers or groups looking to meet more people. Good hostels organise community events, such as group dinners, game nights, and tours.
Many party hostels are also geared toward young crowds, offering activities like pub crawls. Some even have swimming pools or rooftop terraces.
Best European destinations for hostels
Hostels can be found across most cities in Europe, making them an ideal choice for backpackers who are travelling city-to-city. However, there are certain cities that are more suitable for hostels than others.
Budapest stands as one of Europe's most visited travel destinations. Renowned for its captivating architecture and significant historical landmarks like Buda Castle, Budapest also entices visitors with its remarkable affordability.
Even though it's as popular as some of Europe’s most expensive destinations, Budapest maintains the low prices that Eastern Europe is known for. Even in peak season, city hostels can be booked for below $20 per night.
Moreover, budget-conscious explorers can comfortably spend less than $20 per day on meals and beverages. Even tourist activities, such as museum visits and tours, come at a reasonable cost.
Paris is one of Europe’s most expensive destinations, making it a difficult destination for many to afford. This is where the value of hostels like the Generator Hostel comes in. During the peak season, dorms in Paris will usually cost between $30 to $50 per night.
This is a fraction of the cost of hotels. The kitchen facilities that most dorms provide will also pay off in spades, as Paris is one of the most expensive cities to dine in. Paris is also home to free activities, such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris or free walking tours.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam is another one of Europe’s most popular and expensive destinations. Its high prices are due to its small size relative to the number of tourists it attracts. As a result, fewer hotels in the city centre create higher demand and prices. Hostels allow travellers to avoid these prices while staying in or close to the city centre.
While Amsterdam can be expensive, it can be ideal for budget travellers. Due to its stunning architecture and natural beauty, one of the best ways to experience Amsterdam is by just walking around. Other popular activities in Amsterdam include
- Anne Frank House
- Van Gogh Museum
- The Jordaan
- Centraal Station
- Royal Palace Amsterdam
Prague, Czech Republic
Similar to Budapest, Prague is a city that feels much more expensive than it is. This is due to its stunningly preserved Gothic architecture, providing an abundant, romantic feeling throughout the city. Nonetheless, Prague is an affordable city on par with the rest of Eastern Europe.
This is due to the Czech currency, the Koruna. American travellers will feel their money going much further in Prague than in countries with the euro. Hostels like the Backpacker Hostel can often be less than $20 per night.
Barcelona is a city that seems to have it all –– beautiful beaches, historic sites, unbeatable restaurants, and nightlife. Beach destinations like Barcelona are the perfect choice for budget travellers because it doesn’t cost anything to lounge all day.
Another one of Barcelona’s popular and cost-free attractions is Las Ramblas, a lengthy promenade lined with street performers, flower vendors, and shade-bearing trees. Park Guell also offers great views for no fee. In Barcelona, travellers can entertain themselves for days without spending a dime.
With Barcelona being one of Europe’s most popular destinations, hostels are not particularly cheap. To stay near the city centre, travellers can expect to pay upwards of $30 per night. Budget-minded travellers can counteract these costs by finding free activities and cooking their own food.
Tips for staying in a European hostel
Hostels can be daunting for first-time guests. Communal living is foreign to many, so it's important to go about it correctly. Here are some travel tips to ensure the most comfortable and successful hostel check-in and stay possible:
- Make a note of the hostel's location relative to the train station or airport to avoid getting lost.
- When travelling in the summer, book hostels well ahead of time to avoid high prices and limited options due to demand.
- Bring earplugs and a sleeping mask. More often than not, there will be a roommate who snores or makes noise in the middle of the night.
- Hostels rarely provide towels for free, but it's usually better to rent than carry a wet towel. Travellers may find it valuable to have their own quick-dry towel, though.
- Adult travellers will usually prefer hostels that allow adults only. Some hostels don’t rent to bachelor parties, which is also preferable to many.
- Make sure to read the hostel’s policies. Some are cash only, enforce lockout periods for cleaning, and have a curfew.
- Hostels rarely charge a few for bedsheets, but some do.
- Front desk workers generally speak English.
Do I need a visa to travel to Europe?
American travellers and travellers from about 60 other countries do not need a visa to travel to Europe. That said, as early as 2025, all countries within Europe’s Schengen Area will enforce ETIAS, an electronic visa-waiver program designed to increase EU border security.
ETIAS, however, is not a visa, and American travellers will continue to be able to travel throughout the Schengen Area visa-free.
Which countries are in the Schengen Area?
The Schengen Area comprises 27 European countries with open borders and a standard visa policy for international travel. The Schengen Area includes most countries in the EU and each country in the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA). These include:
- Czech Republic
- Iceland (EFTA)
- Liechtenstein (EFTA)
- Norway (EFTA)
- Switzerland (EFTA)
Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area, as new members of the EU are required to join. This will leave Ireland as the only EU country not to join the Schengen Visa, as they continue to enforce their travel policies.
Will ETIAS make European travel more difficult?
While ETIAS adds a step not there before for many travellers, it does not aim to complicate or discourage travel to the EU. ETIAS is a quick, painless process that expedites customs lines. Approval is nearly instant, attached digitally to the traveller’s passport, and is valid for up to three years at the cost of 7 Euros.
Hostels are one of the best ways to visit Europe. In addition to providing travellers with affordable and safe accommodation, they also foster a sense of community to enhance the travel experience. Nonetheless, it is important to do adequate research to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
Before booking a hostel, any traveller needs to understand what they need to enter Europe. For many, this means registering for ETIAS. American travellers should find out how ETIAS applies to them.